Here are fifteen of my favorite tips for working with Catalogs in Lightroom Classic.
WHERE IS LIGHTROOM CLASSIC’S CATALOG — The first time you launch Lightroom Classic, it creates a catalog and stores it in a default location:
- Mac: /Users/[user name]/Pictures/Lightroom
- Windows: Users[user name]PicturesLightroom
If, however, you want to move the catalog to another location or have made another catalog and have lost track of it, here are three ways to find the location of a catalog:
- On Mac, select Lightroom Classic > Catalog Settings > General and click the “Show” button to reveal the catalog in the Finder. On Windows, select Edit > Catalog Settings > General and click the “Show” button to reveal the catalog.
- Do a search using the operating system on .lrcat to find all Lightroom catalogs.
- On Mac, Command + Option + F to display Lightroom in Normal mode where the title of the catalog is displayed at the top of the Lightroom Classic window. Control -click (or right -click) on the name of the catalog in the title bar to display the path to it’s location.
THE BEST LOCATION FOR THE LIGHTROOM CLASSIC CATALOG — To optimize Lightroom, save the catalog to your fastest drive (for example, my catalog is saved on my internal drive because it is the fastest. In fact, I typically store all of the photos that I’m currently working with on my internal drive, Then, when I’m finished editing the shoot, I move the images to my external (slower) drive to archive them.
Note: there may be times when saving your catalog to the internal drive is not practical. For example when you want to use the same Lightroom Classic catalog on more than one computer. In this situation, it is easiest to store both the catalog and images on an external drive in able to move between computers.
RENAMING A CATALOG — To rename your catalog, quit/exit Lightroom Classic and use the operating system to rename these files:
- (your catalog name) Helper.lrdata
- (your catalog name) Previews.lrdata
- (your catalog name) Smart Previews.lrdata
- (your catalog name). Sync.lrdata
- (your catalog name).lrcat
Be sure to leave the space between the catalog name and the word Helper, Previews, Smart Previews, and Sync in the .lrdata files.
Note: If you have no smart previews in your catalog, or have never enabled sync, you might not have the Smart Previews.lrdata nor Sync.lrdata files.
UPGRADING THE CATALOG — When the Lightroom Classic application upgrades from one version to another, it often needs to upgrade the catalog as well. Note: an upgrade is when Lightroom Classic moves from one whole number to another (version 12 to version 13 for example), not an update (also knows as a “dot release” (version 13.0 and version 13.1 for example). Upgrading your catalog creates a new copy of your catalog, so your existing catalog remains intact in the unlikely event that you would want to return to the previous version. When prompted to upgrade, Lightroom Classic displays a window where you can rename the catalog. You can choose to keep the default name for the upgraded catalog or choose a name of your own. All of Lightroom’s companion files (the. lrdata files for example), will automatically be renamed based on name of the upgraded catalog.
CATALOG BACKUPS — Lightroom Classic’s catalog backup feature was designed so that if the catalog that you’re working with is harmed in some way (becomes corrupted, is accidentally deleted, etc.), you can use your most recent backup. Ideally this means that you would only lose the work that you’ve done between the time the last backup was created and time that your working catalog was harmed.
To set a schedule for backing up your catalog, on Mac, select File > Catalog Settings > General. On Windows, select Edit > Catalog Settings > General. In the Backup area, select how often Lightroom should create a backup of your catalog. Remember, this option only creates a backup of the Lightroom Classic catalog (not your photos) so be sure to keep redundant copies of all photos in multiple locations.
When quitting/exiting Lightroom, select a location for the backup catalog. Ideally, it’s best to save the backup catalog to a different drive than the working catalog (in case the drive fails). Note: Lightroom will display an alert if the backup location you specified for your catalog backup does not exist.
By default, Lightroom Classic saves backed up catalogs to the following locations:
- Mac OS: /Users/[user name]/Pictures/Lightroom/Backups
- Windows: Users[user name]PicturesLightroomBackups
DELETING OLD BACKUPS — Lightroom doesn’t automatically delete backups so depending on how often you create backups, you will want to manually delete the older backups using the OS to save space on your hard drive.
CREATE A “TEMPLATE” CATALOG — If your workflow requires the use of multiple catalogs, you may want to create a “template” catalog. Open a new catalog (File > New Catalog), and customize it as needed (by adding smart collections, your identity plate, watermarks etc.). Then, instead of having to repeat this process every time, simply duplicate and rename the template catalog and get right to work.
