Pointing Lightroom Classic to a New Drive

Happy New Year! Best wishes to all for a healthy and successful 2019. I’ve really enjoyed sharing Lightroom tips with you throughout 2018, and hope you find them helpful in the coming year as well. This next tip ranks among the top issues I get asked about on the KelbyOne Help Desk.

There comes a time in every photographer’s life when you need to move photos to a new drive (for some, this happens on a regular basis). This can also be a moment of worry where Lightroom Classic is concerned because you don’t want to accidentally cause a disconnect between the catalog and your photos. Thankfully, there is a useful function hidden in the Folder panel’s contextual menu to help with this process called, “Update Folder Location.”

Now, you could use Lightroom to move the folders via drag and drop within the Folders panel, but I don’t recommend doing that when a large amount of date is at stake. Using a move command is risky, because if anything goes wrong in the middle of the transfer you could lose data. When it comes to dealing with an entire drive I prefer a technique that involves copying the folders to the new drive outside of Lightroom, updating Lightroom to this change (using Update Folder Location), and then later manually deleting the files from the original location (outside of Lightroom). Here’s how it works:

Step One: Open your favorite file browser or folder synchronization software. I’d actually recommend using some sort of file/folder synchronization software as it will probably be faster than a manual copy/paste.

Step Two: Copy the entire folder structure (as-is without changing the folder structure or photo file names) from the original drive to the new drive. You want the two drives to be exact mirror copies of each other.

Step Three: Open Lightroom (with both drives connected still). Once the copy operation is complete, Expand the Folders panel and right-click (or however you trigger the contextual menu) the parent folder (of the folder structure you copied to the new drive) and choose Update Folder Location. For example, if the top-most parent folder is named “Imported_Photos” (like my example below) on your old drive, you would right-click that folder in the Folders panel.

Step Four: In the resulting dialog box that appears, navigate to and select that same folder in the new drive (the one you just copied over).

Lightroom will update the catalog to point to the folder in the new location (and everything inside of that folder). If you have all your folders/photos in a single parent folder then you are done, but if there are additional folders at the same level as that top folder you just need to repeat steps 3 and 4 with those folders. Give it a test run to make sure everything is as it should be before removing the files from the original location.

Basically you are just saying, “Hey Lightroom, instead of referring to my photo folder structure on my old drive, I want you to refer to that same exact folder structure on my new drive.” As long as you select the mirror copy of that folder on the new drive, then that is exactly what it will do.

Having a good backup in place before you do this is always a good idea. I use this function every time I migrate my photos to a new drive. Any questions?

Author: Rob Sylvan

Rob Sylvan is a photographer, educator, and aspiring beekeeper. He is the author of many Lightroom and photography related books, eBooks, and videos. Rob also answers all of the Lightroom questions on the KelbyOne Help Desk. Follow along on Instagram @sylvanworks.

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24 Comments

  1. Hi. My external HD failed. I have a backup external HD. How do I replace the failed HD with the Backup HD in Lightroom Classic?
    Thanks.

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  2. Hello! Such interesting comments from everyone – I just wish I had found you before today!
    I do not have a parent file for my folders!! I guess it is too late to instigate one now – or is it? Really appreciate any help…

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  3. What about the LRCAT and LRDATA folders on the old drive, do they need to be moved to the new drive as well?

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  4. Hi – just bumped into your blog. Good stuff.
    Keep up the good work! Will recommend to students.
    Ralph

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  5. Thank you so much for the post. I am having a Problem with my Collections Updating to the new Hard Drive the collections are still referencing the old Hard drive. I tried updating folder location as you suggest but I get a message “photo 001 could not be used because the original file could not be found, Would you like to locate it? So if I say Yes then I get a message the file Photo 001 is associated with another photo in the catalog. Each file can be associated with one photo. I would realy really appreciate your help in solving this problem.

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    • Do you mean folders? Ignore the Collections panel for now. Do you see question marks on the folders in the Folders panel?

