How to Synchronize Lightroom Between Computers: Adobe Lightroom Workflow for Portables and Desktops

Adobe Lightroom is an excellent tool for improving overall workflow, significantly improving the effort required to capture, catalog, review, and proof large numbers of digital pictures. It can make the processing of RAW and jpeg photos virtually identical, and coupled with it’s very strong “develop” capabilities it can quickly become the most important tool for the most common activities of the digital photographer.

Adobe Lightroom for On-site Processing

Many photographers prefer the ability to do initial screening work with their photographs on-site on their laptop computers, but use their more powerful, higher capacity desktop computers for the serious processing. This not only gives them immediate feedback from the shoot but also a way to do some quick backups to prevent loss of precious pictures. The ability of Adobe Lightroom to export and import parts of catalogs makes this simple.

Adobe Lightroom for Moving Piictures Between Computers

Additionally, there are times when it is desirable to take pictures from a desktop computer and work on them remotely when away from the office or home. This gives much more freedom to roam around and still be productive. The ability for Adobe Lightroom to export and import parts of a catalog once again makes this very simple. This simplicity, however, does not mean that these operations aren’t without some confusing side-effects.

Adobe Lightroom Exporting New Pictures Made Easy

To import new photos into the catalog, the first thing to do is to export the catalog. In the Library module, one would right-click on the folder (“10581115” in this example) holding the new pictures and select “Export this Folder as a Catalog…” (see picture 1). Then enter the name (“export1” in the example) and select a location (preferably an external disk drive) for the export, and check the boxes for:

Export negative files
Include available previews

After clicking the “Save” button Adobe Lightroom will create the library on the external drive. Once the export is finished one can disconnect the drive from the laptop and connect to the desktop.

Adobe Lightroom Importing New Pictures Made Easy

The next step is importing the new pictures into the catalog on the desktop – and the trick is getting them to go into the right place without too much trouble. For some, the initial attempt will cause the pictures folder to end up in the wrong place in the catalog. In the example, on the desktop it is desired to put the folder (“10581115”) as a sub-folder of “Photography”, just as on the laptop. To do this the first step is to click the “File” menu and select “Import from Catalog…” (see picture 2).

In the “Import from Lightroom Catalog” dialog box, browse to the external drive and folder, and select the catalog file (“export1” in this example). Adobe Lightroom will display the folder contained in the catalog – take note of the entire folder path. Just below that it will display the number of new photos to be imported, and use the drop-down menu to “Copy new photos to a new location and import”. Then select the “Choose…” button (see picture 3).

Selecting the Right Folder for Import

In the example, the entire folder path of the catalog is “Photography\Raw\10581115”, and this is the folder path that will be “created” on disk if it does not already exist. On the desktop, however, it is desired to import the files into the existing “Photography’ folder so it is important to select the folder above (note the upper-level folder is “photography” in picture 4 – i.e., lower-case “p”). This will copy the files into the existing “Photography\Raw” file structure, including any adjustments made on-site.

Adobe Lightroom Import into Catalog for Existing Photographs

The main difference when working remotely on existing photos and then importing the adjustments into an existing desktop catalog, is that in the “Import from Lightroom Catalog” dialog, the options in the “Existing Photos” section will be used instead of the “New Photos” section. Note in picture 5 how the “Metadata and develop settings only” option is selected since it isn’t necessary to copy the images files again.

It is also important to uncheck the box for “Preserve old settings as virtual copy” unless it is desired to have multiple virtual copies of the images in the catalog. Leaving this unchecked will make all photos in the catalog reflect the develop settings of all photos (including any virtual copies) that were on the laptop, but to not keep any of the setting that are on the desktop for the photos.

Adobe Lightroom library catalogs can greatly simplify the life of the photographer when moving between a laptop computer for work at remote locations, and the main computer where the bulk of the catalogs are typicaly maintained.

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