SELECT A CATALOG DURING LAUNCH — When working with multiple Catalogs, press and hold Option (Mac) | Alt (Win) immediately after launching the Lightroom Classic application to display the “Select Catalog” dialog. Then, choose to open recent catalogs, choose a different catalog, or create a new catalog.
IMPORT FROM AND EXPORT AS A CATALOG — Right -click (or Control -click on Mac) on a Folder or Collection to export it as a new catalog. Or, in the Library module, press the Option (Mac) | Alt (Win) to toggle the Import and Export buttons to “Import Catalog” and “Export Catalog”.
This Quick Tip demonstrates “How to Remove Unwanted Collections when Exporting Catalogs in Lightroom”.
LIGHTROOM CLASSIC BACKUP STRATEGIES — In the video below, I discuss backup strategies for the Lightroom Classic catalog, photographs, presets, preferences, and additional supporting files. Of course there are many ways to manage files – this tutorial is intended to help you identify the best approach for your workflow. Note: in this video I use the word incremental incorrectly. Every time Lightroom Classic backs up your catalog, it makes a complete backup of the database.
LIGHTROOM’S PREVIEW FILE SIZE — The file that contains your thumbnails, small previews, and 1:1 (full size) previews is called [Catalogname] Previews.lrdata, and is in the same folder as your catalog. The default setting for when 1:1 previews are deleted is one week. If however you know that it will take you longer than that to edit the files, you may want to increase this to 30 days (or Never) by choosing Lightroom Classic > Catalog Settings > File Handling (Mac) or Edit > Catalog Settings > File Handling (Windows). The trade off is that if you don’t delete 1:1 previews, the previews file can get very large (it can take up many GB of space). When you delete the 1:1 previews, the size of the Previews.lrdata file is reduced. You can also manually delete 1:1 Previews by selecting the desired files in Grid view and choosing Library > Previews > Discard 1:1 Previews. Note: If you delete the Previews.lrdata file, previews are recreated for each folder or collection you open in Lightroom Classic, so the first time you work in a folder, you’ll experience some delay while previews are recreated.
WHEN TO USE A SINGLE VS MULTIPLE CATALOGS — As a general rule, I recommend that you use a single catalog for the following reasons:
- It’s a simple workflow. You have one catalog where you can view and work with all of your images.
- You can search across all of your photographs at once (Lightroom Classic can only have one catalog open at a time.
- You can make collections of images from all of your shoots (all of your best landscapes or wedding portraits)
- You can sync images to the cloud to access across devices (as smart previews aka proxies)
- The difference in speed isn’t significant if you have 10K or 100K of images in a catalog
However I know that there are times when you might need to use multiple catalogs such as:
- If you want to keep your personal and professional photographs separate from one another
- If a client has images that you need to make sure other clients don’t see (a prototype for example)
- Large volume “shoot-edit-sell-archive” workflows
- Multi-user workflow where jobs travel through multiple people (for example culling and editing are done by different people).
- When working on-location
This video walks though the advantages and disadvantages of using a single catalog verses multiple catalogs in Lightroom Classic.
HOW TO MIGRATE LIGHTROOM CLASSIC TO A NEW COMPUTER — In this video Julieanne walks through the process of migrating Lightroom Classic to a new computer including the catalog, support files, backups, preferences, presets and photos. Note: on the Mac, you’ll need to hold the Option key while selecting the Go menu in the operating system to access the Library folder to copy preferences.
CREATING AND MERGING CATALOGS IN LIGHTROOM CLASSIC FOR A LOCATION SHOOT — In this video, Julieanne walks through the creation of a new catalog to be used on a laptop for an on-location shoot and then demonstrates how to merge the catalog with her master catalog once back in the studio. You’ll learn how to create a new folder structure for the catalog and your photos, create a new catalog, quickly import and edit photos, copy files to the master computer, import from another catalog and clean up any unused folders and catalogs. Note: all History states are also retained when merging Lightroom Classic Catalogs.
MERGING INDIVIDUAL LIGHTROOM CATALOGS INTO A “MASTER” CATALOG — The (older) video below demonstrate how to combine individual Lightroom catalogs into a single, “Master” Lightroom catalog. Note: in more recent versions of Lightroom Classic, there are several .lrdata files in the folder along with the .lrcat file in more recent versions of Lightroom Classic but the workflow is still the same.
MAXIMIZE LIGHTROOM PERFORMANCE — This Adobe HelpX document “Optimize Performance — Lightroom Classic” has several suggestions for maximizing the performance of Lightroom Classic.