There and Back Again


The road goes ever on and on... and sometimes you want to work on images while you are away from your main Lightroom catalog. The goods news is that you don't have to be a wizard to make this work. Yes, Lightroom has struggled over the years to be a good companion on the road. But with the improvements in Lightroom 5 your photography field trip to Smaug's lair shouldn't burn you out. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

Here's problem: You are working in your studio. Everything you need is on your main computer. Lightroom is humming along and you have all your original image files available. But now you are going out to some location to do a shoot or you are going to be traveling and you want to work on your images using your laptop.You could copy your catalog to your laptop along with the previews. That only gets you the ability to work in the Library module. Try to enter Develop and Lightroom will remind you that you don't have your original image files with you. So what's the answer?

It is important to remember that letting Lightroom do the heavy lifting will keep it informed of what you are doing and will save you from a whole host of problems. So don't try to copy everything to your laptop. Don't pick and choose original files to copy to a portable drive. Use the capabilities already built into Lightroom. Central to this workflow are Smart Previews! As I've mentioned in a previous article, this new feature in Lightroom 5 lets you take a lot more along with you. So let's take a look at the process.

I am using sample catalogs with only a few images for this example in order to make it easier to see what's going on. Here is my "studio" or main catalog. There are three images I want to take with me on the road. I'll start by selecting the images I want.

Once selected I will use the Export as Catalog.. command under the File menu.

This will bring up a dialog where I can name my new catalog. I'll call it Laptop-Remote and put it on my desktop.

The important option here is Build / Include Smart Previews. This will insure that you have Smart Previews available for these images. This let's you edit them without the need to have access to the original files. Once you finish the export you will have everything you need in one folder on your desktop.

Copy that folder to your laptop or to an external drive you'll have with you. It is this Catalog that you will open on the road.

OK. We have images from the studio with us. But what if we take more photos on our journey? We do like taking photos after all, right? No problem. You can import these into this new Catalog. The critical step to remember here is to import the new original image files into a folder WITHIN the Catalog folder you've brought with you. This will make your life much easier when you get back to the studio.

So here is what we have after adding new images on the road.

I've added a keyword to the new images and made some edits to the images I brought with me from the studio.

It's time to head back home and bring our new treasures back to the studio catalog. Since you followed my advice and imported all those new images into a folder within the traveling folder all you need to do is copy this back to your desktop before starting the merger. If you've been keeping everything on a portable drive then just plug it into your studio computer.

Now, with your main Catalog open in Lightroom use the Import from Another Catalog... command under the File menu.

Choose the Catalog you used on your journey and you will be greeted with a different kind of import dialog.

Long time Lightroom users will feel nostalgic since this is the old import dialog they came to know and love!

You'll notice a warning icon in the upper right corner of any image you altered from the original catalog. This just lets you know that changes have been made.

There are two important things to check in this dialog. First, make sure that you choose Copy new photos to a new location and import under the File Handling section and then point this at your usual folder for images.

Second, in the Replace drop down choose Metadata and develop settings only. Now click Import.

When Lightroom is done your new images and any edits to your existing images will be merged into your main Catalog and Lightroom will know exactly what went on and where everything is.

Once you are satisfied that everything is in your Catalog as expected you can trash the temporary travel Catalog folder and start over on your next trip.

By following this workflow you can maintain your master catalog, bring things along on the road, and let Lightroom keep track of it all!

As with anything in Lightroom there are multiple ways to accomplish a task. This is the method I use and advocate. If you have another way please share with us in the comments!

Enjoy your trip!