Recently I wrote about how my Lightroom catalog is full and gave an overview of the process you can follow to migrate your catalog out of Lightroom and into Lightroom Classic. This frees up the cloud storage of your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, while still maintaining the database of edits performed on each photo.

In this article I am going to dive deep into each of the steps, so that you can rescue your bloated Lightroom catalog!

Before getting started

I’ll refer to Lightroom as Lr and Lightroom Classic as LrC for the rest of this walk-through.

Before you do this process, you will need enough clear hard drive space for your Lr catalog to fit on (temporarily, see step 4). Click the cloud in the top right of Lr to see how much storage your catalog is using in the cloud: this is how much space you’ll need on your local machine to migrate things out of Lr.

1. Create a Classic catalog to sync with your Lightroom catalog

If you already sync a LrC catalog with Lr then you’re ahead of the game here. But if you’re like me and your LrC catalog is completely separate from Lr, then this is how to link them.

Open LrC and create a new catalog (File, New Catalog). Click the cloud icon in the top right, then the settings gear, make sure your account is connected, and specify where you want photos from Lr to download to under Specify location for Lightroom’s Synced images. I also selected Use subfolders formatted by capture date (otherwise every photo is just dumped in one big bucket with no sorting).

Set up where you want your Lightroom catalog photos to download to in the Preferences window.

 Once done, you can click Start Syncing (cloud icon again) to finish connecting to your Lr catalog.

You can also connect an existing LrC catalog to Lr. The photos that are synchronized with Lr will appear in the Collections pane of your library, and under All Synced Photographs in the Catalog pane. The synced photos location that you set in Step 1 will also show up in the Folders pane.

2. Wait until everything downloads from your Lightroom cloud storage to your local machine

Lr will now force a download of everything that is in your cloud storage onto your local drive (in the location you have specified above). Yes, this creates duplicates (unless for some reason you don’t have your original photos stored on your hard drive already), but we are going to fix this in step 6.

This step might take a while if you have a lot of photos in the cloud. Just leave your computer running and come back in a few hours (or days).

3. Pause syncing in the new Classic catalog once everything is downloaded

OK, now we are ready to start migrating things out of the cloud. Hit the cloud icon again and click Pause syncing. If you don’t do this, in step 5 you will end up having to manually track down photos in Lr and remove them. It’s easier if you pause syncing until you finish reorganizing.

4. Select individual collections and uncheck “Sync with Lightroom”

All of the albums that you have in Lr become collections when they download to LrC. (Unfortunately, none of the higher-level organization in Lr is maintained, so if you have your Lr albums in folders, you will need to re-create these as collection sets in LrC, if you still want that structure.)

Right-click on a Collection that you want to migrate out of Lr, and uncheck Sync with Lightroom. The sync icon beside the collection will change to an empty checkbox.

5. In Lightroom, go to the album that you have just un-synced in Classic

Find the corresponding album in Lr, and select all the photos. Delete them, then delete the album.

Once the photos have completely downloaded to your computer and you have unsynced the Album you want to migrate out of Lightroom, you can delete the photos in Lightroom to clear your storage.

If you didn’t pause syncing in step 3, the Lr album will already be gone, but the photos themselves will still be in cloud storage, so you would have to find them manually (e.g. by searching for the date or filename), and then delete them. It’s easier to track them down when they’re still in the Album, which is why I recommend pausing sync before starting the migration steps.

Accidentally removed photos you still need in Lr? Don’t worry. Lr will store deleted photos in trash for 60 days before they are deleted forever. Just head over to trash and restore them.

6. Fix the fact that you now have duplicate originals on your hard drive

This step is optional, technically, but if you’re like most photographers, you probably have your originals already on your hard drive, which you uploaded to Lr, which then downloaded to a new location when you synced Lr, which now means you have duplicates taking up your precious hard drive space.

Don’t worry. This is an easy fix. Find the collection you have just un-synced, right click on any photo, and click Show in Explorer (or Show in Finder).

7. Rename the folder

Rename the folder that the photo is in. You could just delete it straight off the bat, but just in case you don’t have the originals stored elsewhere, renaming the folder until you’re sure everything is in order is safer!

LrC will now put an [!] on each photo that was in that folder, showing that it has lost the link to the original file.

8: Click the [!] and browse to your original, wherever it’s stored

Find the replacement file in your photo storage location. Make sure the option to find nearby missing files is selected: This generally means that you only have to do this once for each Collection, if you use good storage principles for your originals (e.g. originals stored in folders numbered with reverse dates, etc).

9. Once the photos are linked back to the proper originals, delete the new originals that Lightroom has downloaded

Once all the photos in the collection have been successfully re-linked, you can delete the new originals that Lr forced you to download from the cloud in step 2.

10. Repeat from Step 4 for all the collections/albums you want to remove from Lightroom

Repeat the process: Uncheck Sync with Lightroom on the collection in LrC, delete the photos and the album from Lr, relink to your own originals in LrC and delete duplicate downloaded originals off your drive.

11. When you are done, tell Classic to resume syncing with Lightroom

Click the cloud icon and let it resume syncing.

As new photos are added in Lr, they will be downloaded to the location that you specified in step 1 so that the two catalogs are kept in sync. You might choose to keep the “downloaded” originals as your own source of originals, going forward, instead of following steps 6–9 to remove duplicates.

12. Any time you want to clear out your cloud storage from Lightroom, repeat steps 3–11

Pause syncing, do your file shuffles, and then resume syncing.

Migrating your catalog out of Lightroom helps free up your cloud storage

This is a complex process but once you get your head around it, I hope it gives you more power over your Lightroom and Lightroom Classic catalogs. Check out the first article in this series for another way that Lightroom might be eating up your hard drive space!