Merging Multiple Lightroom Catalogs Into One – Here’s How It Works

laptop, desk, lightroomWhat is A Lightroom Catalog?

Adobe Lightroom is an image manipulation software that was first released in 2007 as a single product which later turned into a range of products including the Lightroom CC and the Lightroom Classic CC. An essential component of the Adobe Lightroom is its catalog system. To a new user the use of a catalog may sound difficult and foreign, but it isn’t as hard as most people think.

Since Lightroom is a catalog-based image processing software, the backbone of the entire application is set in its use of the catalog. The catalog system is essentially a database system of information of all the files that are present in Lightroom. This means that the photographs themselves are not used by the catalog system, instead, information about these photographs, such as filters, adjustments or metadata is what is contained in the catalog.

There is also an image preview that allows you to see a thumbnail of sorts of the picture you have selected. Image files that are contained on your drive are never touched by the Lightroom catalog, which is why whenever the application asks you to save or back up your catalog, it’s only asking you to save the data contained inside the images, not the images themselves.

Why use Catalogs?

There are a lot of reasons as to why a catalog system is so necessary and helpful in the photography and development process. One of the most essential reasons is that it allows you to edit your pictures without overwriting them, as is prevalent with Photoshop.

For example, in Lightroom, if you are to add a B&W filter to your photograph, the original, unedited file will still be in place, while the edit is saved in the catalog of Lightroom, as opposed to other editing software where the original picture is often lost post-edit.

Single Vs. Multiple Catalogs

In Lightroom, you have the option of saving your files to multiple catalogs or saving them all to a single catalog. Both of these have their merits and demerits. One of the biggest reasons to avoid a single catalog is the fact that after you have around 15,000 photos in a single catalog, your Lightroom application starts to slow down considerably which can be a hindrance in many ways, not to mention aggravating.

Another reason to avoid using a single catalog is that opening and closing a single catalog constantly makes your files more vulnerable to corruption. However, having multiple catalogs has its issues as well. If you have multiple catalogs in your Lightroom program and you intend to find a specific image, it can be tiring to look through all your catalogs, unless of course you remember the exact catalog that your file was in. Using a single catalog has another advantage, Lightroom’s mobile app works with only one catalog.

Now that we’ve mentioned the pros and cons of both single and multiple catalogs, if you’re interested in merging your multiple catalogs into a single one, here’s how it’s done.

Steps to Merging separate Lightroom Catalogs into one

Identification– Before you begin merging your catalogs, it is necessary for you to find out which of your catalogs will serve as the main or master catalog. You can do this by going to the Lightroom Menu for Mac or the Edit Menu for Windows, then going to Catalog Settings, then choosing the General Tab.

This will lead you to find the catalog you are currently using. To find the other catalogs that you want to add to your master catalog you will have to go to the Search box and type in ‘.lrcat’. This will lead you to find all the other catalogs in your computer since catalogs are saved with the ‘.lrcat’ file extension.

Make note of the catalogs you have and their location. You don’t need to add the files that end in ‘.zip’ or that have numbers such as ‘-2’ at the end since the former are backup files and the latter are files that have been upgraded due to Lightroom being upgraded as well.

Cleanup– Next, after ascertaining which catalogs you will be merging, it’s a good option to open these catalogs and check if any files have missing links. This happens when you move around the image file outside of Lightroom.

To fix this, simply click on the top right corner of your pictures, where there should be an exclamation mark to show that this file is missing a link. Relink these photos and you’ll have a much easier time once you have a single catalog.

Merging– To merge your catalogs you need to create a master catalog which you can do by clicking on the File Menu, choosing New Catalog, then naming it ‘Master Catalog’ and pressing create. Next, import from other catalogs by clicking on File, and then ‘Import from Another Catalog’.

Next, when you are at File Handling, select ‘Add new photos to catalog without moving’. Do this with all your catalogs and you should successfully have merged all your catalogs into one

Backing up– To make sure your files don’t get corrupted by the constant opening and closing of your master catalog, make sure you backup your files every time you exit Lightroom. To do this, click on Lightroom, then Catalog Settings and then Back Up Catalog. Choose how often you would like to back up your catalog.

By doing this you ensure that even if your files do get corrupted the next time you open Lightroom, you will have the latest copy of these files saved into your device which you can later retrieve.

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