Does anyone know of a way to use a secondary computer to render photos from the primary source?

Background: I have a mac that I edit photos on, solely for the display colors. My PC has gaming monitors that do not have the color depth/quality of the mac. I know the PC would be able to render an album at a much greater speed. So I'm wondering if it's at all possible to set up a render farm for Lightroom?

Yes, this would be a temporary solution before I either get a PCIe card to support thunderbolt, or before I drop over $1,000 on a color-rich monitor. Either way, I want my PC to render what my mac can see.

One solution I've found is to share a folder on the mac with the PC, export the catalog to that folder, transfer the catalog to the PC, link the files via the shared folder then render that way. I will try this, but it seems like a lot of back and forth. Especially if my catalog is only 30 pictures (rendered 3 times at different resolutions).

  • 3
    So you have a gaming PC and a slow mac that takes a bit of time to render photos...I don't understand what the problem is...
    – null
    Jun 23, 2015 at 19:09
  • Is your mac monitor calibrated?
    – null
    Jun 23, 2015 at 19:15
  • My Mac monitor is out of the box calibrated. I've done a comparison with the printing company I go through and it's very close to 'true' color.
    – ntgCleaner
    Jun 23, 2015 at 19:36
  • In this case this makes sense. From your question I couldn't tell if the monitor is just more colorful but as wrong as the other monitor or if it's actually the better monitor.
    – null
    Jun 23, 2015 at 19:49
  • Ah yes, sorry. The mac thunderbolt monitor is correct coloring, while the PC Asus monitor is calibrated incorrectly. Every attempt at calibrating it fails for me as the contrast is just not good enough. Also, it's connected via HDMI rather than mDP or TB, so I'm not getting billions of colors
    – ntgCleaner
    Jun 23, 2015 at 19:51

5 Answers 5


One way to prevent the back and forth of data would be to install LR on the PC and store all your files there as well. You than use your mac to connect to your PC via remote control.

Here's the app from microsoft that should do this in the app store

It's kind of like a virtual machine as you have windows in a window, but it's the real thing, being connected to the real machine over the network. Speaking of which, you want a beefy network connection. Don't try this over wifi.

I have no experience with this at all. The reviews aren't looking overwhelmingly positive either. Still, I think this is your best bet.

  • Great idea!! I have a few programs that could do that for me. I'll test this out!
    – ntgCleaner
    Jun 23, 2015 at 19:36
  • 1
    This is a great temporary solution. My only downfall is that I'm looking at a 1920x1080 monitor on a 2560x1440 monitor. So the picture is a bit smaller (because of pixel density). I used teamviewer since I have it installed already. The picture rendering is pretty great, there's just a slight brightness to it. So slight it's hard to tell. For anyone looking for this very specific solution, I suggest doing this!
    – ntgCleaner
    Jun 23, 2015 at 20:02

Save your files on a shared hard drive, and write edits to XMP sidecar files. You can just import that folder on the PC with Lightroom or use Bridge, and export.

However, for 30 images, you aren't going to save any time. Between network latency and import time, its probably going to take longer.

If you had 5000 RAW files (for example) then the overhead wouldn't be a problem.

  • Also, you would not have to use a network hard drive. You could just use an external hard drive that both could read. When you do the pc import you would want to set your build preview to minimal and make sure you are just adding the pictures to the archive not doing a copy. Jun 23, 2015 at 20:08
  • 1
    Using one hard drive means unmounting and remounting it each time. it also means using FAT32 since that's the only common read-write FS for Mac and Windows. So, yes, you want to use a SHARED drive across the network. And you use Bridge so there is no importing. Bridge reads Camera Raw edits just fine as long as they are saved to sidecar files. Jun 23, 2015 at 20:14
  • @Lumigraphics, I've never used XMP sidecar files. I am looking into it now, seems promising!
    – ntgCleaner
    Jun 23, 2015 at 21:27
  • Either way would work. Using a network is going to be much slower than unmounting and remounting an external in most cases [unless were talking about a smaller # of pics]. XMP sidecar files or the original jpegs with the saved Lightroom metadata along with Bridge does sound like a better solution than using Lightroom to import them the pics on the gaming pc. Jun 24, 2015 at 0:49

This is becoming a pain to write in the comments.

By all means, the ideal solution would be to use the good mac monitor and connect it to the fast PC.

You say your Radeon doesn't do TB out. I'd say the minority of cards do. But you are just sending video over TB. Wouldn't it be possible to simply use an adapter to go from HDMI/DVI (whatever your Radeaon has to offer) and adapt it to TB?

An adapter costs 5$ on amazon and it does up to 12 bit per channel.

