How to properly move between computer systems using Lightroom
or How to send my Lightroom catalog to someone for Outsourcing
This question comes up all the time in various forums and Facebook groups. Photographers want the ability to work on their images whether they are at the studio working on a desktop or traveling with a laptop. There are several methods for accomplishing this.
Let's start with the easiest, sending your Catalog For Outsourcing:
Why is this the easiest? Because all you need to accomplish this is your catalog and the Smart Previews file. What are Smart Previews you ask? Well beginning with Lightroom 5, Adobe added function called Smart Previews. Smart Previews are small, compressed DNG files. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 2500 pixels on the long edge, and using a lossy compression. But you can do almost everything you need to do in Lightroom with the exception of Editing in Photoshop and Exporting full size images. This is perfect for photographers that need to send a job to someone for culling and\or color correction.
This is also a great method for moving a job over to a laptop for editing on the road. Just need to make the decision whether or not you need to do extensive editing in Photoshop or not. If that answer is no then you can proceed with this method.
Using this method you will receive your catalog back and then you just merge that into your main catalog. There is also a side benefit to using Smart Preview that came out with Lightroom 6.7 or CC 2015.7 and that is telling Lightroom to use Smart Previews while in the Develop module. This can help increase performance on some systems. The downside to Smart Preview is the time it takes to create them and they do take up some hard drive space, although not as much as the original RAW files which is what makes this the preferred method for transferring.
If you do not fall into the category where using Smart Previews makes sense, then you have a few choices:
1: Keeping all your RAW files and your catalog on external storage and moving it between systems.
2: Keeping all your RAW files and your catalog on a sharing service and having that sync on multiple systems.
3: Keeping your catalog on your local drive and RAW files on external.
Lets look at the Pros and Cons of each scenario.
Using External Storage for everything
Pros: This is by far the simplest method for moving between systems. Simply unplug the drive and plug it into your other system.
Cons: Running a catalog from an external device is prone to more errors due to unintended disconnects. This will also perform slower than running the catalog from an internal drive
Using a sharing service for everything
Pros: Everything is synchronized on all computers. Catalog access will be faster since the catalog is actually stored on your internal drives.
Cons: The downside to this method is huge. You have to be extremely careful that Lightroom is never left open on one of the systems. Remember Lightroom is not designed to share catalogs and leaving it open and opening up on another system will create a conflict situation on the remote computer and on the sharing service. There can also be performance issues due to the amount of data that will need to be synchronized as the catalog and the regular previews are constantly updated. This is my least recommended method.
Using a hybrid approach
Pros: The catalog runs from your internal storage which is fast. RAW files are stored on an external drive which is easy to move between systems.
Cons: You need to copy the catalog to the external and then onto the internal on your remote system. Repeat this process when you are moving back to your main system.
I definitely prefer the Hybrid method as it is by far the safest way of transferring your catalog and working on a remote system. Its just a matter of copying the catalog file back and forth.
You may run into further issues depending on the method you use. For example of you are moving between Mac and PC, there are issues with how the drives are labeled and you will need to “fix” Lightroom every time you move back and forth. Not a big deal but more of an annoyance.
There is one more method for taking work to a remote system
Exporting a portion of a catalog as a new Catalog
This method lets you take part of a catalog and export it out to its own catalog. This can be used for the Outsourcing method as well.
Depending on your needs you can create/include Smart Previews and also include the original Negatives if you need to work outside of Lightroom. This is the method I used in the Smart Previews video above.