Lightroom 1.1 Catalogs

by Michael Clark

The new catalog structure in Lightroom version 1.1 solves a lot of problems many photographers had with Version 1.0. The biggest solution it offers is moving images between computers. I wrote an extended blog post on XMP metadata files a while ago and how those could be used to re-import images into Lightroom and retain all of the crucial settings when moving images between computers. All of that can pleasantly be forgotten now - save for a few points about the usefulness of the XMP sidecar files.

In Lightroom 1.1, the catalog structure allows easy transportation of the RAW images, the XMP sidecar files, all previews and the Lightroom settings in one easy step. In this blog post we'll explore just how that works along with a smattering of catalog settings.

So, lets say that you need to move a set of images you have partially worked up from your laptop to your desktop computer. First select the folder of images - then either select all of the images you'd like to export as a catalog or the entire folder of images (if you want to export all of them). Next, go to File > Export as Catalog as in the image below.


A dialog box (as below) will appear and you can choose where to save the catalog and select whether or not you'd like to include "negative files" and previews. By negative files Lightroom means the original RAW files or alternatively the Tiff or Jpeg files you were working on. As you can see below I have chosen to export the RAW files with their previews to my laptop's desktop.


Once I have copied this catalog to an external hard drive I plug it into my desktop computer and copy over the folder. When you open the catalog folder you'll notice that there is a folder with all of the full resolution RAW images in it along with the XMP sidecar files, the previews data with an .lrdata extension and the catalog file with an .lrcat file extension as in the example below.


To import the Lightroom catalog onto my desktop computer now I just go into Lightroom and select File > Import from Catalog.


Once Lightroom is finished importing images, I generally go back and move the RAW images folder (in the exported catalog folder) to one of my main image hard drives. In Lightroom it will ask where those images disappeared to and I'll just select the folder of images and direct Lightroom to their new location. Pretty simple, but this helps me keep all of my images organized.

Now, just a note on the XMP sidecar files and Lightroom Version 1.1. I still very highly recommend that you turn on the "Automatically write changes into XMP" check box in the catalog preferences in Lightroom Version 1.1 as in the image below. This preference is in a new dialog box but it does all the same things just as before. To get to it, open the main preferences dialog, then in the bottom of the General preferences is a button that will take you to the Catalog preferences dialog.


Using the XMP sidecar files will slow Lightroom down just a bit but it also allows one to delete folders out of Lightroom, then if needed in the future re-import those images with the same settings as they were before deletion. This is a nice option and keeps thing nice and tidy in Lightroom until it becomes a full-on Digital Asset Management tool. Using the XMP sidecar files also helps with seamless integration in ACR 4.1 and Photoshop CS3.

That's it for this session.

Adios, Michael Clark


2007-07-09 09:07:12
Hi Michael, thanks for sharing about multiple libraries. I'm assuming (I actually did this and it seemed fine...) that if I move the entire library (going to my Lightroom folder in My Pictures (on PC - I'm sure this could be done equivalently on a Mac)) with the previews folder with hundreds of other folders within with the actual previews from one computer to another and then import that it will work fine as long as I tell it where to locate the newly imported photos? That way I can skip the export library step if I want to move all the photos inside a mini library I made on my laptop to my main library on my desktop.

It's unfortunate you didn't actually share the import library dialog as it has some interesting settings.

Also, if I check "Automatically write changes into XMP," will all the files in the library suddenly get XMP files or will it only write XMP files for photos edited henceforth? Is there a way to force Lightroom to create XMP for all files, not just ones edited from then on?

Dan Tull
2007-07-13 07:15:17
> ... it also allows one to delete folders
> out of Lightroom, then if needed in the
> future re-import those images with the
> same settings ...
Another way to accomplish this and get coverage of all Lightroom data, even that not covered by XMP (collections, stacks, pick flags, develop history, etc) is to use catalog export to write just the catalog (uncheck the options for previews and negative files) into a folder right next to the folder of photos you want to remove from your main catalog.

Basically this just means when you want to import it again you import the lrcat file instead of the folder itself, and get all the data back instead of just basic metadata and develop settings.


Michael Clark
2007-07-13 09:04:53
Dan -

You are totally right. Exporting a catalog without the previews or negative files is a great extra step. The only hitch is if you don't use the XMP sidecar files then you lose the incredible compatibility with Bridge and Photoshop CS3. I might start just exporting a .lrcat file into every folder once I am finished working up the images - it won't take up much hard drive space at all.

Michael Clark
2007-07-13 09:10:18
Scott -

You are correct on being able to copy and past the entire catalog and just redirecting Lightroom to the new location of the catalog (via preferences) and images without exporting or importing anything.

On the auto XMP function, yes it will automatically create XMP files for any images that have metadata added, develop settings, etc. If you want to force it to create them then select all of your images and go to (in Library mode) Metadata > Save metadata to file.

