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Merging Lightroom Catalogs in 5 Easy Steps

I have two computers – a beautiful 5K iMac at my studio, and a MacBook Pro that I travel with. My schedule can get crazy, especially when I’m traveling 2-3 weeks in a given month. It’s not practical to take my entire photo library with me when I travel, so I often find myself creating a temporary catalog on my laptop and merging it with my main catalog back at the studio.

While the task sounds daunting, it really isn’t that complicated. Let’s get started.

I’m assuming you already created your temporary catalog and you’re about to merge it with your main catalog.

Step 1: Prep the Temporary Catalog

When merging catalogs, let’s take a quick look through our Folders and Collections. Look for missing items, empty Collections and things you don’t necessarily want to add to your main catalog.

Step 2: Open the Main Catalog

Now we need to open up our main catalog. This might be on another computer or could be on the same computer. If it’s not the last-opened catalog, you’ll need to choose File > Open Catalog.

Shortcut: By holding the Option key on Mac / Alt key on Windows when clicking the Lightroom icon, a dialog box will pop up allowing you to choose a catalog or create a new catalog before Lightroom launches.

Step 3: Import

From your main catalog, choose File > Import from a Catalog. Locate where your temporary catalog file is and choose it.

Lightroom will inspect it and a dialog box will pop up.

Step 4: Choose What to Import

From the dialog box, we have the option to import both the Folders and Catalogs of our choosing into the main catalog. By default, Lightroom will put a checkmark next to everything.

Near the bottom of the window you have the option to select File Handling. Lightroom by default will opt to add the new photos to the catalog without moving them to a new location. You can also select the option to copy new photos to a new location and then import them into the main catalog.

My preferred method is to let Lightroom copy the new photos to a new location (on my main photo hard drive, where I store all my other images) and then import them into the main catalog. The reasoning for this is bringing a portable drive with my catalog and photos from my laptop to my main desktop. If I just choose add new photos, Lightroom will see the photos on the portable drive and it would be up to me to copy and re-link the photos back in Lightroom.

If you have multiple catalogs on the same computer, and your photos are already set up on your main photo drive, then it makes sense to just add new photos because theyre already in place.

Step 5: Click Import

Now that we’ve gone through the dialog box, we can go ahead and click Import. Lightroom will start to merge the temporary catalog with the main one.

After the import, the temporary catalog is still in tact. You can open it back up if you need to refer to something or you can just delete it knowing your images are already in your main catalog.

Why do it this way?

You could be wondering…Why create a temporary catalog when you could just take your main catalog with you and it will just show missing images?

Creating a temp catalog doesn’t take much time at all. I don’t have to plan ahead and copy my main catalog into an external hard drive. I don’t have to move it from machine to machine and worry about which version is the most current. The temp catalog is small in size and it makes using the program much smoother.

As a final note, make sure to treat this temporary catalog as safely as your main catalog. That means having a sound backup plan, with multiple copies of your data.

Have questions or concerns? Let us know in the comments below.

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