Lightroom and Dropbox can be used together – that’s the first question people ask when thinking about storage options for their photos. Is it an ideal storage solution and how do you manage it? Those questions will take a bit longer to answer.

Lightroom & Dropbox: Pros

Dropbox is a cloud-based storage system that places a folder on your computer where your files are stored. Its benefits are:

  • you can access these files on any computer where you are logged into your Dropbox account
  • changes you make to a file on one device show up on your other devices
  • when your computer hard drive becomes too full, you can configure Dropbox so that it stores your files in the cloud but not on your computer.
lightroom and dropbox showing dropbox folders

You can see part of my Dropbox folder above.

Lightroom, on the other hand, is a catalog-based program for organizing and editing photos. Its benefits are many, but a few of my favorites are:

  • Lightroom works with the organizational structure you have already established for your images. Whether you’ve stored them on your internal hard drive, one or more external hard drives, or a combination of internal and external, Lightroom respects that structure.

    lightroom and dropbox - lightroom folders

    This image shows the photos in my hard drive folders that I’ve imported into Lightroom.

  • Lightroom makes it easy to organize or re-organize your photos and the folders they live in.
  • You can edit images – Raw and JPG – individually or in batches.

Sounds like a match made in heaven, right?

Lightroom and Dropbox: Cons

Of course, nothing is ever as easy as it appears. Using Lightroom & Dropbox together is fraught with caveats. I personally only use Lightroom and Dropbox together for photos that I need to transfer from one device to another. I store those photos in Dropbox temporarily.

  • The biggest caveat is that storing photos only in Lightroom does not provide a backup for your images. Dropbox alone is not a backup solution. If you accidentally delete an image (worse yet, an entire folder) from the Dropbox folder on your computer, you’ve deleted it from the cloud also.
  • If you configure Dropbox to store your photos in the cloud but not on your device, Lightroom will get confused and you won’t be able to access those photos from Lightroom.

    lightroom and dropbox - pros and cons

    The “dreaded gray question mark” indicates that Lightroom is confused because it can’t find the photos that I removed from Dropbox.

  • Lightroom’s catalog was not designed to be shared by more than one device. That doesn’t mean it won’t work at all on a sharing platform like Dropbox. It does mean that it might not work well.
    • In particular, if you access Lightroom from one device and did not close Lightroom on another device, there is no telling what will happen!
  • Dropbox does not hold many photos. As a point of reference, I have between 6 and 8 terabytes of photos. It would cost way more than an external hard drive if I stored my photos on Dropbox for just one year! Current Dropbox plans are:
    • Basic: The free plan is 2 gigabytes only
    • Dropbox Plus: 2 terabytes for $9.99 a month
    • Dropbox Professional: 3 terabytes for $16.58 a month
    • Business plans start at $37.50 a month for 5 terabytes

Lightroom’s Catalog: What You Need to Know

The key to understanding the real challenges of using Lightroom and Dropbox together is the catalog. Lightroom, as I said above, is catalog-based. This means that there is one file (the catalog, also known as a database), that Lightroom runs from.

On my laptop, my Lightroom catalog lives in my Photos folder.

When you edit a photo in Lightroom, Lightroom does not change the photo. Let’s say you want to darken an overexposed image. Lightroom makes a notation in the catalog that you want to darken that photo. It’s like putting on a pair of sunglasses – the world looks darker, but you didn’t actually change the sun’s brightness. (How do you get a photo out of Lightroom with your edits on it? Good question.)

Lightroom’s catalog “sits on top of” your photos the way sunglasses sit over your eyes. So, it’s not just a question of storing your photos in Dropbox. You would need to put thought into where you store the catalog file also.

Adobe designed this catalog to work on one and only one device or computer. And yes, you can store the catalog on Dropbox. If you use Lightroom on your laptop, for example, and the catalog is stored on Dropbox, and you leave Lightroom running on that laptop, and then open Lightroom with the same catalog on your desktop, bad things can happen.

(And no, before you ask, you can’t create separate catalogs for each device. If you edit a photo in one catalog, it should be in that catalog only, unless you want to lose all your edits.)

Lightroom and Dropbox: How it Works

So you want to use Lightroom and Dropbox together anyway. I get it. It works no differently than using Lightroom to manage photos anywhere else on your computer.

When you use Lightroom for the first time, it will ask you about setting up a catalog. It will store that catalog in a default location on your hard drive, and you can save it in Dropbox if you’d like. (I recommend storing on your hard drive, however, or at least never sharing that catalog with another device.)

After establishing your catalog, it doesn’t matter where the photos live. As long as you can see them on your computer, you can import them into Lightroom. They can live on your internal hard drive, an external drive or drives, and yes, Dropbox. (Remember that Dropbox creates a folder that sits on your computer, and your photo files actually exist in this folder.) Lightroom can find photos in any or all of those locations, and you don’t need to put all your photos in the same place.

I Recommend…

One great way to use Lightroom and Dropbox together is to use Dropbox as a backup for your catalog. You can configure Lightroom to back up your catalog to a location of your choosing. I suggest storing your main catalog on your hard drive, and your backup in Dropbox. That way, it’s backed up to the cloud and you can use it to restore Lightroom if your computer ever crashes.

Lightroom & Dropbox: How I Use Them

I have a desktop and a laptop. I store my images on external hard drives attached to my desktop. I use my laptop when we travel and when I’m working away from home. When I add photos to my laptop, I import them using Lightroom and store them in Dropbox.

After that, I move them to my desktop using this method.

Lightroom & Dropbox: Conclusion

If you’d like to use Lightroom and Dropbox together, I suggest using it while you are just starting out. Use it to store your first thousand or two photos, and make sure you use a backup method as well (both for your catalog and your photos). Use it on one device only – avoid using it in Lightroom installations on multiple computers if at all possible.

Remember: backing up your catalog does not create a backup of the photo files. You have to back up those photos separately.

Learn More

If you’d like more information about Lightroom, including setting up the catalog, backing it up, and editing your photos, check out my Lightroom class here.