Lightroom Tips

Q&A Day – Multiple Catalogs and Lightroom

It’s Q&A day again. I’m actually leaving for Knoxville, TN this afternoon for the Great American Photography workshop I’m teaching at this weekend. I’ve got a sold out workshop and we’ll be shooting the Great Smoky Mountains all weekend. I’m psyched and I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone this evening. If you ever get a chance to go on one of these workshops (with me or anyone for that matter), trust me, you’ll love it. They’re always a fun, inspirational, and learning-packed weekend and I come back with some great new friends from every single workshop.

Anyway, on to the Q&A. Here it is:

Question: Why should I use multiple catalogs in Lightroom?Answer: There’s a few different reasons to explore using multiple catalogs. I’ll list the reasons as well as some candidates for multiple catalog use here. I’ll also tell you how to create another catalog at the end.

1. Your existing library is getting too big. When I say too big, I mean in the tens of thousands of photos too big. Originally, it seemed like 30,000 photos was thrown around as a limit for the catalog size before Lightroom started to slow down too much. I was actually talking with Tom Hogarty (Lightroom Product Manager) at Photoshop World earlier this month. Tom said that the 30,000 limit isn’t necessarily true. He’s coming across plenty of folks that have catalogs twice as large as that and Lightroom still runs just fine. At any rate, you’ll start to see things slow down if you get too many photos in there. If that happens, it’s a good idea to start breaking your catalog apart into another one.

2. You share a studio and computer with some one. This is another good chance to use another catalog. If you share a computer with somebody else then consider making a catalog for each of you. That way you won’t get mixed up or potentially do something to the other persons photos that they didn’t want.

3. If you’re a wedding photographer and you’re filling up your catalogs in a matter of weeks then multiple catalogs may be the way. A few wedding photographers I know actually make a new catalog for every wedding they shoot. It helps them keep the catalog sizes down as well as making it easy to keep things organized. There is a downside to this. Your keywords and collections and all that other fun stuff won’t be shared across multiple catalogs. So if you’re in the “Smith Wedding” catalog, don’t think you can search through to find photos from the “Miller Wedding” catalog. Not such a big deal for wedding photographers since you’ll typically want to keep things separated. That doesn’t work so well for me though, as I like to open Lightroom and find all photos that were keyworded with, say, ‘ocean’ no matter where they are. I couldn’t do that if I did the multiple catalog thing.

4. You’ve got lots of personal photos and lots of work-related photos. This is another great reason for multiple catalogs. I actually have a separate catalog for all of my work photos from photos shoots and trips etc…, then another catalog for all of my personal family photos, and finally another one that I teach from. That way, when I start Lightroom I can fire up the catalog that I need at that time.

Question: How do I create another catalog?
Answer: Lastly, if you’re not sure how to work with multiple catalogs just go to the File menu and choose New Catalog. Lightroom will ask you for a name and place to store this catalog (I choose my photos folder) and you’re set. If you want to switch between catalogs just choose File > Open Recent and your recent catalogs will be there.

Question: How can I move photos from one catalog to another one?Answer: No sweat. Open the catalog with the photos you want to move. Go to the File menu again and choose Export as Catalog. That creates a folder that I store on the desktop (that’s not where your photos will be stored though). Then open the new catalog that you want to put the photos into and choose File > Import from Catalog.

Well that’s it for Q&A day. I’ll be shooting and teaching a lot over the next few days but I’ll try to post some shots here. Oh and make sure you let me know in the comments if you have another way or reason of working with multiple catalogs. Take care!



  1. Buzz 24 April, 2010 at 00:03 Reply

    I am I guess what you would call a typical everyday photographer. As such I take photographs of many subjects, be they people (family and friends, and the once in a while odd-ball stranger if interesting), animals/wildlife (birds, deer, otters, beavers…etc.), architecture, landscapes (mountains, valleys, rolling pastures, waterfalls, forests and trees….etc), bugs (butterflies, dragonfiles, bees…etc.), flowers… Guess that covers most of the normal everyday subjects. So why not create catalogs for each.

    One catalog can cover all the people you photograph. One can house all the wildlife you photograph. Another can hold only pictures of buildings. Another can contain all your bug shots. Then you can have one for landscapes. This way you know what subject you are looking for and can find it real easy.

    Just a suggestion….!

  2. Mark Primavera 14 January, 2010 at 19:47 Reply

    You say:
    “That creates a folder that I store on the desktop (that’s not where your photos will be stored though). Then open the new catalog that you want to put the photos into and choose File > Import from Catalog.”

    My question:
    So can you delete the Catalog that is on your desktop?

  3. Ruth Bourke 1 October, 2009 at 12:18 Reply

    Hi Matt, I have multiple versions of the same image, different sized JPEG for web, TIF/PSD layered files and DNG for archive or CR2 at import from old drives and backups. I would like to create a clean catalogue. I work on a laptop and desktop and would like to tiidy up my up to now messy workflow. Merging catalogues from different drives sometimes means I need to delete multiple versions of the same image. Is it possible to sort by File size in addition to file type? It would be great to do this within Lightroom rather than in finder and end up with ? in Lightroom to clean up as well. would be nice to get rid of unneeded low res images. Thanks.

  4. Michael Floyd 18 May, 2009 at 11:49 Reply

    Regardless of the benefits you might achieve by having multiple catalogs in Lightroom, I see one huge drawback and that would be the inability to search for keywords across the catalogs. I say it’s a drawback because I want to (and intend to) take full advantage of the keywords and filtering abilities in Lightroom – they’re mighty powerful and awesome.

    If I were to write Adobe with a suggestion for improvement I would say something like:

    An improvement to Lightroom would be to allow multiple catalogs to be created just as it does now, but allow the filmstrip (and grid view in the Library) to show images from any of the availbale catalogs. It would work something like this: You open a default catalog to work with (as you do now). When you want to filter images based on the multitude of filter criteria available, such as keywords, you could specify to search within the current catalog only or specify any or all of the other available catalogs. That would be awesome because then you could take full advantage of keywording.

    Multiple catalogs defeats the purpose of keywording – not entirely, but to some degree. My intent for now is to stick with one large catalog until such time it is creating problems for me.

  5. Ray 24 August, 2008 at 10:51 Reply

    Hey, great tip on exporting catalogs and enlightening comments too.

    But I have another question. 🙂

    I have folders for each year that I have been shooting, in one large catalog. I wantt o break them up by year without losing the keywords, ratings and flags I have now. So, if I were to export the “2004” folder as a catalog, and then open that “2004” catalog in Lightroom, will that work?

    Will it act the exact same way as it did when it was a folder in my larger, overloaded catalog?

  6. Serge 29 April, 2008 at 14:52 Reply

    Hello Matt, I published a similar article on my blog a few weeks ago 🙂 I use multiple catalogs: one for personal work and one for clients.

  7. bodyNsoul 27 April, 2008 at 15:53 Reply

    I currently have a catalog with 45.000 images om my laptop. While my laptop has 1.25 Gb of Ram, my catalog file has grown to about 800 Mb. When Lightroom is active this 800Mb will also be used in RAM easily slowing down the computer using the page file intensively to constantly swap data, making LR very slow. Optimizing the catalog, defragmenting the drive all lead to very temporary solutions (an hour or so) Shooting mostly 10 MP RAW files, this can drive one crazy. I found the article interesting in that it helped me realize the root of the problem. So now for multiple catalog’s.

    The easiest way I found out was to create a new catalog (e.g 2008 catalog), then to import the old catalog into it, and then to delete the folders of previous years. Then to optimize the catalog and up you go. This way it seems like the fastest way to import data from a large catalog, rather than going through hundreds of folders indivudually to add.

  8. Alf 26 April, 2008 at 18:43 Reply

    When I travel I carry a WD pocket external drive with a Lightroom catalog on it. That way I can do preliminary editing with Lightroom using the laptop, and just plug the pocket drive into the desktop when I get home and go on from there. No exporting and importing involved between computers.

  9. Kevin 24 April, 2008 at 23:21 Reply

    Maybe you guys can help me out here. How do I export photos from LR library collections and into folders on my Mac using the names of the collection folders themselves? I simply can’t figure out how to do this and I have about 120 photos in each of 20 different collections. Thanks.

  10. Scott 24 April, 2008 at 20:50 Reply

    I just started using separate catalogs. The one issue I’m running into is searching. Lightroom can’t search in several catalogs.

  11. Ann 24 April, 2008 at 08:59 Reply

    Thanks – Good timing! I didn’t know this could be done and have the need to do this now that work pictures are starting to mix in with my regular pictures.

  12. Florian Rachor 24 April, 2008 at 03:18 Reply

    Thank’s for the tip, I use two catalogs at this time, one for work and a personal one. Maybe I’ll split up further if the two get to big. I just tried exporting from one catalog to another and it really seems quite difficult, maybe you can do a tip on this one time.

    There has been a quite nice comparison between Lightroom and Aperture on O’Reilly, they came to no real conclusion. One reason for me is that the picture editing is just the same as in Camera Raw and with v2.0 there will be a quite superior photoshop integration.

    Oh and of course: This is the NAPP, what do you expect ;).

  13. Jason 23 April, 2008 at 22:45 Reply

    Thanks for the tips. I have yet to create multiple catalogs, but imagine myself moving there. I seriously think this is a major defect w/ Lightroom. The whole point of keywords, metadata, etc is to be able to search and find ANY photo you take. Limiting it because of performance issues to me is a flaw. I hope they address this with Lightroom 2. It would be like if google could only keep records for certain search criteria. No one would use it. Why is Lightroom limited? Is it the database technology they are using? I would hate to be a professional who shoots thousands of photos and has to create a catalog per set. I what my photos available all the time.

  14. Seim Effects 23 April, 2008 at 21:30 Reply

    Thanks for bringing this up, and laying out some simple tips on catalogs.

    As a wedding and portrait shooter I make a new catalog for EVERY SESSION. IT makes things so easy to manage and backup, and LR keep working really fast. I love it!

    I do wish there was a way to actually transfer/copy images to an existing catalog instead of making a new catalog from them and importing it. If you know of any way to do that I’d sure like to know.


  15. Caroline 23 April, 2008 at 17:00 Reply

    How can I move pictures from one catalog to another? That’s nice to read. Now I have a reason for making two catalogs: one exist in lightroom 1 and now I can make a second one in lr 2 beta. Once the final version is released I can put those two catalogs togheter right? Nice feature!

  16. Thom Dombrowski 23 April, 2008 at 15:31 Reply

    If your like me, you work on your photos in work, when no one is looking.. then you can export the catalog, and take them home, to work on your home pc. This works out very well.

  17. Ties 23 April, 2008 at 14:19 Reply

    Matt, since you’re working on a Mac, for what reason are you using LR instead of Aperture? I’m really curious about that, maybe you can do a post about it? I don’t think you never tried it, right? I use LR because it works a little faster on my iBook G4 (yeah, for real I’m doing LR on it!). iMac on its way!. Thanks for this clarifying post!

  18. Jim 23 April, 2008 at 13:29 Reply

    I have multiple catalogs for work and personal files. I do go one step further and have one catalog of really low-res JPG files of every image I have. That way, if I have a brain cramp and can’t figure out where to look for a nice wildlife photo that I happened to take on a family vacation, I call up the “Whole DB Low-Res” catalog and find it there. Then I can use the file name or keywords to locate the full-res version in the right catalog.

    I only have about 40K images in that catalog, but haven’t noticed a slow down.

  19. motti 23 April, 2008 at 11:08 Reply


    It is true that export (and import) catalogs is not that simple. For example, when exporting catalogs make sure none of the filters is on. Example, If you happen to have the rating filter on, let’s say the 5 stars photos only are visible, only those images will be exported to the new catalog. Be careful because you might delete the old catalog thinking you have all the photos in a new catalog and it will not be so.


  20. Mike Lynch 23 April, 2008 at 10:16 Reply

    Exporting catalogs is a lot more complicated than this.

    There are many options for backup output and the result of selecting those options is not always clear until you try it. (And even then,, I am not sure exactly what is going on.

    Additionally, when I try to backup a catalog onto a DVD, my “NTI CD & DVD burning” software says it cannot burn the long catalog filename data onto the DVD. (“Filenames are too long” Longer than allowed by windows? – I don’t quite know what is going on.)

    So now I don’t know if the edits I do on my raw files are actually being saved onto my DVD catalog backups, or just the files without the Lightroom adjustments.

    But saving individual catalogs for each shoot seems like the best way to record the image adjustment changes.. However, I suspect it also renders pointless the keyword function,

    ( I shoot a lot of photos. )

  21. JulieM 23 April, 2008 at 09:47 Reply

    Thanks, Matt. A timely tip for me. My daughter just started using LR on my computer and it will be very nice to keep her images out of my catalog.

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