I have two large external drives with about 2.5 TB of data. About half the storage is images and videos that I want to put on a new NAS drive/device. I don’t want to carry over junk, duplicates and non photo/video files.

I am hoping Lightroom can help scour the mounds of folder structures on these drives and copy images/videos the new drive that I want to catalogue and keep clean as a working platform for all images and video. Once completed I plan to format the original drives and copy the cleaned-up content back to them as part of a backup strategy.

Can Lightroom help? If so, how? If not, is there some other application for Mac OS X that I can use for help with this? One problem I had with my original attempt is I wasn't sure how to move images and rename folders to get the new drive contents to make sense, so I formatted it and am looking to try again.

(steps for this operation would be helpful)

  • \$\begingroup\$ the answer is missing the most important part: a stepwise outline of how to go about getting images to the new drive. I cant get a new blank drive to show in LR. only drives with images that were imported. I would prefer to copy files to the new drive instead of move them so not to alter the original drives in any way. \$\endgroup\$
    – kacalapy
    Jun 4, 2014 at 11:46

5 Answers 5


Here's how I'd do this:

o Mount both drives on the computer.

o Fire up Lightroom and create a new catalog.

o Choose import and select the first drive to import. Let it crunch away, go get a coffee

o Repeat for the second drive. Now all images in both drives are in the Lightroom catalog where you can manipulate them.

o make sure your third drive is mounted

o in the left sidebar, click the "+" next to folders.

o in the menu it brings up, choose "Add Folder" and select or create a folder on that new drive. This is where you'll put everything you want to keep.

o Now you can use Lightroom to browse both of the old disks and drag copy and organize the images any way you want. When you're done, the images you want to keep will have been moved into the folder on your third drive.

o Now, unmount those first two (now depopulated) drives

o Quit Lightroom (if you haven't) and trash the old catalog.

o Fire up Lightroom and either create a new catalog, or open up your existing one.

o Now you can use that "Add folder" above to attach that folder to Lightroom, or Import it through the import function. If you "Add Folder", you should right-click on the folder and choose "Synchronize" to pull all of the images into the catalog.

(one note: don't muck around with editing, keywords, etc in that catalog you're throwing away unless you make sure you flush XMP data before exiting Lightroom, or have the "automatically write meta data to the image" preference option turned on, or you'll lose it when you trash that temporary catalog)

I prefer the temporary catalog for this over doing it all in your main catalog and using the optimize because it guarantees a clean catalog without stuff that optimize might leave behind.

It's a fairly straightforward operation if you're careful. I've done this a couple of times.

(another option: just copy all of the image from both drives into the new drive, and then you can do the purging and optimization later. Depends on whether you want to do that all at once, or over time. Frankly, I'd probably do the latter, because this can turn into a grind and you can find yourself making mistakes or taking short cuts you'll later regret. If you turn it into something you can spend 30 minutes on here or there, it'll be a less painful process....)(

  • \$\begingroup\$ very well explained, and logical solution. Thanks a ton. \$\endgroup\$
    – kacalapy
    Apr 22, 2015 at 15:25

First, there's a free 30 day trial for Adobe CC so you should be able to download Lightroom and try it.

Now, when importing images there is an option to "ignore suspected duplicates," but I do not know how sophisticated this is. I do know it works for me most of the time because it's the exact same image, but if it were scaled or modified slightly I'm not sure how LR would handle it and if it would be sufficient for your needs.

Now, if you're looking to reorganize, which I have done recently, then LR can help with that as it's a little easier (to me) than moving things around in Finder, but I'm not sure it's worth the investment just for that feature. One of the caveats of using LR is that once you start using it, you live inside of it as changing the structure of things outside of LR really limits LR's ability to manage your files.

LR sounds like a good solution for you long term, but you may have some growing pains getting your existing system, or lackthereof, migrated into it (as would be expected with just about any solution).

