One of the biggest issues with Adobe Lightroom (maybe the only issue that is worth worrying about) is that Lightroom was built to be used on one computer by a single user. However, if you use Dropbox (or similar) there is a relatively simple work around that will allow you to keep your Lightroom catalog automatically synced across multiple computer work stations*.
In this article I will show you how to set up an automatic Dropbox Lightroom catalog sync between multiple computers.
*Some conditions apply.
Scope of Dropbox Lightroom Catalog Sync
A few months back we featured a similar article on how to use Dropbox to sync a Lightroom catalog between a work desktop and a laptop – click here for the original article: “Tips For Syncing A Lightroom Editing Laptop With A Work Station”.
The focus of that article was for photographers who travel and want to edit their photos on both their traveling laptop and their home workstation.
My focus in this article is a little more straight forward. Here, we are talking about a photography studio running multiple desktop workstations, or a home office with multiple desktop workstations. They don’t need to be desktops either – this approach will work perfectly well with laptops too – as long as they are all on the same local area network (LAN), as we will see.
(I personally hate editing anything of value on a laptop – the screen color and contrast is too unreliable and the lack of processing power kills my productivity – so in most cases I just wait until I am back in the office with a desktop and a calibrated monitor…and don’t get me started on the futility of post processing on a tablet or a phone… But hey, maybe that’s just me.)
I also know that this is something that many readers probably already do. However, there are a few key tips involved that are important not to miss.
Before we jump in, I think that it is also important to note that, I am not trying to synchronize my entire Lightroom workflow – photographs and all – just the Lightroom catalog files that are used to work with my photos within Lightroom.
I have over three terabytes of photos, so as of right now it is not really feasible to store everything in Dropbox. For one thing, Dropbox currently offers a maximum of 1 TB of storage space (although that will likely soon change), and because Dropbox files are stored locally, every computer that Dropbox is synchronized with would have to have over three terabytes of disk space available.
However, to synchronize just the catalog files, I only currently need 3.15 GB of space, which includes the Lightroom catalog file, my personalized Lightroom settings and Lightroom’s catalog previews.
I am using a PC and Lightroom 5 – but I believe the same approach would work with a Mac and older versions of Lightroom too.
*Some Conditions Apply
For this setup to work effectively, all of your actual photo files need to be stored in one location – so that any computer accessing them on your local area network (LAN) are all looking in the same place.
The easiest way to do this is to store your photographs on a network attached storage device (NAS). I don’t want to get into too much detail on network storage setups, but if you are new to network storage, for roughly the same cost as an external hard drive, you can get a NAS drive like this WD 4TB My Cloud Personal Storage Device.
(If you’re curious about my personal storage and backup strategy, you can read about it here: How To Backup Computer Files – Photographer’s Primer).
If you currently use a series of internal or external hard drives, you can still synchronize your Lightroom catalog with Dropbox, but it is a little more complicated – follow the method outlined here.
The other condition is that only one user can access the same Lightroom catalog at one time. This is not much of an issue in a home office setting, but can be a challenge in an office environment.
Hopefully, Adobe will release a multi-user network cloud synced version of Lightroom in the near future, but for now we’re stuck with what we’ve got.
OK – I’m In, How Do I Set Up a Dropbox Lightroom Catalog Sync?
Step 1: Backup Your Existing Lightroom Catalog File [Catalog Name].lrcat
If you are a Lightroom user, this single file is probably the most valuable piece of data that you own – and its probably living in some remote corner of your hard drive that you don’t even know about.
To manually backup your Lightroom catalog, open Lightroom, go to “Edit” => “Catalog Settings” => “Backup Catalog”.
Set to “Every time Lightroom Exits” and close Lightroom. Remember to set the backup location to somewhere you can find it later – or at least make a note of the default backup location.
Step 2: Copy Your Existing Lightroom Catalog to Dropbox
To find your existing Lightroom catalog file, open Lightroom, go to “Edit” => “Catalog Settings” => “Show”. This should open a browser window with your current catalog in the format [catalog name].lrcat.
Make a new folder within Dropbox called “Lightroom” (or something appropriately named) and copy and paste your Lightroom catalog file into Dropbox.
Now re-open Lightroom.
Choose “File” => “Open Catalog” and open the Lightroom catalog file you just stored within Dropbox.
This is what the folder contents will look like when you’re done, but for now we are just interested in the single .lrcat file.
Step 3: Copy and Synchronize Your Presets to Dropbox
If you use the default Lightroom settings, your presets such as metadata settings, export settings and development presets are stored in some byzantine backwater of your hard drive.
PC C:\Users\[user name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Lightroom\
MAC //Users/[user name]/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/
We want those presets to be synchronized along with our catalog so that we can use the same workflow across all computers running Lightroom.
To do this, go to “Edit” => “Preferences” => “Presets Tab” and click the tick box “Store Presets With This Catalog”.
This will create a set of folders under the main folder “Lightroom Settings” that will contain your presets with your new catalog location on Dropbox.
By the way, you can also access your presets by clicking “Show Lightroom Presets Folder” in case they are not located in the default location.
Now, copy over your existing presets (if you have any) to the corresponding folders on Dropbox.
Restart Lightroom for your newly copied presets to be available.
Step 4: Setup Your Lightroom Catalog Backup
As much as I love Dropbox, I don’t entirely trust Dropbox to keep my Lightroom catalog safe (not that I trust any single piece of hardware or software either).
So it is important to setup a Lightroom catalog backup that is not on Dropbox.
Ideally, your Lightroom catalog backup should be stored on a device that is itself regularly backed up – so storing it on a NAS along with the rest of your photos is a good choice.
To set your backup preferences, go to: “Edit” => “Catalog Settings” => “Backup Catalog”. I use “Every time Lightroom Exits”, but feel free to choose a different instance to suit your personal workflow.
Depending on when you instruct Lightroom to backup (ie. when you open Lightroom, when you exit Lightroom etc.), when the backup dialog box pops up click “Choose” and set your backup location.
Alternatives To Dropbox
There are many alternatives to Dropbox out there. We recently featured a Backup Workflow Using BitTorrent Sync and Crashplan that looks pretty nifty. However, using the free version of Dropbox, I am up to over 60 GB of space because every time someone I share a folder with joins Dropbox, they give me more space.
What I like about Dropbox is that all of the files are stored locally on each computer – so when Lightroom is accessing the Lightroom catalog file it is accessing it from a local drive which keeps the performance snappy.
What Do You Think?
Would you trust Dropbox with your Lightroom catalog file?
Have you been using Dropbox to sync your Lightroom catalog files for years? How is it working out for you?
Have you had any problems using Dropbox to keep your files synchronized across multiple computers?
Leave a comment and let us know!