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One of the most common and useful functions of Lightroom catalogs is using them to create temporary or mobile catalogs that you use while traveling. For example, when I go on a photo trip, I will create a new catalog on my laptop that I’ll use to import, rate, keyword, and develop images that I shoot while on the trip. When I return home, I usually want to add those images back to my main or master catalog, but retain all of the editing work I’ve done on the laptop.

Exporting and Importing Catalogs

The easiest and most complete way to move images from one catalog to another is to use Lightroom’s ability to export and import images as complete catalogs. This also works if moving from Mac to PC or visa versa. Here are the steps to follow to move images from your laptop back to your main computer. You’ll need some type of portable storage like a USB Drive or hard drive to make the transfer. (IF you used a portable hard drive with your laptop while on your trip to store your catalog AND RAW files, this is even easier, and you can skip steps 1 and 2.)

  1. In the mobile catalog on your laptop, select “Export Catalog” from the File Menu.
  2. In the next dialog, choose a name for your new temporary catalog, then choose your destination – either a portable hard drive or USB drive.
  3. At the bottom of the window, make sure to uncheck “Selected Files Only”, BUT check “Export RAW negative files”. This is critical!
  4. Once you have everything setup, click OK to begin the export.
  5. When the export is done, disconnect your storage device and connect it to your main computer.
  6. In your main Lightroom catalog, choose “Import Photos from Catalog” from the File menu. Navigate to the external hard drive or USB drive you used before, then choose the catalog you created in step 4.
  7. A new dialog should open showing all of the images you’re going to import. Make sure to select “Copy images to new location”, then choose the location where you normally keep your raw files.

That’s it. When you’re done, all of your laptop raw files should be in your main catalog, with metadata, keywords, labels, and develop settings intact.

Final Thoughts

I transfer images between catalogs using this method quite often, especially when traveling with my laptop and using it to make develop adjustments, add keywords, and create collections. This is especially useful with the new “Smart Previews” function in Lightroom that allows you to adjust images without having the original raw file available. I’ll cover this in my next post on Lightroom.

Any questions or feedback, please let me know!

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