How to Merge Lightroom Catalogs in Lightroom

This guide will give you the easiest ways to merge Lightroom catalogs.
I’ve been using Adobe Lightroom for years and have sometimes needed to merge catalogs.
Merging catalogs helps keep your Lightroom workspace organized, facilitating a smooth workflow.
Let’s dive into the tutorial.


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How to Merge Lightroom Catalogs
Lightroom catalogs store file information. This includes the file location, metadata, and Lightroom edits.
Some photographers choose to work from one master Lightroom catalog, while others swear that using multiple catalogs is more efficient.
It’s up to each photographer if they choose to work with multiple Lightroom catalogs or just one master catalog.
You can decide what works best for your photography practice.
However, knowing how to merge catalogs will give you the option to merge all into one if necessary.
Let’s get started.
Step 1 – Spring Clean the Catalog
It’s a good idea to give the catalog to be transferred a quick spring clean before you merge it with the master catalog.
You don’t want to clog up the master catalog with duplicate photos, unresponsive thumbnails, and unwanted photos.
Catalogs have a knack for accumulating duplicates. One of the best ways to find duplicates (or triples) is to run a Capture Time search.

When you do this, Lightroom displays images taken at the same time side by side, making it easy to spot and delete duplicates.
The next clean-up action is to locate missing photos.
Missing photo thumbnails are displayed in the Lightroom library, but these thumbnails are no longer linked to the original photo.
To locate unlinked photo thumbnails, head to the main menu and select Library > Find All Missing Photos.
Another way to find unlinked photos is by the exclamation mark in the thumbnail’s top right-hand corner.
When you’ve found an unlinked photo, you can now either delete its thumbnail or relink it.
For a more detailed guide to removing duplicates, check out this post.
Step 2 – Open Catalog
Decide which Lightroom catalog you wish to add the catalog to.
This will now become your master Lightroom catalog.
Open the master catalog.
Step 3 – Import Second Catalog
Next, import the new catalog.
To do this, head to the main menu and select File.
From the drop-down menu, select Import from Another Catalog.

Once clicked, a finder window will pop up.
Navigate to the Lightroom catalog you wish to add.
The catalog to be merged does not need to be located on your computer or in the Lightroom application.

However, the filename must end in .lrcat
Select the catalog and click Choose to open it.

Step 4 – Import Catalog Settings
Once you press Choose, a dialogue window appears displaying import options.

In the first panel of the dialogue window, you can select which folders you wish to import.
You can import all of the catalog folders or select just one.
If there is a blue tick beside the folder’s name, it will be imported.
If you do not want to import a folder, click on the folder’s name to remove the tick.

Below the first panel, you will find the File Handling options.
From here, select “Add new photos to catalog without moving.”

This means the photos will not be removed from their original location.
You can select the second option, “Copy new photos to a new location and import,” if you wish to relocate them.
The next option in the panel is Change Existing Photos.
This is relevant when the catalog to be imported has photos identical to those of the master catalog.
As you can see in the image below, the catalog we are importing has 22 existing photos.

If you are unsure, select Nothing.
When you need to, you can manually delete imported doubles rather than allow Lightroom to make the executive decision.

However, if you want Lightroom to replace files, select one of the other two options.
Which you choose will depend on what you need Lightroom to preserve.
You can choose to replace metadata and develop settings only, or to also preserve negative files.
When these options are selected, the imported files will override the current catalog files’ settings.
Tick the box beside “Preserve old settings as a virtual copy” if you wish to keep a backup of the files.
Tick the box beside “Replace non-raw files only” if you wish to avoid replacing raw files.
Now click Import.
Lightroom will take a few moments to import the new folders to the master catalog.
Step 5 – Delete Imported Catalog
When the import is complete, you can choose to delete the imported catalog from its original location.
Alternatively, if space is not an issue, you might wish to store the imported catalog as a backup.
Step 6 – Organise the Master Catalog
Now, you will have a consolidated master Lightroom catalog.
To keep your catalog workspace organized, you can arrange your photos into collections.
Collections can be organized based on your preference, such as by theme, time, or project.

Step 7 – Backup the Master Catalogs
Now that you have a master catalog, it’s worth checking Lightroom’s backup settings.
Head to the main menu and select Lightroom > Catalog Settings.
The Catalog Settings dialogue window will open. Click the General tab.

Here, you can select how often you wish Lightroom to back up the catalog.
I prefer to back up the catalog once a day when exiting Lightroom.
Set your preference and close the dialogue window.
I also like to back up a copy of my master catalog on the cloud once a week; other people use an external hard drive.
This is an extra precaution I take to keep my valuable work secure. I know I will be able to access my work if a natural disaster occurs or my device is damaged.
Remember that it’s important to transfer a catalog, not the original photos, to the master catalog.
The reason for this is that information on Lightroom edits is stored in the catalog, not in the original photo file.

