Points in Focus Photography

Frustrations with Syncing Lightroom between Computers


Please excuse me while I rant for a moment. For almost the entire time I’ve been a photographer I haven’t owned a laptop worth talking about. I have a very distinct memory of sitting in Louis Armstrong Airport outside of New Orleans trying to do some basic editing on some images I had shot while I was there. Before I made it through a single image, I had already given up and turned off the even at that time ancient laptop.

In short, until just recently, I haven’t had any reason to care about getting images between computers in Lightroom. That’s not to say I wasn’t sensitive to the problems, I have friends that run into Lightroom’s piss poor support for multiple computers, it’s just never been something that’s struck home enough to really get my feathers ruffled.

Consider my feathers ruffled.

Now that I’m working on a laptop more frequently, I find myself wanting to be able to search and access my catalog over my network. Either to look up an image for an article or simply to work on something without sitting at my desk.

The official Adobe methodology for doing this dance is as follows.

  1. Put your catalog and all your pictures on an external disk (USB/eSATA/Thunderbolt/Firewire/Whatever)
  2. Plug that disk in the computer that you want to use.
  3. See! Portable Catalog!

This is kind of ridiculous if you ask me. Never mind the hazards of having to move your catalog and archive around with you when you go somewhere.

The only consolation prize is that Lightroom does support exporting and importing catalogs. This does work to some degree, if you consider a clumsy manual process to be good. There’s a number of ways you can go about doing this none of which are really great, and all of which only really work well for going in one direction only, and all of which are frustrating in any numbers of ways.

Even stepping away from the catalog as a whole, there are all kinds of interesting gotchas that are hard if not impossible to keep in sync. For example, I rename my pictures on import. My naming convention, YYYYMMDD-Import#Image#, is maybe a little weird but it works for me and until now hasn’t been a problem with name collisions.

The trouble is there’s no way to sync the import number between computers without manually entering it in the catalog settings. Moreover, it’s stored on a per catalog basis so the import number gets reset if you create a new catalog for each job you’re downloading in the field.

The same can be said for metadata presets. Though not saved in the catalog they aren’t easy to sync between computers.

In short, ARGH!

Sadly, I don’t hold out much hope to see this situation improved all that much. Even then, this is definitely the kind of thing that I can see Adobe turning into a Creative Cloud only feature simply to get more people sucked into the endless revenue stream for them that is Creative Cloud.

If you’ve got any tips for working with multiple computers and catalogs, I’d love to hear them in the comments.


Falk Lumo

The point is that LR uses SQLite as its embedded database to contain the catalog.

Cf. https://sqlite.org/faq.html#q5 , SQLite currently does not support multiple processes access one database. This may change in the future but until then, sharing across a network would risk to corrpt the catalog. It should still be doable by mounting a network resource as a virtual disk though.

The good point though is Adobe using an open source database rather than a proprietary product to contain the catalog. This means the catalog data is not locked to Adobe. There always is a price to be paid …

I solve that problem by having only one writable import catalog per computer, and one master catalog on my main computer importing from the import catalogs. And a few read-only copies of the master catalog with smart previews for mobile reference.

Regards, Falk

    Jason Franke  | admin

    @Falk Lumo,

    First, apologies, this certainly was not spam but somehow got caught in the spam filter and lost somehow. There’s nothing quite like stifling coherent rational people from having a discussion like an over zealous spam filter.

    Re. SQLite: Yes I’m aware that SQLite imposes the concurrency limitation. However, it’s not necessary to allow concurrent access to the catalog to provide a mechanism to sync content from multiple computers to a master catalog. Lightroom, at the application layer, can handle that by providing an network sync API.

    Never mind, given that the catalog is SQL based, it shouldn’t be that big of a problem to convert the DB abstraction layer from supporting only SQLite on a local disk to supporting it and some flavor of SQL server (MySQL, Postgresql, MS SQL, etc.) to expand into a network enabled environment that can easily sync with multiple computers.

    Re. your workaround: I’m glad that works for you, but it’s just as big of a mess as far as I’m concerned. Moreover, I shouldn’t have to work around the premise of just being able to get settings and keywords synced from my desktop to my laptop and new images from my laptop to my desktop (or vice vesra).

    The bigger picture is that Lightroom makes it considerably more difficult to get things synced back and forth between multiple computers than is in anyway necessary. Sure it can be done, but it’s not as easy as say opening LR on two computers and picking a menu option to sync the selected images to computer X.

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