2007-07-13 12:25:56
Thanks for responding, Michael. I just realized that exporting catalogs (with everything (except maybe previews)) is a great way to archive part of one's collection to DVD or external HDD, previously totally impossible (before 1.1). That's awesome.
George Wedding
2007-08-15 08:07:25
I've just gotten started with Lightroom (v1.1) during the past 45 days and find that many metadata editing features are a tedious nightmare at best, and not ready for professional, deadline-oriented publishing. Lightroom has far worse metadata problems than what I'm about to point out, but your suggestion that "XMP sidecar files will slow Lightroom down just a bit" is wildly understated in some circumstances. When using a G4 processor, Lightroom slows to an unacceptable crawl when creating XMP sidecar files (15-inch PowerBook G4/1.2GHZ/2GB with 64MB of video RAM and 160GB 5200rpm HD and no other applications open). Your reports always should qualify your recommendations within the context of the hardware you use, which I'm guessing must be a newer, Intel-based Mac. Worse, the on-screen feedback provided as sidecar files are writen is completely inadequate via (Select all files and Metadata menu: Save Metadata to file). Besides leaving me guessing on the status of the sidecar file-creation for hours, the process seemed to skip some files in some folders and eventually froze the application. This in turn, forced a tedious, manual inspection of every folder and a manual repetition of the command on missed files in many folders to get the sidecar files written for an entire 3,000-picture project catalog.

Overall, Lightroom metadata editing is poorly implemented and badly broken, and this is just one example of the many interface, techical problems and bugs I have encountered. The Lightroom Metadata toolset may be the worst implemented feature I have ever seen Adobe release in a version 1x product. Lightroom's metadata editing workflow needs emergency surgery, and based on the long laundry list of problems I've encountered, it needs it now. Metadata editing may be better than v 1.0, but it still falls far short of being ready for daily use.

Michael Clark
2007-08-15 08:16:52
George -

Hello. Well, yes, if you are using a G4 processor then things will go very very slow because that is quite old and very slow compared to the latest gear. Adobe designed Lightroom for computers being sold now, it will run on any computer with OS X 10.4 but that won't mean it runs fast. Lightroom, just like Aperture is a RAM hog by nature, and hence for it to run nicely needs a lot of RAM and a fast processor.

George Wedding
2007-08-16 00:19:50

Again, many thanks for all your feedbackto comments on your article. I thought you and others might like to know that after Lightroom on the G4 PowerBook finally finished the lethargic writing of those 3,000 or so .xmp sidecar files, I optmized the database (File: Catalog Settings: Relaunch & Optimize) and the perfomance now seems acceptable once again. So, it seems that it is the simple creation of many .xmp sidecar files all at once that overtaxes the G4 CPU so heavily.

If I may, I also want to ask more about the details of moving catalogs and images between computers. I had been trying to do this before I read your article, but couldn't seem to get it to work. Specifically, the catalog gets copied, but not the Preferences or Presets for file handling (and naming), metadata, keywords and settings for render standard-sized previews. I don't know about EXIF data and IPTC data and Develop or settings for other modules such as Slide Show, Print or Web -- I didn't really get that far. Correct me if I'm wrong, but backing up the Catalog dosen't seem to copy over all these settings either does it?

So, why doesn't Lightroom have a single Preference setting that allows users to replicate or sync the entire database and all custom settings back-and-forth between a legal installation on two computers (laptop and desktop)? At the very least, I think most photographers woudl want to be able to replicate EVERYTHING -- about a Catalog, the settings, the images and the edit markups -- from a laptop to a desktop when they get back in the office from a location shoot. It seems to me a Merge Catalogs option also would be useful.

Most of us probably move the images onto a backup drive manually, so including them in this process may or may not be necessary as long as we can show Lightroom the new location when it launches on the desktop machine. For my part, I usually just import images from their existing location into Lightroom after manually dragging a file folder from the CF card to the HD. Since the Lightroom metadata editing for importing is so tedious, I usually rename my files in Photo Mechanic (it's much quicker) and you can see the context of the Finder interface to help you remember the file (or folder) naming conventions. While I have been trying to do some test file renaming in Lightroom too -- it simply doesn't work very well. I even uncovered and reported one repeatable bug in which file names may be renamed in the database, but not in the OS file structure (if images have been dragged onto an OS X hard disk from a CF card -- rather than copied as they are imported into Lightroom).

At any rate, since this "replicate the entire database for use on an another computer" feature doesn't seem to be available, can you take your article one step further and define all the files that have to be moved manually to relocate an entire database and all settings and presets from one computer to another? Coudn't an Automator or AppleScript be written to do this? Or am I missing an even more simple solution here?

Michael Clark
2007-08-16 08:13:12
George -

Hello. I think the article above answers many of your questions - maybe give it another read - and try to export a catalog and import it onto your desktop and you get a feel for what is included, etc. You have a quite a few questions here. Sorry to say I don't have time to write out a lengthy response. If you want to call me we can talk about your questions for a small fee.