Sharing a Lightroom Catalog across multiple computers

Note: This article was updated (26/2/2015) to reflect some changes to how BTSync works :)

So you want to have a single Adobe Lightroom catalog that you can use on multiple computers and have them all show the same pictures and edits? But you don’t want to manually copy files around or carry hard drives in your bag.

OK so this has taken me bloody ages to get right but its not that complicated if you have some basic computer skills and don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty. A while back I figured out how I could do this with Apple’s Aperture over in this article but since then I have moved to using Lightroom because… well they had nicer presets at the time 😛 I don’t have any love of either product so its good to know how you can bend them to do what you want.

The basic problem with Lightroom catalogs is that they don’t like being on a network drive and not everyone is happy lugging a portable hard drive around between computers with their catalog’s or RAW files on. This is the usual hack to get around it. It is a pain and you run the risk of losing your archive unless you have a decent backup strategy.

The way I have my systems setup is like this:

  • I have a central NAS connected to my network. All my computers can map to this in the same way.
  • All my computers are Mac. This is only a issue if you are sharing a Lightroom catalog between a Windows and Mac machine as the drive mapping on a Mac is something like “/Volumes/Graphics/Images” whereas a Windows box will be “G:/Images/”
  • The individual machines don’t all use a single Lightroom Catalog file but rather each has a copy of the catalog that is synchronised over the local network or Internet.

Drive with photos in one location

So how do I synchronise the catalogs automatically?

This is where BitTorrent Sync  (BTSync from now on) comes into the mix.
BTSync works in the same kind of was as DropBox with the advantage of being completely controlled by only you and with no size limitation. You can also use a piece of software called SyncThing which is basically the same as BTSync but with Open Source roots.

What I have done is set up a folder that BTSync will synchronise onto my other machines. When I modify a catalog on my desktop, the changes will be replicated to my laptop and visa versa. A large Lightroom catalog can be anywhere from 1Gb or larger. BTSync should only send the parts of the file that have changed over the net so even with a slow bandwidth, you will be able to keep a catalog in sync over the internet. This does depend on what parts of the file are changed and sometimes it will just copy the entire file. Having all your machines you want to keep in sync on the same network is a best practice.
Lightroom does generate a couple of files and folders that you do not want to replicate between machines.
These are the following:

  • ‘CatalogName Previews.lrdata’ – This folder contains all the temporary previews for thumbnails and 1:1 previews lightroom uses to run smoothly.
  • ‘CatalogName Smart Previews.lrdata’ – This folder contains smart previews that Lightroom generates if you want to edit on a laptop without the RAW files being online. This is brilliant for laptop warriors on the road.
  • ‘CatalogName.lrcat.lock’ – This file is a lock Lightroom creates so other processes wont try modify and potentially corrupt the catalog.
  • ‘CatalogName.lrcat-journal’ – A temporary store before final info is written to the catalog.

So how do we exclude these files and folders? This is where a bit of digging under the surface comes in but before we do that lets start of with getting BTSync working.

You should alway make a backup of your catalog before attempting any of this. I have been running it without any problems for about 2 months but computers are shit and will break. I have my main catalog on a computer running Time Machine backups and create a manual backup every couple of days just in case.

  1. Download BitTorrent Sync (BTSync) from their website and install it on all the machines you are going to keep in sync
  2. On the machine with your original catalog or catalogs; create a BTSync share by either running through the setup wizard or in the main interface clicking on the ‘+ Add Folder ‘button.
    BitTorrent Sync Main Screen
  3. Click the ‘Generate’ button. This will create a shared secret key that you will need to copy down and not let anyone else see. If somebody else copied down this Shared secret, they will have access to your Lightroom catalogs.
    (If you are worried about somebody guessing your Shared Secret, don’t worry about it too much. Steve Gibson gives a good description of its working and how difficult it is to brute force here on episode 402 but there are enough combinations of letters and numbers in that little box to address each individual atom in the Universe with its own key. )
    BitTorrent Sync Create new share
  4. Now comes the secret sauce. BTSync will look for a hidden folder called “.sync”
    Inside this is a file called IgnoreList. There is a good article here on what all the options are for this file.Eg:

    In this file we define all the folders and files we don’t want sent over the network.  Open this up in notepad if you are on Windows or pop open a terminal and navigate to the folder you are sharing eg ‘cd Pictures/Lightroom-Catalogs’ and then open it in a text editor eg

    cd .sync
    nano IgnoreList’

    (Note: with the new version of BTSync, this is now named IgnoreList wheras previously this was just a file in the root folder called “.SyncIgnore”) This will create the file if it does not already exist.

  5. Fill in the following lines:

    /AO2-2012 Previews.lrdata/*
    AO2-2012 Previews.lrdata.!sync
    /AO2-2012 Smart Previews.lrdata/*

    Obviously my Lightroom catalog is called ‘AO2-2012.lrcat’ so replace your catalog name or names with your own.

  6. Create the same file on your other machines in the root folder of the share you setup on them. You can also just copy this file to the other machines.

