I have two Macs: an iMac with a 1TB SSD and a MacBook Pro with a 256GB SSD. My goal is to keep the masters on the iMac (where all the pictures are right now, the MacBook is being shipped to me right now) and then have smart previews or something similar on the MacBook to minimize space usage. I'm thinking how Lightroom mobile does it with the smart previews but I'm not sure if this is an option for the computer version.

I can set up OS X server, use ethernet, thunderbolt or whatever else to transfer the files and keep them in sync. I'm just not sure what the best way to do this is.

  • 1
    Would be better to ask this on Ask Different.
    – Caleb
    Apr 12 '16 at 12:04
  • @Caleb forgot about that, you're probably right
    – Alex
    Apr 12 '16 at 12:07

One possibility is to set up the iMac as a server and then just log into your account on that machine via the MacBook. That would keep all files on the iMac, so no syncing necessary. Might not be as speedy as having local copies of the files, but it's conceptually simple and eliminates the possibility of synchronization problems.


I should preface my response with: my workflow involves two computers, two editors, plus an external editing company. What works for me though, may not work for you and certainly won't work for everybody.

I import every image from an event/job to a master catalog on my iMac, where it's synced to a series of rotating backup disks. Once the images have all been imported, I export that job as a separate catalogue with smart previews to a portable hard disk (any storage media would work - Dropbox, usb key, etc.).

The portable hard disk goes with my laptop and I use it as a storage disk to keep the laptop's hard disk from getting cluttered. (There is a plethora of information regarding storage disks vs. scratch disks).

Once the first phase of editing is done (culling, selecting, etc.), I send the images to an external lab for colour correcting as a trimmed down LR Catalog. with Smart Previews. This saves time uploading and the editing company prefers I send only the images I want edited - it avoids confusion.

When I get the colour corrected images back, I import them back to the master catalog (using "import from another catalog") and do my final Photoshop edits from there.

The trick with all of this is to keep the different phases separate, but to keep backups of your information.

If you want to edit the same images in the same timeframe, using two machines can become very complicated (as you know). If that is the case, I would recommend storing the files you're editing in a "cloud" of some sort - whether that's Apple's proprietary cloud or, as Caleb suggested, your own server, is entirely up to you. I have tried it in the past and it does work, it just has the potential to be painfully slow.


Use Cubby. Cubby has a product very similar to Dropbox, but the local sync does not need the Internet to work. I have kept three macs synced for years using this method. I keep the Lightroom catalogs and smart previews on the SSD, and the images on an external hard drive. (Cubby.com)

  • Do you work for the service provider you mention?
    – dpollitt
    Apr 13 '16 at 12:08

I use both an iMac and Macbook for my workflow as well. I've found the best solution is to have smart previews on both workstations and to transfer the catalog between both on a thumb drive. I currently have over 50K images in my library and they only take up around 12 GB as smart previews so I can still edit on the fly on my Macbook and not have to use a ton of space. I've tested using iCloud as the location for my catalog so I don't have to manually transfer but I would highly advise against that.

I have a NAS 4 bay storage connected to my iMac that I store all my images on and I can connect remotely from my Macbook if I need access to them.

I also found it's best since I usually work on one shoot at a time to import the images from whatever machine I'm working on at the time and keep the images locally until I'm done editing. Once complete I transfer to my NAS for archive.

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