I’ve read at least one account of how to move photos from one Lightroom catalog to another, which is pretty common if you travel with a laptop and make edits in the field (as I do). It’s a tremendous help to be able to spend hours on the flight home organizing and even editing images, but all of that work would be for naught if there wasn’t a nice, easy way to move those images and their corresponding metadata onto your primary computer.

Fortunately, there is! I will tell you how!

Prerequisites (and helpful tips):

  • You have Lightroom installed on your laptop, which of course it’s the same version that you have on your primary computer.
  • You’ve created a new catalog on your laptop for the trip that you went on, or the shoot that you did. Even though I only have one main catalog on my desktop, I create a new catalog on my laptop for every shoot.
  • You have a home network, either wireless or wired. It seems like most people do these days, but it’s important for this method that you are one of those people.
  • You understand the basics of file sharing between two Mac computers.
  • It helps a lot if you save your Lightroom catalogs on your laptop in your “Pictures” folder, or anywhere within your “Home” folder.

Okay, you have all of those things. Now what?

Step 1: Get connected

Make sure your laptop is turned on and connected to your home network. You’ll need to be sure that File Sharing is enabled on your laptop. You can enable it within System Preferences in the Sharing panel. Tick the check box next to “File Sharing.”

From your desktop, use the Connect to Server dialog to connect to your laptop. From the Finder, click the Go menu and select “Connect to Server…” Enter the address shown in your laptop’s Sharing panel. It should look something like @afp://, though the numeric address will vary. If you know your account’s short name on your laptop, you can enter that at the end, like this: @afp://

If you used your short name on the address, it should prompt you for your password at this point. If not, it will probably present you with a dialog where you can choose which shared folder to open. You want the one corresponding with your short name (which is your home folder on your laptop). If you need help setting up file sharing between your Macs, you may like to read Mac OS X: About File Sharing on Apple’s support website.

Step 2: Get some photos!

At this point, you should be able to browse to your laptop’s Pictures folder from your desktop in the Finder. The name of your laptop should appear under the “SHARED” section in the left navigation panel of Finder windows. Time to open Lightroom!

From within Lightroom on your desktop, open the File menu and choose “Import from Catalog…” A dialog will open where you can browse to the Lightroom catalog file you want to import from. At this stage, find your laptop in the left panel, open up your shared home folder, and open the Lightroom catalog file itself. For me, it’s located in the Lightroom folder in my Pictures folder.

When you open that file, a somewhat trimmed down Lightroom Import dialog will open. The only thing you probably want to change in this dialog is the location where the files will be saved. You definitely want to choose “copy files to a new location and import” so that Lightroom will copy the physical photographs from your laptop onto your desktop.

Click Import and wait for a while… Voila! Your photographs have been copied onto your desktop and imported into Lightroom with all of your flags, tags, labels, and edits preserved!