How many of you have both laptop & desktop computers? Me! I do! I know a lot of you do also, because so many people have asked me how they can share Lightroom files between their computers.

Here’s the deal. Lightroom is not designed to be networked. This means that it works on one computer and one computer only. It can’t be shared between computers because of its catalog – Lightroom’s catalog is a lowly little file. It can’t deal with changes being made to it from more than one place.

It’s a very important file, however. It contains the addresses to all of your photos.

For instance, Lightroom knows that Sally’s birthday photos live on my hard drive in the Photos/2017/September/Birthday Party folder. What happens if I open this same catalog on a different computer? It’s going to look for the same address (Photos/2017/September/Birthday Party) but it won’t find that folder on the other computer’s hard drive.

This is, of course, a huge oversimplification. The point is that Lightroom’s catalog just can’t manage files on more than one computer.

Luckily, there is a workaround!

I do a lot of photo editing on my laptop. Especially when I travel. Before we left on our five-week road trip this summer, I worked out a process to share photos between Lightroom on my laptop and Lightroom on my desktop using Dropbox.

Dropbox and Lightroom: Start Here

Here’s what you need to know.

  • When you use Dropbox and Lightroom together, you aren’t sharing a catalog. You have two separate Lightroom installations. (Adobe’s licenses generally allow you to install Lightroom on two different machines.)
  • This technique is best for one time transfers. Work on a series of photos on your laptop and transfer them to your desktop for permanent storage. Think of one machine (usually the laptop) as temporary storage and the other as permanent storage.
  • This process is not the same as storing photos on an external hard drive. Lightroom can easily manage photos across internal and external hard drives.

I used this process all summer. During our vacation, I used Lightroom to import my photos to my laptop. I sorted, culled, keyworded and edited. When we returned home at the end of the summer, I transferred all of these photos to the Lightroom catalog on my desktop using Dropbox.

How to Use Dropbox and Lightroom to Transfer Photos Between Computers

Watch this video to learn how I use Dropbox and Lightroom together. And if you aren’t into video, keep scrolling. Read the tutorial below.

  1. Import your files using Lightroom on the temporary computer. Store them in the Dropbox folder on this computer.
  2. Sort, rank & cull as normal. Delete any rejected (black flag) photos.
  3. Edit your photos as normal.
  4. Keyword your photos for catalog dependent settings. For me, I generally only need to keyword my Picks (the white flags). If you use the star ranking system or the color labels, you would need to set up keywords for each one. For instance, you might need 5 keywords (1 star, 2 star, 3 star, 4 star and 5 star would each be keywords).
  5. Subfolders do not transfer using this method. If you want to use the same subfolder structure, you will need to keyword the name for each subfolder also.
  6. When you are ready to transfer these photos to your permanent computer, select them all (type command/control A from inside a folder). Go to the Metadata menu and select Save Metadata to File.dropbox and lightroom
  7. Lightroom stores this metadata directly in JPGs. For Raw files, however, your metadata will be stored in a separate “sidecar” file called an XMP. XMPs look like this:
  8. That’s it. You are ready to transfer. Move to your permanent computer and make sure your Dropbox is synchronized and has the new files on it.
  9. Go to the File menu in Lightroom and select Import Photos and Video. On the left side of the Import window, navigate to the folder in your Dropbox where the photos that you want to move are. On the right side, in the Destination panel, tell Lightroom to save these photos wherever you’d like them to live permanently.dropbox and lightroom
  10. Import the photos and confirm that your edits transferred.
  11. Use the Text search on the Library filter bar to search for catalog-specific keywords. For each filter you create, select all of the photos by typing command/control A. Next, apply the appropriate setting to all of the photos at once. Below, you can see my filter for White Flags. With all the filters photos selected, I typed the letter P to apply the flag to all photos at the same time.
  12. You are finished! Give yourself a pat on the back – you deserve it.

There are a few other ways to use Lightroom and Dropbox together, but none are as direct and efficient. How you found a good way to use them together? Share your method in the comments below!

Do you want to know more about using Lightroom? Check out my online workshop. You’ll receive answers to all your questions plus detailed feedback on your homework.