Exporting and Merging Catalog Files in Lightroom

Even if you work with a single catalog file, there will be situations where you’ll need to export and/or merge them together. Perhaps you need to recover missing images from a backup catalog, or you wish to work on a small portion of your catalog on another computer. Maybe you’d like to consolidate multiple catalog files into one. Exporting and merging are versatile features that can help in many situations.

Here’s what we’ll discuss in the following lesson:

  • How to consolidate multiple catalog files together.
  • How to merge catalog files with different images (such as from two different computers).
  • How to merge catalog files that share some similar images, and how to update the metadata.

How to Export a Portion of Your Catalog File

0:00Examples of When to Export and Merge Catalog Files
2:38Preparing to Export
4:03Gathering the Source Files
5:51Exporting Shortcuts
7:24Exporting: Step by Step

Merging Catalog Files With Different Images

0:15Adding Images From Another Catalog File
1:07Moving New Source Files
2:50Previewing Added Images

Merging Catalog Files With the Same Images

0:27Updating the Metadata of Existing Images with a Secondary Catalog
2:21Adding Images Marked as Missing in Working Catalog


ASSIGNMENT: Merge Two Catalog Files Together

After you’ve cleaned up your main working catalog file, you may have other catalog files you’d like to consolidate. Lightroom has some fantastic tools to help you merge catalog files together.

To merge a secondary catalog file into your working catalog file:

  • First, make sure that the images you wish to merge from the secondary catalog are not missing. It’s okay to have missing images in the catalog, as long as you don’t plan to merge them into your working catalog.
  • Create backup copies of both your working and secondary catalog file.
  • Make sure that all source files are connected and available for both catalog files (i.e. plug in any external drives). This is needed if you plan to move/copy your source files to a new location.
  • Consider exporting your secondary catalog file for merging…either in its entirety or just a portion of it. There are two benefits to this when merging catalog files:
    1. You’ll have the option to include the source files with the exported catalog, and they will be packaged up in their original containing folders. Exporting a catalog file with source files is often easier than trying to manually hunt for those original source files and copy them over to a new location.
    2. Exporting gives you the option to only import a portion of the secondary catalog. While you can still cherry-pick the images you want to merge in the “Catalog Import’ dialog box…it’s much easier to simply select the images in the Library module, export them as their own catalog, then merge that new secondary catalog in its entirety with your working catalog.

To merge two catalog files together with different images:

  • Open your working catalog file and select File > Import From Another Catalog.
  • Navigate to the “.lrcat” file for the secondary catalog, and select Choose.
  • Select the source folders you wish to add to the working catalog file. If you’re merging all images from the secondary catalog, select All Folders.
  • File Handling: Choose how you want to handle the source files from the secondary catalog (leave them in their current location, or copy them to a new location). If copying, pay attention to the folder path to make sure you don’t duplicate a folder.
  • Review the image thumbnails by enabling the “Show Preview” button at the bottom of the panel, and unselect any images you do NOT want to merge.
  • Select Import to begin the merging process. Your secondary catalog and source files will remain in their original locations, so decide whether or not you wish to delete them. I recommend keeping a backup copy of the catalog file just in case you realize later that you missed images.

To merge two catalog files together that contain some of the same images:

  • Set up to merge two catalog files together by going through the steps above, and stop once you open the “Catalog Import” dialog box.
  • When the same image exists in both catalog files, a new heading will appear on the dialog box called “Changed Existing Photos”. Here is where you can choose to:
    • Replace the metadata in the working catalog file with the metadata in the secondary catalog file (in other words, to update and override the images in your working catalog file). Lightroom gives you the option to only replace the metadata and develop settings, or to also replace the source files.
    • Select “Nothing” to NOT replace the metadata, and leave the images as they are in the working catalog file. Lightroom will automatically exclude those images from being imported to the working catalog file.
  • If you choose to override the metadata, I recommend preserving the original settings as a virtual copy…which you can simply delete later if necessary.
  • You also have the option to reconnect missing images in the working catalog that are NOT missing in the secondary catalog, as long as you are connected to the original source file.

1 thought on “Exporting and Merging Catalog Files in Lightroom”

  1. Wonderful set of tutorials. I have found them so good in navigating my way and reorganising my LR files. Thanks chris

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *