I've recently started using Lightroom 3 on my desktop computer, where I have all my photos on a large RAID disk (with regular backups!). Now, if I go on holiday I'll only have my laptop with me, which has only limited disk space.

Is it possible to use Lightroom during vacation on my laptop and then transfer all photos (and metadata) to my desktop computer, when I'm back home?


4 Answers 4


Thanks a lot everyone for your tips! I'm going to answer my own question, since none of the answers exactly describes my preferred workflow. So, here goes:

  • Laptop: Create a separate folder for all pics of the vacation, e.g. 2011_03_01-07_Hawaii ;)
  • Laptop: Import all pics from the camera into that folder. Create subfolders as necessary. Edit pics in LR as desired.
  • Laptop: In Library > Folders, right-click on the folder and choose Export this Folder as a Catalog... and choose a shared location (memory stick, network share, etc.)
  • Desktop: Click File > Import from Catalog... Choose the previously exported catalog on the shared location. In the import dialog under 'New Photos' choose: Copy new photos to a new location and import and your preferred location.

That's it!

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, Thomas. this answered the question I was about to post separately! ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Finch
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 15:10

I do this quite a bit when I travel. How you do it is up to you, both have their advantages and disadvantages. You could keep a "Travel Catalog" on your laptop's hard drive and then import that into your "Master Catalog" on the RAID system. You also can just have your "Master Catalog" have multiple directories in it, some on your laptop hard drive and the majority on the RAID system. The catalog needs to live on your laptop though.

I have found that the more consistent system is to keep one single "Master Catalog" that has multiple directories in it. The reason I chose that approach is that I have found my keywording and labeling is much more consistent that way. Since I have one set of Keyword collections and one set of actions and preferences everything works the same.

The key for this style to be effective is to do all of the file management and moving in Lightroom, none in the operating system whether it is Mac or Windows. Doing it all within LR keeps the locations and database synchronized. Yes, it is possible to manually locate the files if you move items outside of LR; however it can be irksome.

What I do is have a directory on my laptop hard drive called "Lightroom Local Images" I know creative name. When on the road and disconnected from my external hard drive, I import all my images in to there in the Master Catalog. I do a year>month>day folder structure but have previously used it with other structures as well. In the Master Catalog you will notice that the folder for the external storage will be listed but all the images will be unavailable with question marks. That is normal. When you reconnect to the external storage it will attach correctly.

When you are ready to move your images from your local drive to the external storage, within the Lightroom Module you can simply drag the directory from location to location. You will typically get a pop-up window that indicates and confirms the move you are doing.

I can provide more information or an example once I get connected to my external hard drive if you have more question.


Yes. If you want to simply use your laptop with Lightroom to manage/edit photos you're creating while on vacation, and when you return home you want to merge those into your main Lightroom catalog, do the following:

  1. Install Lightroom on your laptop
  2. Create a new Lightroom catalog on your laptop
  3. While on vacation, keep all of your photos in a known folder structure. When I've done this in the past, I'll just create a single folder for these images, or perhaps a couple folder by location or day. If you can create these folders so that they'll match your "usual" folder names, that's even better. For example, put them all in a folder called "2011-beachvacation"
  4. When you get home:
    • move the 2011-beachvacation folder to its permanent home.
    • copy the Lightroom catalog file (.lrcat) from your laptop to your main machine.
    • In Lightroom, go to File->Import from Catalog and browse to your .lrcat file
    • The final step is to locate the folder of images. In the Folder panel, find the grayed-out 2011-beachvacation folder, right-click and choose Find Missing Files... browse to the folder of images on your desktop's disk drive and you're set.

Make sure to tell Lightroom to create the optional XMP sidecar file for each photo on the laptop. Then you can just copy the entire file structure to your master computer when you come back home, import the photos into Lightroom on that computer, and you get all your edits, metadata, cropping, and what have you from the sidecar files automatically.

(I use the sidecar option on my main computer too. That way, even if something nasty should happen to the main LR database file and its backups, I can re-import into a blank database and everything falls into place automatically. It doubles the number of files on disk, and costs a few kilobytes of disk space per sidecar, but that is no big concern.)


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