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Import and Export of Lightroom Catalogs

At some point of our photo editing workflow we may need to share a part of our Lightroom catalog with other people. Not realizing, that Adobe automated the process of importing/exporting catalogs, many photographers spend time on manual replication of the work: re-importing selected photos, re-tagging, organizing to collections, and re-developing. This article will show you how to avoid unnecessary time consuming with some Lightroom catalogs operations.

Basically, we will benefit from the catalog importing/exporting each time when we need to extract few collections from your Lightroom catalog either to append them to another catalog (your’s or somebody else’s), or to work with them as with separate catalog.

Some situations of catalog importing/exporting

  • in team workflow with sharing the developing work,
  • when you need to send your developing for evaluation, or correction,
  • when you want to split your big catalog onto few separate ones,
  • when you want to separate client’s collection into a new catalog.

Keep in mind, that you can choose, which Lightroom catalog elements to share, while exporting photos with the described below procedures.

What can be included into the exported catalog

  • catalog structure: e.g. Collections, Smart Collections, Sets,
  • file attributes: metadata (including keywords), ratings, flags, etc.,
  • previews (allows small size previewing, but not developing),
  • Smart previews (allows previewing, developing, but not exporting photos),
  • original, or negative files (allows all workflow options).

The algorithms for Lightroom catalog importing/exporting

  1. Go to Collections in Library module, and select collections, or collection sets for exporting exported. Use CTRL/CMD to select multiple collections.
  2. Then go to menu File -> Export as Catalog… and select the location for the exported catalog. You can also find the Export as Catalog in the option menu (mouse right-click) in Collections.
  3. And name your future catalog in the File Name field.
  4. Finally, set the settings at the bottom, and click Save.

The result will be a named folder with specific structure inside. If you wish to share it, compress the entire final folder via your file browser (Finder), and send it out. The screenshot below shows the setting window.

The meaning of the settings is:

  • Export selected photos only. If checked, only the images, selected on the timeline will be exported, otherwise – the entire selected collection(s).
  • Export negative files. Check-mark it if you want to share the original files as well. This will allow another person to export final edited results in addition to editing/cataloging photos. Do not check it if you’re about to create an additional catalog of yours – there is no need to duplicate your original files.
  • Build/Include Smart Previews. If checked, smart previews will be shared, allowing developing without original files. Otherwise only cataloging will be possible.
  • Include available previews. Saves time during importing with negative files provided; allows to preview photos if there are no originals provided.

  1. Go to menu File -> Import from Another Catalog… and select the only visible file inside of the shared (exported previously) catalog folder.
  2. In the upper part you can manually exclude certain folders from importing if needed.
  3. In the middle section choose whether you want to Copy, or Add new photos, e.g. if you want to relocate original photos to your main file structure, or not.
  4. If there were duplicate photos found, you might want to only copy new development recepies, and do not duplicate the original files. If the Preserve old settings  is not checked then new settings will override the old ones. If check it, you’ll have both development versions as virtual copies.
  5. At the end you can manually delete the imported catalog if there were no original files included, or if they were present, but you used the Copy option on the step 3..

If you want to start a new life with your exported catalog, and do not plan to merge it with any existing one, simple go to File -> Open Catalog, and  select the only file inside your previously imported catalog folder to open.

The entire process of importing and exporting catalogs is explained in the following video.

As usually, I’ll be glad to answer your questions, or provide more clarification on the topic of this article:

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