I'm not sure what mac monitor we are talking about. Do you have a cinema display or an iMac? If you have an iMac, check this question on a sister SE where I also got the link to the adapter from. It suggested that this is not possible in 2013. But maybe there is a solution now? Try to contact apple support. After all, selling adapters is what they make their money with.


By render, I am assuming you mean convert RAW, with edits, via 'Export' in Lightroom. I am not assuming you mean creating previews.

  1. The simplest thing to do is to get an external hard drive.
  2. Format the drive in ExFat, so that both Windows and Mac can read and write to it.
  3. Copy all images, and Lightroom catalogs to this hard drive.
  4. Mount this drive to your Mac, launch the LR catalog from the external drive, and edit your images.
  5. Create a Smart Collection or use Quick Collection to tag those images that you wish to Export.
  6. When you are done editing, simply unmount the drive. Plug drive into your Windows machine.
  7. Launch Windows Lightroom from the same external catalog, choose your Quick Collection, and click 'Export', letting the quicker Windows machine do the rendering.

I have had good success using a Network attached drive, where you can store your images and your LR catalog, which for you means no plugging or unplugging. And if you use a NAS, you don't have to worry about format either. However, its best to quit LR on one machine before you start it on another, to avoid corrupting your files.

Edit: LR and Network Drive or NAS...LR can work fine over networked drives, however, LR does not support multiple users, or multiple access. It can't lock a file in use, which means that if you use a network drive, and ever have LR open on one machine, and try to open it on a different machine, you will most likely corrupt your LR catalog. This is likely the primary reason that Adobe doesn't support this method: because they do not have the features needed to support his type of access safely. However, if you are careful, it works: simply be sure to ALWAYS close LR when you are finished and NEVER launch LR without checking the other machine first.

I have successfully used this over a WD MyBookLive (NAS) drive (slow), and I currently run my USB external drive attached to my router, as a networked drive (not-NAS), running LR on a Mac, and on a Windows machine. I do this for convenience, not the use case you are seeking. The Mac is my main photo editing machine, but occasionally I need an image while on the PC.

  • Very good. Thank you for the detailed steps. Would you mind expanding on the NAS drive? I have one, though LR says something about not being able to use files from a network location.
    – ntgCleaner
    Jun 24, 2015 at 13:18
  • edited with comments about ND/NAS
    – cmason
    Jun 24, 2015 at 13:30

Pre-copy the raws to the PC (when you're asleep or something).

You don't want Lightroom working on files on a slow external. Even a 7200-rpm internal is way slower than an SSD. Don't have a big copy running while you're using Lightroom though—never make Lightroom fight for resources.

When you're ready to render just copy the lrcat file to the PC, spend five seconds changing where it looks for the raw folder (NOT finding missing files, right-click on the old folder name in the left panel, and render. Don't bother with the lrdata file, that's just the previews, and sometimes it's huge.

Exporting and saving XMPs then importing into a fresh catalog is REALLY doing it the hard way.

If you must do it on an external: Format the drive as NTFS and get Paragon so the Mac can write to the drive (OSX natively mounts NTFS drives now, but read-only). FAT 32 and ExFat are horrible solutions for huge modern externals.

  • Using LR on the second machine is going to be slow. That's why Bridge is a better solution. Jun 24, 2015 at 15:20
  • Why would Lightroom be slower than Bridge? The bottlenecks are file access speed and processor speed.... neither are affected by your choice of software. Sure, if you export XMPs and then reimport into a fresh catalog that takes time. So don't do it that way. Copying the lrcat file over is way faster than screwing with XMPs. Jun 24, 2015 at 23:34
  • Because you don't have to copy or import anything. Have you actually tried any of this? I do image processing every day on both Windows and Mac. I've tested to see what workflow is quickest. And you aren't "screwing with XMP's." If you have RAW files, you set Lightroom to save changes to XMP. It happens automatically. Changes have to be saved someplace. Jun 26, 2015 at 14:59
  • "Have you actually tried any of this?" is insulting. No, I haven't done a render farm, but I do regularly share edit duties between my Mac and my biz partners PC. We shoot a show, we both leave with a copy of the raws, we pass an lrcat back and forth as needed. We started by passing XMPs, passing catalogs works much better--- Autosaving XMPs is a non-trivial performance hit if you edit quickly. --- I suppose you could run Bridge on a 100% network basis (instead of the local copies Lightroom requires) but that's slow, and the disk thrashing will impact the usability of your primary machine. Jun 27, 2015 at 2:01
  • If you use RAW files, its faster to save edits and metadata to XMP. And I asked because you are giving out bad advice. The WHOLE IDEA of XMP files is to make the files portable. Jun 29, 2015 at 14:13

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