Multiple Computer Lightroom Workflow Using Catalog Export
May 12, 2015
5 comment

Spring is here! Unless you live in Colorado or North Dakota where it’s still snowing, it’s time to be outside!

After breaking my hibernation, I noticed a flaw with my Lightroom mobile and Smart Preview workflows, and that is that the starting point for both is still on my desktop computer. But my desktop computer is inside our apartment, and I want to be outside in the park, doing artsy stuff next to the other creatives, and the jugglers, and the one guy who yells at everyone.

Since I’m out with my camera and my laptop, there’s no need for me to trek all the way home to import my images, generate smart previews, then go all the way back to the park to get yelled at and process my images. So in this post, I will share my workflow for processing images that starts on my laptop instead of my primary desktop.


To start, I use a different catalog than my normal “working catalog” that I mentioned in my Smart Preview workflow. It’s partly for keeping things separated and to keep things uncluttered and simple. But the catalog and my laptop install of Lightroom have the same plugins and presets installed so that my environments are otherwise identical.


Next, I’ll import the images in to my laptop catalog, just as I would on my desktop. I’ll add my metadata and keywords and any starter develop presets.

lightroom import

Lightroom Fanatic > Import Images To Laptop

One note about importing, if I import the images in to a subfolder, Lightroom will maintain that hierarchy when I export the catalog later on. For that reason, I typically import these projects in to the root folder of my catalog.


With my images inside of Lightroom, I’ll find my picks. add more keywords, delete the stinkers, and process the individual images. Having full access to the Lightroom tools is one reason that I still use my laptop instead of using the subset of features inside of Lightroom mobile on my iPad.

lightroom fanatic workflow

Lightroom Fanatic > Processed Images Ready For Export


Now that my images are processed, it’s time to get them in to my main catalog on my desktop. To do that, I’m going to export these images as a catalog. To start, I’m going to Control+Click on my folder and select Export this Folder as a Catalog…

lightroom workflow export catalog

Lightroom Fanatic > Export This Folder As A Catalog

The next screen is the Export as Catalog dialog where I can give the catalog a name and specify a few options. The big one to pay attention to is the Export negative files option. With that checked, Lightroom will export the catalog and all my edits as well as the raw images I imported from my camera. That means I don’t need to re-import the raw files from my memory card on the other computer…they’ll come along with the catalog.

lightroom workflow export as catalog

Lightroom Fanatic > Export as Catalog

To make my life easier, I export the catalog to DropBox. By doing so, DropBox does the heavy lifting of putting the catalog and files in a location that is accessible to my desktop. Since I’ll delete this temporary catalog at the end of the process anyway, it’s just temporary storage.

Once the catalog is exported, I can see it and the raw files by navigating to them in Finder.

lightroom export catalog workflow

Lightroom Fanatic > Exported Catalog And Raw Files


With my exported catalog and raw images in the cloud, it’s time to leave the park before it gets too dark and head home. Having avoided another day of mugging in the big city, I’ll pour myself a glass of wine (critical to my workflow) and fire up Lightroom on the desktop.

The next step is to import the catalog, so I navigate to Import from Another Catalog…

lightroom workfklow import from another catalog

Lightroom Fanatic > Import From Another Catalog

Since my exported catalog is already synchronized with DropBox, I simply find the catalog file and select it.

lightroom workflow catalog to import

Lightroom Fanatic > Select Catalog To Import

The Import from Catalog dialog will appear and I’ll specify that I want to copy the new photos to a new location and import them. I also specify where I want the images to live in my main catalog. For me, that’s in my Pictures/Originals/2015 folder, and it will create a subfolder inside there with the name of the catalog and folder that I exported. In this case, “TeeBall Practice”.

lightroom import from catalog dialog

Lightroom Fanatic > Import From Catalog Dialog


Once I click on Import, Lightroom will import the raw images and put them in the designated folder on my desktop and add them to the catalog, along with all the edits and keywords that I did on my laptop.

lightroom fanatic imported images

Lightroom Fanatic > Images Imported From Laptop

Now that the images are safely on my desktop and in the catalog, I can delete the temporary catalog and files from DropBox and, if I want to, from my laptop.

That’s it! It’s pretty straight forward, and it gives me the flexibility to start my workflow from my laptop and bring that work in to my primary catalog when I return home. So whether you’re hanging out in the park with the guy who yells at everyone or traveling, I hope you find this tutorial useful to keep you as inspired and productive as possible when you’re away from home base!


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There are 5 comments

  • bill says:

    Thanks for sharing.
    In my case, i use btsync free to sync catalogue between 3 computers.
    you just have to copy paste your prefs (or sync them).
    It syncs catalogues and photos, but the only things, it’s not a multiple users solutions. You have to close your catalogu, wait it’s finished to sync, then you can open the catalogue on another computer.
    Btsync is a dropbox like, but without cloud services. Some users are not happy with 2.0 version, because now there is a 10 folders limit in the free edition, and the price is quite expensive (in my opinion to) for services it deliver. But it works very well, i use it for two years at least.

  • Rey says:

    Hi Dave

    I have a question. I have my logo in a PNG format but when I try add it as a watermark, Lightroom says “please choose a Jpg or Png image” I have double checked the logo file and it is indeed in PNG format.

    Do you know what the issue could be?

    Thanks very much for your great site and useful info.


  • Robert says:

    I’m using Lightroom 6 in Windows 7 and just I tried importing from another catalog. However, under file handling, i only have the option to “Add new photos to catalog without moving”. I’d like to move the photos to another location (server) but unable to figure out how to get the option “copy photos to new location and import”. any thoughts?

    • dave says:

      Hi, Robert. On the “Import From Another Catalog” dialog, there should be a drop down under “New Images” that lets you choose Add or Copy. It should also have a count of the number of new images that it will at on. Do you see the drop down or is there not an option to copy?