Lightroom Catalogs vs Lightroom Collections
Some photographers prefer to work from one master catalog, while others use a different catalog for each photo shoot.
Photographers who work with numerous catalogs say that using only one catalog can make it difficult to locate files when they need them.
If you have thousands of photos, you would have to trawl through pages of them before you find the one you need.
Because of this, photographers who use one master catalog divide their jobs into Lightroom Collections.
Lightroom Collections can be used to organize a catalog so that it’s easier to navigate.
One drawback to working with Lightroom Catalogs instead of Lightroom Collections is that when one catalog is open, you cannot view images in another catalog.
You must close the current catalog and reopen the next catalog every time you wish to view, edit, or export a photo.
Another disadvantage to working with more than one catalog is that only one catalog can sync with the Lightroom mobile app.
If you’re a fan of Lightroom’s mobile app, use a master catalog. Then, you will be able to access all your photos on your phone.
Another potential benefit to using one master catalog is that regularly opening and closing catalogs can lead to file corruption.
Still, some photographers swear that it’s better to work with numerous catalogs.
Another advantage to numerous catalogs is that Lightroom runs faster when there are fewer images in the open catalog.
Thus, some photographers opt for smaller catalogs to keep a speedy editing process.
However, you will need to have accrued a hefty collection in the hundreds of thousands to notice the impact on your workflow.

Most photographers will not have enough photos to notice an effect on Lightroom’s processing speed.
A rule of thumb is if you shoot less than a thousand photos a week, one Lightroom catalog will suffice.
However, if you notice that Lightroom is slowing down, you can create more catalogs.
Another plus to working with multiple catalogs is that smaller catlogs are easier to move than large ones.
In short, the multi-catalog option is best for photographers working with high volumes of images.
Using one master catalog is better for photographers with a smaller volume of photos.
Whether you decide to opt for a catalog or collections will depend entirely on your editing workflow. No photographer’s workflow is the same.

Consolidate All Lightroom Catalogs
After reading this tutorial, you might wish to consolidate all your Lightroom catalogs into one.
The best way to do this is to scan your computer and take note of each catalog’s file name and location.
Step 1 – Search and List Catalogs
When searching your hard drive, you can find Lightroom catalogs using the Lightroom extension .lrcat.
If you’re working on a Mac, use Mac’s Spotlight to search for Lightroom catalogs; when using Windows, use Windows Search.
Make a record of each of the catalogs’ file names.
Step 2 – Watch out for Duplicates
Sometimes, duplicate Lightroom catalogs are created when saving them.
If you add duplicate catalogs, you will end up with thousands of identical photos that you will have to delete.
Compressed and zipped folders will typically be duplicate catalogs. Check to see if they are duplicates and exclude them from your list if they are.
Catalogs with identical metadata, such as date created and saved, can also be backup catalogs.
When a catalog’s name ends in -2, -3, or another number, it can mean the catalog has a duplicate.
If there are duplicate catalogs, use the one edited most recently.
The most recently saved catalog will have your latest edits recorded.
Step 3 – Follow the Steps Above to Add Catalog
Before adding catalogs to the master catalog, give each catalog found a scan and a virtual sweep out.
Now, you can follow the steps in the tutorial above to add all your Lightroom catalogs to the master catalog.
We hope you enjoyed this tutorial.
If you’d like to enhance your Lightroom skills, check out – 5 Popular Effects in Lightroom (& How to Create Them).

Is it possible to combine Lightroom catalogs?
Yes, it is possible to combine Lightroom catalogs.
First, open the catalog you wish to use as the master catalog.
Now, head to the main menu and select File > Import from Another Catalog.
From the dialogue window that pops up, select the folders you wish to import, and click Import.
How do I sync catalogs in Lightroom?
You can sync one Lightroom catalog with Lightroom mobile.
To sync catalogs between devices, head to File > Open Catalog.
Then, open Activity Center, located in the top left corner of your workspace.
Here, you will find the option to Sync Lightroom Mobile.
How do I merge folders in Lightroom Classic?
To merge folders in Lightroom Classic, drag the folder you wish to merge and place it into another folder.
Alternatively, you can select all the photos in one folder and drag them into another folder.
Now, delete the original folder.
Is it possible to have multiple Lightroom catalogs open at once?
The short answer is no; Lightroom wasn’t designed to have multiple catalogs in use.
If you wish to access a photo from a different catalog, you will have to close the open catalog.
The optimum way to organize Lightroom is using one master catalog divided into collections.
Should I keep old Lightroom catalogs?
Keeping old Lightroom catalogs depends on whether you need the information stored in them again.
Usually, when you’ve finished a project, you can safely delete the catalog, as the file information won’t be needed again.
However, you might want to wait a month or two before discarding catalogs in case any unnoticed errors surface.

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