Up until recently, I found myself trying to figure out the best way to share photos between my laptop when I was on the road, and my iMac back at home. There’s no perfect solution, but with a little bit of experimenting, I was able to get a solution that worked really well.

What I tried

During my recent trip to Las Vegas for WPPI, I knew I’d have a ton of different photos I would take both at the conference and during my spare time. I knew I would have to import at least some of my photos to my laptop, otherwise, I’d run out of space on my camera’s memory cards. How would I get the photos from my laptop’s Lightroom catalog to my iMac’s Lightroom catalog?


Those of you who use Macs and iOS devices know about the power of AirDrop, which lets you share documents to and from devices that are closeby. To me, this was the easiest way to get the photos from my laptop’s catalog to my iMac.

To get started, I would make sure all the photos were in a location that could be found on my iMac. So if I imported my photos on my laptop to the Pictures folder on my laptop, I would plan to copy them to that same folder on my iMac. This would ensure that my photos could be quickly located. Alternatively, you could use the File > Export as Catalog… command, but in my experience that can add some additional time to the process.

AirDrop is great for sharing files between contacts, but it’s also a powerful tool when it comes to sharing between two machines of your own.

Then I would drag that file of photos over to my iMac via AirDrop in my Finder. I would do the same with my Lightroom Catalog folder and subsequent files. Once everything had been copied over to my iMac, I would use the File > Import from Another Catalog… command in Lightroom. This would ensure that the edits I had made in my laptop would be brought over to my iMac.

Unless I screwed up something in the process, all of my photos would appear in Lightroom, with the edits I had made in my laptop. Once I confirmed everything was in my iMac’s pictures folder, in Lightroom, I dragged that folder to my Drobo device. It’s important that the work is done the Lightroom interface, not in the Finder.

What about Windows?

The same idea can be used for Windows machines. Instead of using AirDrop, you can use an external hard drive. Make sure your photos are stored on your external hard drive before the move. Then all you have to do is copy your Lightroom Catalog folder and files, and go through the File > Import from Another Catalog… command. Because the location of your folders is the exact same, this should be a pretty quick process.

Then, again, I would drag that folder over to my Drobo device through the Lightroom interface, so the photos from my trip could be stored with the rest of my catalog’s photos.

A better way

Recently, I had to send my iMac in for some repairs. This meant that I would be without my big-screen iMac for at least a week. During that time, I had at least one photoshoot planned, with a few other leads that were waiting to be secured.

While I was without my iMac, I still wanted to be able to access my full Lightroom catalog, as well as all my photos that were stored on the Drobo. So instead of using a separate catalog for my laptop, I decided to put my Lightroom catalog on an external SSD. This would allow me to access that catalog from any computer.

Note that if you have slower USB 2 ports on an older machine, this might slow down your Lightroom workflow slightly. Most modern machines manufactured in the past 2-3 years have either USB 3 or USB-C ports (or both).

When I got done with my photoshoot, I opened up that catalog on my laptop, and all my photos were there. I imported them to the Drobo like I normally would have, despite being on a totally different machine.

What about when I travel?

The same thought can be applied when I’m on the road. Sure, I don’t have my Drobo with me, but I can just as easily import the photos either to my external SSD or internal hard drive. The Lightroom catalog location stays the same regardless.

When I travel, I import my photos to my laptop’s hard drive. Once I’m home, I can just drag those photos right to my Drobo.

Then when I get home, I can open up my Lightroom catalog and move the new photos over to my Drobo through the Lightroom interface. That way I keep my edits and everything stays organized.

What have you used when you’re traveling and dealing with multiple machines? Sound off in the comments below.


Lead photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash