I use Lightroom, and I have one main catalog on my desktop computer. This catalog houses all of my photographs (over 250k of them), and they all are on a Drobo in my office at home. However, when I travel, I still want to be able to use Lightroom, and so I have what I call my “travel” catalog on my laptop. This is sort of a temporary home for the photos I am creating while traveling.
Here’s how it works: I create photos with my camera, import them to my laptop (and oftentimes a backup hard-drive as well), and then sort, edit, and share from that catalog on my laptop. Then, when I get home, I transfer those images from the Lightroom catalog on my laptop over to the Lightroom catalog on my iMac. This way I am able to save all of the edits and organization from my travel photos so that I don’t have to redo anything when I am home.

How to transfer photos from one Lightroom catalog to another:

In this example, I will be transferring photos from Lightroom on my 13-inch MacBook Pro to the Lightroom catalog on my iMac:

  1. First, on my laptop, I go into the catalog and select the folder of images I imported and want to transfer over. Then, I go to File > Export this Folder as a Catalog.
  2. I select a location I want to store the catalog, typically the Desktop. I also only export the catalog information, and not the negative files (those will be moved within Lightroom once the import is complete).
  3. Once the catalog is exported I need to connect the laptop to my iMac with a cable (I use the lightening cable for my setup). Then, I need to access the computer as a hard-drive on my iMac. So on my MacBook Pro, I go into the System Preferences, select the Target Disk Mode and the laptop will restart.
  4. Now, inside of the Lightroom catalog on my iMac (desktop), I go to File > Import from Another Catalog.
  5. I select the catalog I just exported, and click Choose.
  6. A window will pop up, and I select the option that says Add new photos to catalog without moving and click Import. The images and their data will now import into the catalog on my desktop.
  7. Now, in the Folders panel, I can locate the images that were just imported. However I want to move them to my desktop computer, instead of keeping them on my laptop. To do this, I select the folder of imported images and drag/drop it over to the folder on my desktop where I want it to permanently live. The photos will be moved internally within the Lightroom catalog, as well as be removed off of the laptop computer as well.