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Where Should I Keep My Lightroom Catalog?

Keeping your Lightroom catalog safe is essential to preserving your hard work. After all, your catalog contains your organization (and possibly the bulk of your edits).

The Quick Answer on Location

So where should you store the catalog? The answer is it depends.

  • Single computer: create a folder on your local hard drive, name it Lightroom Catalog and save the catalog to this location. This is the fastest way Lightroom can access the catalog.
  • Multiple computers: create a folder on an external hard drive, name it Lightroom Catalog and save the catalog to this location. This setup trades speed for portability allowing access to any computer connected to the hard drive.

Understanding Catalogs

When you start Lightroom the first time, it automatically creates an empty catalog file (Lightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat) for you on your main hard drive in Lightroom’s folder. Let’s take a step back for a moment and explain what a catalog is. A catalog is a database that tracks the location of your photos and information about them. When you edit photos, rate them, add keywords to them, or do other things to photos in Lightroom, all of those changes are stored in the catalog. The photo files themselves are not touched. This understanding of a catalogs helps us to determine where we should store it.

Single Computer

Since a catalog is a database that stores the location of our photos, we can have the catalog file; ending in the extension .lrcat, saved in one location and our photos stored in another. If you only access Lightroom on a single computer, create a folder on your local hard drive, name it Lightroom Catalog and save the catalog to this location. This is the fastest way for Lightroom to access the catalog. Your photos should be stored on an external drive. There are many reasons for this, “Why Store Photos on a Separate Hard Drive” explains why.

Multiple Computers

Imagine we have a Desktop computer as our main computer and a Laptop as our secondary or travel computer. We want to access Lightroom’s catalog from both computers. Changes we make on the Desktop computer needs to be seen on the Laptop computer or any computer that opens the catalog. For this to happen, we create a folder on an external hard drive, name it Lightroom Catalog and save the catalog to this location. This setup trades speed for portability allowing access from any computer connected to the hard drive. Your photos must be stored on the external drive. Once the catalog is opened from either computer, changes to the photo are saved to the catalog and can be seen from both devices.

Network access BUT not network compatible.

You can open a Lightroom catalog from a NAS (Network attached storage) but Lightroom places a lock on the file. This prevents simultaneous access. When you exit from Lightroom, the other computer can access the catalog.

*August 21, 2015 This no longer can be accomplished. Your images can reside on the network drive, but the catalog must be on a local drive to the computer. Some people use dropbox.

Recap

  • For the best performance, store your Lightroom catalog on your local hard drive. A Solid State Hard Drive (SSD) is even better.
  • If you need to be portable, store your Lightroom catalog and photos on a fast external hard drive.

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