One of the advantages of using Lightroom catalogs is while you travel or are on location shooting you can download photos to your laptop, develop them on your laptop then transfer all the work to your studio computer at a later date. This is a real common workflow for photographers who travel with a laptop and have a studio computer back at home. Without a little knowledge of catalogs and how to transfer them, this could be a headache and potentially make a mess of your studio catalog if not done right. Let's take a look at how to transfer your photos in Lightroom from your laptop to your studio computer.
When preparing to copy photos from one computer to another its helpful to have a portable drive with enough room to hold all the photos you want to transfer. This could be as large as 200Gb if you are transferring a large set of photos or as little as 1Gb. You can check to see how much data is in a folder by doing a Control-click (Mac OS) or Right-click (Windows) on a folder in the Folders panel while in the Library module then choosing Get Info (Mac OS) or Properties (Windows) from the pop up menu. Once you know the amount of data that will need to be transferred you can make sure you have a large enough drive to perform the move. You'll also need to make sure the photos are online and do not have a question mark on the folder or grayed out.
First, you'll need to select all the photos you want to transfer inside the Library module of Lightroom and this can be done a few ways. You can add the photos you want to transfer to a Collection, select a single or multiple folders in the Folders panel, or select one of the categories in the Catalog panel such as All Photographs.
I prefer to select multiple folders in the Folders panel so I know only the photos from certain dates or shoots will be selected. If you organize your photos by date you can be certain only those folders selected will be transferred and not others that could also be in a Collection from another date. I also organize my photos with all my raw images in a folder named "Raw" which then reside in another folder with the date and description of the shoot. You can select the parent folder which will select all folders and photos inside to be transferred. With the folder(s) selected, you can now go to the File menu and choose Export as Catalog…
When the Export as Catalog window pops up, you can give the catalog were exporting a name in the Save As: field. The name is not important but will be helpful if it's something descriptive about the shoot so you know what the files are when you see it on your hard drive. There's nothing worse than having multiple catalogs oin a drive with no clue as to what's in them. Select where you would like to transfer the photos in the Where: drop down menu. This will presumably be the portable drive you are using to perform the transfer. You can make a folder inside the drive so the photos and catalog will organized together.
Export Selected Photos Only Depending if you had all the photos in the folder selected or not, you may see the top box labeled, Export Selected Photos Only. If you do have them all selected you will not see this box available in this window. If you have only one or partially selected the folder of images you will see the box labeled Export Selected Photos Only. This allows you to export the entire folder(s) of images or only the selected photos. Check the box if you only want to export the selected images. You can be sure what is going to be exported by looking just above the check box and you will see Exporting a catalog with x photos and can see how many photos are being exported.
Export Negative Files You will want to check this box as this is what transfers all the original photos with the catalog. Leaving this unchecked will export a catalog with all the info and settings of the photos but not the photos themselves.
Include Available Previews Checking this box exports the previews of all the photos. This is not a necessary box to check but if you don't, your studio computer will have to generate new previews of all the photos when you import them.
Now that you have checked the appropriate boxes, you can choose the Export Catalog button. Depending on how many photos you are exporting this can take a few minutes. Maybe a lot of minutes. You can see the progress bar in the upper left of the Lightroom window while its exporting the catalog of photos.
Above is a screen shot of the folder in my portable drive of what Lightroom exported in this exercise. Notice how it kept my files organized just the way I did on my laptop with my raw files inside my folder with the date and description. It also created two files with the name I used when exporting the catalog. Note one has Previews added to the name which is the .lrdata file. The .lrcat file is the actual catalog with all my develop settings and metadata for my photos. Now I can take my drive to my studio computer and import them in to my main catalog.
Importing the Catalog
Now were going to import the catalog and merge the photos to our master catalog on our studio computer. Once the portable drive is connected to the studio computer we can launch Lightroom with the catalog we want to import the photos in to. Once in Lightroom, go to the File menu and choose Import from Another Catalog… and select the catalog file on your portable drive with the .lrcat extension.
Once you choose the catalog to import you will get the Import from Catalog window with some options. You should see the folder selected in the Catalog Contents section at top with the number of photos you will be importing, leave that checked. If you are not sure they are the correct photos, you can check the Show Preview box at the bottom left of the window to see the previews of the photos you will be importing.
The second section gives us three choices in the File Handling drop down menu. We will be choosing Copy new photos to a new location and import. With this choice selected, Lightroom will import the photos to our catalog and copy the raw files to our studio drive.
A quick note about the other two options, if you select Add new photos to the catalog without moving, you will add the references of the photos to your catalog but they will remain at their current location which in this case is the portable drive and the drive will have to stay connected in order to edit them. If you select Don't Import New Photos, Lightroom will only import photos that already exist in the current catalog if it has the same file name, EXIF capture date, and the same file size.
Now that we have, Copy new photos to a new location and import selected, we need to tell Lightroom where we want them copied to on our studio computer. Click on the Choose button and select the folder where you want the photos copied to. The next section labeled Changed Existing Photos should be grayed out so no need to change anything here. Now just choose the Import button and we should be done.
You will now see the Import window and depending on how many photos you are bringing in to your catalog, it may take a few minutes or more. Once this is done, all your photos should now be in your master studio catalog with all the develop settings and any other metadata changes you made on your laptop like added keywords or labels.