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      • Thank you so much for responding. I do not have question marks on my Folders so the good news is I have all my photos and I know where all the Photos are since I use the SLIM system. My issue is that the collections are not referencing the new hard-drive. I tried updating as you suggest but for some reason, it’s not working.

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        • Sorry, but I don’t understand. What you see in the Collections panel are the same photos as in the folders. Lightroom just references the photos, so no matter where you see them, you are seeing the same photos. Since there are no question marks on the folders it means Lightroom can find the folders. It may just be that you have some individual photos that are offline/missing.

          If you look through the folders in the Folders panels do you see exclamation points on any of the thumbnails indicating the photos are missing/offline?

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          • Yeah its very strange. The problem is when I click on the photo in Collections and go to Show in Finder it just references the old HD. I have tried everything I can think of. So I am at the point of deleting my Collections and starting new.

          • No, don’t delete anything! If you use the Show in Finder command and it opens Finder to that photo, then it means the catalog is still referencing the old drive. Which means you did not update the folder location to the new drive. What happens if you right-click that same photo in the collection and choose Go to Folder in Library? What folder is highlighted in the Folders panel? What drive is it under?

          • I really cannot thank you enough. So if I go to Folder Photos>Travel>Assisi>Photo1 I see the photo on my New External HD. But If I go to the same photo in Collections Travel>Assisi>Photo1 and Show In Finder its in Collections that it references the old HD.

          • If you select that photo, in the collection, and right-click it, and then choose Go to Folder in Library, what folder and drive does it appear in within the Folders panel?

          • After re-reading your post many many times I think my mistake was in Step 3–I did not attach both HDs at the same time and Update Folder Location from Old to New.

            So in the current setup–if I go to Photo1 I in Collections and choose Show in Finder and Get Info it points to Photos>Travel>Assisi>Photo1 on the Old HD.

          • I realize this is challenging to do over blog post comments, but the best that I can figure is that your catalog is still referring to the old drive. Without being able to see the Folders panel, I really can’t tell more than that. If you had disconnected the old drive before attempting to update folder location you would have seen question marks on the folders because the old drive would have been offline, and you wouldn’t have been able to access the Update Folder Location contextual menu item. Instead, it would have said Find Missing Folder when you right-clicked.

            So, again, I would urge you to ignore the Collections panel, and only focus on the Folders panel. Note the drive (or drives listed) and the folders showing under that drive. That is the drive the catalog is currently referring to, and no other. If you see question marks on folders, then Lightroom is tell you the drive is offline. If you don’t see question marks, then the drive is online.

          • Thank you so much. Really appreciate it thank you for taking. The time to help.

  6. You mention a file/folder synchronization software. Is there one you would recommend?

    I have a a top folder organization on my main image file external hard drive as you suggest. I periodically update a backup of this hard drive but have been manually copying the new folders from my main file drive to the backup. I basically have an identical drive so if something happens to my main drive all I have to do is plug in the new drive. It would be so much easier if I could just plug in my 2nd drive and have the software copy those new folders.

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    • On Mac, check out Carbon Copy Cloner or Super Duper. On Win, check out ViceVersa Pro. There are also others that do the same for both operating systems.

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  7. Happy New Year –Still looking for best way to sync 4 computers to the same catalog. Is it best to delete catalogs on 3 machines and then log in one at a time to sync with the one main catalog?

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    • That sounds like a recipe for disaster. I’d keep it real simple and just have a single catalog on an external drive that you swap between computers. No syncing required, just keep it backed up regularly.

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  8. Sadly, I have too many top-level folders for this to be useful. 2019 is new-system year and so my approach will be to transfer/copy all folders to a new drive and then name the drive the same as the old one.

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  9. Very useful tip! Thank you very much!!

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  10. I move my entire yearly photos off my main computer to a backup drive at the end of each year. I can see why its one of your most asked question. I have a folder structure simular to your example. I create the master (current year) folder and then drag a few folders at a time within Lightroom to the new drive. I can see why your method would better. My problem is i already have moved 2018 folders to my backup drive. Hey i added your article to my reader list for next year. Thanks for sharing this tip. I would rank this one as “tip of the year”

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