Creating and managing catalogs

When you launch Lightroom and import photos, a catalog file (Lightroom Catalog.lrcat) is automatically created for you. The catalog tracks the photos and their information, but it doesn’t contain the actual photo files themselves. Most people want to keep all their photos in one catalog, which can have thousands of photos, but you can create separate catalogs for different purposes.

Create a catalog

When you create a catalog, you create a name for the folder, such as “Wedding Photos,” that includes a catalog file (such as “Wedding Photos.lrcat”). This catalog file stores catalog settings. When you import photos, a new subfolder (such as “Wedding Photos Previews.lrdata”) is created to store the JPEG preview images.

  1. Choose File > New Catalog.
  2. Specify the name and location of the new catalog folder, and then click Save (Windows) or Create (Mac OS).

Lightroom resets and displays an empty Library module, ready for you to import photos.

Open a catalog

When you open a different catalog, Lightroom closes the current catalog and relaunches.

  1. Choose File > Open Catalog.
  2. In the Open Catalog dialog box, specify the catalog file, and then click Open.

    You can also choose a catalog from the File > Open Recent menu.

  3. If prompted, click Relaunch to close the current catalog and relaunch Lightroom.

You can also change General preferences to specify which catalog is opened when Lightroom is started. See Change the default catalog.

Upgrade a catalog

You can open a catalog from an earlier version of Lightroom, including Lightroom 4 Beta, in Lightroom 4. When you do, you must upgrade it. The old catalog remains untouched and the new, updated catalog contains all of the metadata associated the previous catalog and photos.

  1. Do one of the following:
    • Start Lightroom 4 for the first time.

    • If you’ve opened Lightroom 4 previously, choose File > Open Catalog.

  2. Navigate to the old catalog.lrcat file, and then click Open.
    If you cannot remember where the old catalog is located, search for “lrcat” in the Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac OS). You may also want to optimize and back up the older catalog before you upgade it.
  3. If prompted, click Relaunch to close the current catalog and restart Lightroom.
  4. (Optional) In the Lightroom Catalog Upgrade dialog box, change the destination for the upgraded catalog.
  5. Click Upgrade.

Copy or move a catalog

Important: Before copying or moving a catalog and preview files, back them up.
  1. Locate the folder that contains the catalog and preview files. In Lightroom, choose Edit > Catalog Settings (Windows) or Lightroom > Catalog Settings (Mac OS).
  2. In the Information area of the General panel, click Show to go to the catalog in the Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac OS).
  3. Copy or move the catalog.lrcat and Previews.lrdata files to the new location.
  4. (Optional) Copy or move your image files to the new location.
  5. Double-click the .lrcat file in the new location to open it in Lightroom.
  6. (Optional) If Lightroom cannot find folders or photos in the copied or moved catalog, a question mark appears by folder names in the Folders panel or in photo thumbnails in the Grid view. To restore folder links, right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) a folder with a question-mark icon and choose Find Missing Folder. To relink individual photos, see Locate missing photos.

Combine or merge catalogs

You can create a catalog from existing photos in Lightroom by selecting the photos and exporting them as a new catalog. Then, if desired, you can merge the new catalog with another catalog. This is useful when, for example, you initially import photos into a catalog on a laptop computer and then you want to add the photos to a master catalog on a desktop computer.

  1. Select the photos you want to add to the new catalog.
  2. Choose File > Export As Catalog.
  3. Specify the name and location of the catalog.
  4. Indicate whether you want to export the negative files and previews, and then click Save (Windows) or Export Catalog (Mac OS).

    “Negative files” refers to the original files that were imported into Lightroom.

    The new catalog contains the selected photos and their information. You must open the new catalog to view it.

  5. (Optional) To combine catalogs, import the new catalog into another. See Import photos from a different Lightroom catalog.

Delete a catalog folder

When you delete a catalog folder, you erase all the work you’ve done in Lightroom that isn’t saved in the photo files. While the previews are deleted, the original photos being linked to are not deleted.

 Using Windows Explorer or Mac OS Finder, locate the catalog folder you created and drag it to the Recycling Bin (Windows) or Trash (Mac OS).

Change the default catalog

By default, Lightroom opens the most current catalog at startup. This behavior can be changed to opening a different catalog or to always prompt you to choose a catalog.

 In the General preferences, choose one of the following from the When Starting Up Use This Catalog menu:
The file path of a specific library
Opens the catalog found at a specific file path location.

Load Most Recent Catalog
Opens the most recent catalog you’ve been working with.

Prompt Me When Starting Lightroom
Opens the Select Catalog dialog box at startup.

Note: You can also choose Other, navigate to a specific catalog file (.lrcat) and select it as the default library to open at startup.

Change catalog settings

  1. Choose Edit > Catalog Settings (Windows) or Lightroom > Catalog Settings (Mac OS).
  2. In the General tab, do any of the following:
    Information
    Provides information such as the location, filename, and creation date of the catalog. Click Show to view the file in Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac OS).

    Backup
    Specifies the frequency in which the current catalog is backed up. If a catalog file is accidentally deleted or becomes corrupt, the backup file may help you recover your data. See Backing up the catalog.

  3. In the File Handling tab, do any of the following:
    Preview Cache
    Determines how Lightroom renders preview images. See Set preview cache.

    Import Sequence Numbers
    Specifies starting sequence numbers for photos as you import into the catalog. Import Number is the first number in a series that identifies how many import operations are performed. Photos Imported is the first number in a series that identifies how many photos have been imported into the catalog. See The Filename Template Editor and Text Template Editor.

  4. In the Metadata tab, select any of the following, and then click OK:
    Offer Suggestions From Recently Entered Values
    When you start typing a metadata entry that resembles a previous entry, one or more suggestions appear as you type. Deselect this option to turn it off. Click Clear All Suggestion Lists to clear previous entries.

    Include Develop Settings In Metadata Inside JPEG, TIFF, And PSD Files
    Deselect this option to prevent Lightroom from including Develop module settings in the XMP metadata of JPEG, TIFF, and PSD files.

    Automatically Write Changes Into XMP
    Select this option to save metadata changes directly to the XMP sidecar files, making the changes visible in other applications. Deselect this option to save metadata settings only in the catalog. For information on saving XMP changes manually, see About metadata and XMP .

    Write Date Or Time Changes Into Proprietary Raw Files
    This option controls whether Lightroom writes a new date and time to proprietary raw files when you use the Metadata > Edit Capture Time command to change a photo’s capture time metadata. By default, this option is not selected.

Adobe recommends

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Tutorial | Catalog Settings

Infinite Skills
See why catalogs are the heart of Adobe Lightroom, and then learn how to change catalog settings.

Have a tutorial you would like to share?

Optimize the catalog

After you have imported and removed a number of files, you may have to wait a significant amount of time while working in Lightroom. In such instances, you should optimize your catalog.

 Choose File > Optimize Catalog.

Catalog tutorials

For more on creating, managing, and using catalogs in Lightroom 3 or Lightroom 4, see any of these tutorials: