How to use Lightroom Classic on multiple computers

So, you want to use Lightroom Classic on multiple devices, do you? The bad news is that it’s not quite as easy as you possibly first thought. The good news, however, is that it’s doable. And once you get into the habit of doing it the correct way you won’t be having any issues and will be happily editing away on as many devices as you wish… or can afford. Let me show you how it’s done correctly!

In theory but not in practise

To put that short introduction into context, there are many ways you might think using the same Lightroom Classic catalog on multiple devices could work. In reality the methods that first come to mind end up being more of a hassle than it’s worth.

In the past, I’ve tried to use the same Lightroom Classic catalog on multiple systems. I had my large desktop replacement laptop and a Microsoft Surface I took with me on longer train journeys.

My idea was to somehow synchronize a folder, which contained the catalog, between both systems. The raw files would be stored on an external drive. To put it bluntly, it just doesn’t work. The catalog likes being on one computer and one computer only. I’ve tried syncing it using Google Drive and Dropbox, keeping it on an external harddrive and manually copying it across using a network share. All with middling success. In the end all attempts caused so many issues that I had to find another way of doing things.

Lightroom Classic doesn’t like multiple computers

And if you were to try the same I could almost guarantee that at some point you will end up with issues. Because that is just not the way Lightroom Classic was designed to work. There are proper ways around that though. For this example example I’m going to use two scenarios. In scenario A we’re going to be importing our photos on our main editing rig. Let’s say that it is a desktop computer located in your office and all our photos are saved to an internal disk. However we’re going to be out of said office for some time, you know, because maybe a global pandemic might be happening, and we want to edit on our secondary machine, which is a laptop.


Export a folder as Lightroom Classic catalog

In this scenario you enter Lightroom Classic’s library module, right-click on any folder, and select Export this folder as Catalog. That way you’re creating a whole new catalog that just includes the selected folders. Lightroom Classic will not just export the subset of your main catalog but also all of the photos. You can save this catalog subset on to an external drive and use it while you’re away from your main editing rig.

Once you’ve got Lightroom Classic installed on your laptop you can simply double-click on the exported catalog to open it up. From then on you can work on this catalog until you’re able to return to your main editing rig.

Once you’re back in the office you can open up Lightroom Classic on your main editing rig. This should open up your main Lightroom Classic catalog which is now missing the edits you made on your laptop.


Click on File and select Import From Another Catalog. Simply select the catalog on your external drive and let Lightroom Classic do its thing. Make sure you check the box next to All Folders or select individual folders. It appears that Lightroom has some scaling issues in this window but those small boxes definitely are checkboxes.

Then tell it to replace the Metadata and develop settings only. That way all of your edits will be brought into your main catalog but because the photos are already present they don’t have to be copied across. If you wanted you could also preserve the old settings as a virtual copy. To avoid confusion I would now delete the subset catalog permanently and create a new one when needed.

Importing a new catalog

In scenario B we’re taking a longer trip and have brought our laptop and an external drive with us so we can backup all of the SD cards onto a more secure medium. If we’d have thought this through we would have already set up the folders in Lightroom Classic on our main editing rig and exported a subset. But, unfortunately, we forgot. For this we’re going to create a brand new catalog on our external drive and add our photos, as we would on our main editing rig.


Once the trip is over we can simply connect the external drive to our main editing rig. From there simply use the same function as in scenario A to import your photos. In this scenario we will also be copying our photos onto the internal disk. Just make sure you have the right location selected and you’re ready to go. Keep in mind that this will take considerably longer because all of the image files will have to be copied too and not just the edits.

Once done our folder containing the files has been copied and our photos, along with their edits, have been imported. In both scenarios not just the edits will be imported but also metadata such as keywords and ratings.

1 thought on “How to use Lightroom Classic on multiple computers”

  1. Thank you. This is really useful and clear. I have exactly the same issue having just bought a laptop as a secondary computer for travelling and wrestling with how to set things up. At home I have set up the two computers to work as a network, so I can access all my desktop files from the laptop and vice versa, and in that scenario, was wondering if I can actually use the catalog on the desktop on the laptop. My first attempt is probably the wrong idea: I created a new catalogue on the laptop and now I am importing all the many images from my 2021 catalogue on the desktop, but wondering if I am going to get into a mess with different versions on the two computers because they are in two catalogues, or if I can sync folders where I have made edits so that I can update the desktop when I have finished editing on the laptop. Your article is helping me to get a clearer picture….


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