Lightroom Best Practices: Managing a Travel Catalog and a Master Catalog

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When I travel on a photography adventure, I bring my laptop and use a fresh, empty Lightroom Catalog to collect and manage all the new photographs I create. Then when I return home, I import that “travel catalog” into my main Lightroom Catalog on my Desktop PC (yes, a PC!). Over the years, I have found that this is a nice, tidy way to keep things separate and maintain my master catalog at home without having to lug it around the world with me.

As with many things in Lightroom, the procedure is somewhat convoluted, and has pitfalls that can trip you up. Here’s how to embrace this workflow:

  1. First, before you begin, assess your situation as a photographer - do you have a main home/office computer with your master Lightroom catalog? if you have that AND a Laptop that you take with you on trips, then read on. If you only have a laptop and you take your Master Catalog with you everywhere, then you may not need to embrace this workflow.

  2. Plan a trip somewhere amazing!

  3. Create a new, empty Lightroom catalog on your travel laptop

  4. Ingest (then organize and edit) your new photos to this catalog while you are out taking amazing photos. During Import from your cards as you travel and shoot, be sure to Copy the photos from the cards to your laptop’s hard drive, and make Standard-Sized and Smart Previews as well.

  5. Edit them on the plane ride home, and also make sure that you are completely organized by doing the following preparatory step:

    • In Collections Panel (in Library Module), Create a top-level Collection Set with a distinctive name such as “Iceland 2018 ALL” and then drag everything else (I really mean everything) into this collection set.

    • This step ensures that when you import everything back into your Master Catalog at home, that the different Collections and Collection sets you may have won’t go missing out among your existing collections/sets due to being “shuffled” in with everything alphabetically.

  6. Copy both the travel Lightroom Catalog AND all of your RAW photos (from wherever you stored them during ingests) onto a “go between” portable USB stick or External Hard Drive. To reiterate here - you need to bring both the Catalog files and the Photos over.

  7. Upon your return home, copy everything from the external drive to your Desktop, being careful to place it in a Folder that you can recall.

  8. Fire up Lightroom with your Master Catalog, and Choose the “Import from Another Catalog” option up in the menus.

  9. Navigate in your file system to your travel catalog, and choose it.

  10. Next, ensure you choose the correct option during the import - which is typically going to be “Add new photos to catalog without moving” since Lightroom will have them mapped from where they were on your Laptop in the Folders panel (which you have to fix next..) and you don’t want to duplicate these on your Desktop hard drive. Make sure you have only the photos you want “ticked” over on the right in the grid gallery. Click Import.

  11. After the import, your Travel Photos will be found in your Master Catalog’s list of Collections/Sets with your organizational structure intact, out in your list of Collections Sets wherever that may be, alphabetically.

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Your last step, and one of the most important, is to re-locate all of your travel photos in FOLDERS (not collections!), since you likely have a different hard drive name on your desktop than your laptop.

To do this, simply go (in Library Module) to your Folders, and click on one of your top-level Folders(e.g. “Iceland 2018 RAWs) and click on the “!” or the box at upper right of each missing photo. Once you re-map the location of a photo in each folder, Lightroom will do the rest and automatically update the locations.

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That’s it! Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.