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Tips & Tricks

How To Move Images From One Lightroom Catalogue To Another

By Kishore Sawh on December 18th 2015


Lightroom is, by a long shot, the go-to filing and processing software for the majority of photographers. Sure, there are other tools, like Photoshop, but you don’t really organize anything with it since it doesn’t have that sort of system. There’s also Capture One, and sure if I threw a rock in a room of photographers I’d hit 3 or 4 who use it, but Lightroom, for all its shortcomings, is who we’re still in bed with.

If you’ve been using Lightroom for any amount of time, you would be forgiven for not having a rather full grasp on how the cataloguing system operates. It’s the backbone of the software really and is all at once complex, yet manually straightforward and sensible. It’s not perfect for any one individual I’d venture, but it can generally please the masses.


However, if you have, in fact, not taken on any focused learning of Lightroom in any sort of strategic way, not only are you not getting the most out of the program, you’re possibly going to get extremely frustrated with it, and quickly. This is in large part due to mismanagement of the catalogue system. Actually, let me correct myself here and say it’s less mismanagement than it is misuse.


Suffice to say that there are basics that you should learn to just help you use Lightroom in a more efficient and effective manner, which will help Lightroom be more responsive and work faster, and save you tearing your hair out. A structured education on the matter is preferred, and you can find pretty much the best course here, but here’s a little how-to you may appreciate.

Moving Images From One Lightroom Catalogue To Another

As mentioned in the preface, if you’ve not grasped how the Catalogue system works you’re making life harder than the few minutes it takes to learn it. Also, if you haven’t, it suggests that you may have some catalogues, or even a single catalogue with all your images in them/it. That further suggests that there’s a good chance they’re not exactly optimally organized.

When you decide to do that, and you should, you may run into a problem that a lot of users are faced with, and that’s how to move images from one catalogue to another, edits intact. And those last words are the poignant ones. A catalogue is not simply a folder with your images in it, no. In fact, that’s not what it is at all. Your images aren’t stored in Lightroom and thus not stored in a catalogue, but the catalogue is the recorder or database for whatever images you use, keeping track of what’s done to them.


So when you import a folder in LR, the current catalogue recognizes that, and from there it tracks everything to do with your images: where they’re located, how they’re rated, what the keywords you associate with each image are, and pretty much everything else for those images, and the edits. If you just go to the exact image file you’ve just edited with LR from say, a Finder Window, click on it, you won’t see those changes. Those are just stored in the catalogue, so if you move them around and open in a new catalogue, your changes won’t be there unless you know how to do it.

Version One

This is a bit more work, but the sort of manual-ness of this actually helps some people visualize the moving process and build that framework in their heads.

Open the Lightroom Catalogue that has the images you want to put elsewhere, in another already formed catalogue or a whole new one. You do this by selecting all the image files you want to export to a different catalogue, and with those selected, export those as a new catalogue via File > Export As Catalogue


A window will appear and ask you where and what to name your new catalogue. If it is your intention to move the files to another catalogue already in existence, for the purpose of this method, just pick a common location like the Desktop or any folder and create it with some BS name – something really zanny and original, like ‘New Catalogue’ or ‘Temp’. The process would be the same if you wanted to create a whole new catalogue spare that you would just select the final destination of the catalogue and name it appropriately.

Now, open the catalogue you want those images in ‘New Catalogue’ to finally end up in – your destination catalogue. LR will go through the usual of shutting down and re-opening in that destination catalogue, after which you’ll head to File > Import From Another Catalogue.


Once you do this, another window will appear in which you’ll simply head to the location where your ‘New catalogue’ is located, and select it. When you do, you’ll be presented with yet another window where what you’ll really want to pay attention to is the little drop-down ‘File Handling’ menu.

Now, if you want to leave the original file (like the actual reference RAW file) where it is in your hard drive, then select ‘Add new photos to catalogue without moving.’ This will basically ‘give’ you a copy of the file with edits intact as in the original LR catalogue, but leaving the actual file where it is.



If you want to actually move the RAW files, you will want to select ‘Copy new photos to a new location and import’. Now you’re done, and can delete your wacky-name-toting temp catalogue. You can then go back into the original catalogue where you wanted the images moved FROM, and delete the images moved so they no longer appear in that catalogue (Do not delete ‘FROM DISK’ unless you want them erased, which defeats the purpose of all this).