  • \$\begingroup\$ yes, it seems LR can help but im not sure how to perform the task inside lightroom. Do i use DNG? In Library module what setting do I want to set for clean import of folders from cluttered drive to new folder of my clean drive \$\endgroup\$
    – kacalapy
    Apr 25, 2014 at 17:57
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Think of DNG as a vendor agnostic RAW format; in this context it doesn't matter if you use DNG or not. What I would do (and did) was import your hierarchy as it is, then create a new one that is in the new format and move images over within LR. As you empty folders, delete them until they're all gone. Alternatively, you could set the destination of the import(s) to one folder. \$\endgroup\$
    – tenmiles
    Apr 25, 2014 at 18:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ my existing hierarchy is full of photos and junk (emails, databases, word, excel, applications) i want to move only images and videos without the junk into a new drive designated to house a clean slate for my resources. minus all the other junk \$\endgroup\$
    – kacalapy
    Apr 25, 2014 at 18:28

Here's how I'd do this, assuming the images aren't currently in Lightroom.

mount both drives.

Fire up lightroom.

Each drive will show up in the folders area of Lightroom. For each, right-click and choose Synchronize. That'll index the drive and cause anything importable to be imported in place. (I think this is faster and less hassle than trying to import the drives through the Import command).

Now you can do pretty much what you want with the images. If you want to grab the interesting stuff and leave the bad stuff behind you can reject the bad images and/or pick the best images, then do searches on the selected stuff and copy them to the NAS into a structure that makes sense. If you want to do some merging before moving to the NAS, you can do that via collections, and then use the collection to migrate the images into a folder on the NAS.

Lightoom has a lot of capabilities here, so I think it's a great tool to do what you want...


Lightroom can certainly do this.

The easiest way (that I can think of) is to make a new catalogue (this keeps the catalogue fresh and clean and avoids the need for hours (depending on number of photos) of Lightroom removing photos from the catalogue) and copy all photos across to your new drive, using the import function. This method moves all photos across and keeps the original catalogue there, in case of emergency. This method does not pick up duplicates within your disk and so you may have multiple copies of a photo.


There are many very good answers about HOW to use Lightroom to do what your question asks. I thought I would provide an answer as to WHY you would want to use Lightroom to do this: Lightroom can automate creation of folders, and provide more power and flexibility in managing those images than can be achieved with folder names alone.

Lightroom is defined by its Catalog. The Catalog contains information on the images that LR manages, such as file names, locations, edits, metadata etc. It does not, however, contain any photos, only a pointer to where the folder is located. Due to this, Lightroom does not care where the photos are located, nor does it need any specific folder names........and neither should you.

The real reason for using Lightroom for moving and cataloging images is to use the automation provided by Lightroom, where it can import the images from other drives, and move them to a new drive using a folder naming methodology available within the Import function. There are several, from folders by date, sequential, sequential names etc. But Lightroom can't automatically create folder names by location, or setting or client.

If you require folder names following some personal naming convention where there is no available metadata in the file, Lightroom is going to be a tedious tool to do what you want. If instead you let some form of metadata determine the folder name, Lightroom will be fast, simple and easy to achieve your goals.

Example: if you want to name folders by photo taken date, Lightroom can easily automate this:



If you want your folders like this:



you will have significant problems with Lightroom, as you will have to define folders for every import, and every file.

So, allowing Lightroom to manage completely the naming of folders is a key to successful use of Lightroom.

But, you may worry that you currently use Folders to help you find photos, and and manage across clients and work. Indeed, folder names can be useful for this, but tedious to keep up with.

Lightroom allows you to expand on the info that folder names provided, by something called Collections and Smart Collections. Essentially, a Collection is a virtual group of photos, that can easily span across folders and even drives. Photos can also belong in more than one Collection. So you can have Collections such as:

Smith Wedding

Smith Rehearsal Dinner

Smith Wedding Ceremony

with photos in each. Photos in 'Smith Wedding Ceremony" are also in 'Smith Wedding".

You can also create Smart Collections, which are Collections that are created by something in the metadata. For example, when you import the photos from the Smith Wedding ceremony, you might add tags such as Smith, Wedding, Ceremony. The Smart Collection will be defined as those images that have all three tags, plus have the Pick flag. This way, your folders and your collections are all automatic...all you have to do is edit! (use the Pick flag to quickly pick out your preferred images)

So, Lightroom is ideally designed to do what you ask, and remove complexity as well as time from managing your photos. The key, however, is allowing Lightroom to manage the images for you, the way it was designed.

note: the downside to leveraging Lightroom is this way is if you need that metadata that the folder names supply to you when not using Lightroom. By doing things Lightroom's way, you make managing images much simpler, but you do lose the fidelity of foldernames OUTSIDE of Lightroom.


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