Version Two

This is quicker, period. Open the destination catalogue where you want your images to be added TO. Then go to File > Import From Another Catalogue and select the catalogue you’re taking the images FROM.



Once the new window pops up, the procedure is reminiscent of the last method. Simply select the files you want to take, select the appropriate file handling method where the above rules apply. Then Bob’s your uncle. It helps some to get the full background on how this works before using a quicker method like this, and I am unsure since it’s been a while, but not all versions of Lightroom may permit this method.

If you really want to see stuff like this in action and learn more like this to an umpteenth extent, I cannot encourage you enough to seek some formal learning, and the Lightroom Workshop/Workflow Collection is about the best there exists. It’ll transform how you work, and let you open the taps on the software you already have.  Check it out to see if it suits you.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Stephen Glass

    The size of the catalog, as someone working with LR since LR1, definitely affects the performance of the catalog. This is all anecdotal and just my experience but…. opening the catalog seems slower with a huge catalog. Also navigating the catalog is more tedious. but to mitigate that I use collections, keywords and the like. Once the catalog opens and you’re latest shoot is in the form of a collection… it doesn’t seem to matter as much in my experience. I’m talking about a catalog with 50 to 100K images in dng and RAW format as well as psd files next to original dng files.
    So I agree with K, definitely performs faster with smaller catalogs. But you can keep a number of catalogs and have one master catalog.
    My problem is that I’ve kept a bunch of files written across external hard drives. I’m in windows. The drives will “re-letter” themselves according to how they’re plugged in or not at any given time. So then you have to do the “locate” deal with those folders in those drives. Any solutions to that? Seems like a window thing?

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  2. John Flora

    Great info. I have one question: Does the size of the catalog affect LR’s performance?

    The reason I ask is I use one catalog which holds about 20k images. I’m wondering if LR would run more efficiently if I archived older image in separate catalogs.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      John, I’m going to look into this simply because there’s conflicting opinions on that, though there should be sound theory there to give a definitive answer, but I’m not a supreme tech guy. The argument of course is that even if you have a catalogue of thousands of images the catalogue may be relatively small – maybe a few hundred MBs or a gig which should be fine.

      My experience, however, speaking as someone who USED to keep a single catalogue, is that LR opens quicker, scrolls quicker, and is generally quicker and more responsive using smaller catalogues in place of a single larger one. That’s been my experience, and that’s running off either SSD or HDDs. However, there are other factors involved, so hold on for a bit if you can, and I’ll try to get a more conclusive answer.

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  3. Stephen Glass

    You are right Kishore! They call that “unconscious incompetence” in education. aka ignorance. I agree it is good to watch courses and short how to’s on features. Especially now with CC things are changing quicker than ever. Well said!

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  4. Gabriel Rodriguez

    Yes, I second that..another great article, Kish!

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Thank you thank you, I’ll be here all week.. But joking aside, Im glad it was of use, and as mentioned above, if you all have any particular questions about LR or would like to learn how to optimize it in some way or whatever, let any of us know and we’ll try to provide you with the answer, or guide you to where you can find it. Cheers

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  5. Stephen Glass

    Another great article. Yeah just go through all the menus item by item and if you don’t know what one does… Google it. Thanks Kishore.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Thanks Stephen, I actually began learning LR precisely how you’ve laid out. And it took patience and time, but it can work. I’m a pretty systematic guy when it comes to stuff like that, but without trying to sound too much like a plug, I went through the LR Workshop and, aside from having to see Pye’s face for a few hours (not a bad thing actually), it sort of reframed Lightroom for me. The information is there in the ether for all, but the way it’s laid out, delivered, and organized, just sort of makes sense if someone doesn’t have the diligence to systematically break down LR via Google. The tricky part about that, is that sometimes you just won’t know what you’re missing and therefore won’t know what to google…

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  6. Donald Jones

    Good information to have in the back pocket

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Glad you found this useful Donald. Again, I deal with Adobe’s staff on the frequent, so if there are questions you have, let us know and we’ll see if we can either answer them for you, guide you to where you may find them, or find them for you. Cheers

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  7. Colin Woods

    Just a mention for DxO Optics. Its fab.

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