Thats it! Restart BTSync on all the machines and after a few minutes your catalog will be replicated to all the machines and kept up to date. A archive is automatically created in ‘.sync\Archive’ folder if your catalog is smaller than 1Gb so remember that if you start running out of space for no reason. You can modify BTSync’s settings to lower this number.

One of the best advantages to this setup is that I can now take my entire library of near 100 000 images on the road with me. When I want to work on a project in Lightroom on the road, I can just select the folder and generate Smart Previews for that project. I can do basic edits on the images (nothing involving external plugins or Photoshop)  and hve all the changes synced back to my other machines.

Another great advantage is you can setup a lot of NAS devices with BTSync now to automatically sync a version on itself for added redundancy and to have a catalog with your RAW files.

Hope this helps someone. Let me know if there are any questions.



  1. This looks a really useful approach and I’ve got it running fine. I’ve used the syncignore file as you’ve suggested but I’m not clear what its actually doing with the previews. Does syncignore stop ordinary and smart previews being copied between computers?

    Could you detail the bit about going on the road a bit more. Are you taking your whole image library with you on an external drive? It sounds like you just generate smart previews and take those – do you generate them on the laptop that you travel with? Once you have edited the smart previews on the road how do these changes replicate back to other computers that you sync with if smart previews aren’t synced? Is the edit information held in the cat file and not dependant on the smart preview in any way?

    Finally what happens if you load images onto the travel laptop while on the road – whats your approach to that?

    Thanks for a really good tip. I’ve been using the cloud drive sync for this and its a pain with speed issues on my connection. BTsync is much better

    29/07/14 at 14:13 · Reply
    • Hi Warwick.

      You have pretty much hit it on the head.
      I have my main library on a desktop iMac at home and my original RAW files on a NAS server.
      When I go on the road, I open my laptop and make sure everything is synced up.
      I then open Lightroom and tell it to generate Smart Previews of the project I am working on. This creates lower resolution Lossy RAW file previews on the laptop. These files are not synced.
      I can then hit the road and work on these images away from my original RAW images that are stored on the NAS server.
      When I get back onto the internet or my home network, the main catalog is synchronised back to my desktop iMac.
      All changes are stored on the Lightroom Catalog. As this is the only real file that is synchronised between the machines, all changes become visible on all the machines that are set to synchronise at once.
      I don’t let it copy the Preview files or the Smart preview files between machines as they typically end up being many gigabytes in size and take bloody ages to sync up.
      My laptop is only used to to work with on the road and I will prepare for that by letting it generate the preview files or Smart Previews of what I know I am going to work on.

      Its really just to make it quick to sync up.

      Hope that helps 🙂

      01/08/14 at 17:32 · Reply
  2. Very interesting approach.

    Just wondering, for this to work with Smart Previews on the road, do I first need my images to be on some type of NAS? If they’re not, what will happen? I’d imagine that Smart Previews cannot be generated if the computer can’t find the originals?



    02/10/14 at 6:33 · Reply
    • Hi Paul.

      Yes you are correct. If Lightroom cant find the files, it wont be able to use them to generate the smaller compact Smart Previews.
      The reason I put them on a NAS is so that I can have the files accessible from a variety of machines and not taking up space on them.
      The only thing synchronising between machines is the catalog itself.

      24/10/14 at 12:15 · Reply
  3. Hi Anton,

    I stumbled upon this article searching for how to use LR with a NAS as photo storage, because I have a (Windows) desktop computer and a MacBook Pro, both with LR5, and recently bought a NAS so I’d have a shared data base and not some photos here and some there.
    While I was mainly interested in how to teach LR to use a network storage with LR (and learnt how to use previews and smart previews), your approach is also sharing the catalog(s), which made me wonder: Should I do that too?

    Now I am just a hobby photographer (so far I have about 18k photos), and also I am not a LR expert, so could you elaborate a bit on why you chose to do this? I mean, couldn’t you as well just right click the top folder and hit synchronize and let it search for newly added images and metadata updates? What advantages does it have going the (officially unsupported) way of sharing the catalog over that?

    I realize it might be a time consuming process if you have a LOT of photos in the catalog, as you certainly have, being a photographer, but then again you seem to seem to have multiple catalogs even per year. Are there other reasons? I’m having LR convert my raws to DNG during camera import and I chose to have LR store changes into/with the files, so that shouldn’t be an issue.


    16/10/14 at 7:13 · Reply
    • Hi Jay

      You are in a difficult situation where you run two different environments (Windows and Mac).
      They unfortunately use different ways to refer to network storage. Windows maps a drive letter to a share (EG: F:\ShareName\Images or \\ServerName\ShareName\Images) whereas the Mac uses a local mount point (EG: \Media\ServerName\Share\Images)

      It becomes a challenge as you would constantly have to use Lightroom’s fix missing media option to point your catalog to your NAS share each time you jump from your Mac to your PC.

      I cant think of a easy to use solution for you. Sorry.
      Even replicating a local folder with all your images stored on your drive would still lead to the same problem of having to point Lightroom at the changing path between Mac and PC.

      As for the way I use my Lightroom catalogs:
      For each job I do I create a stand alone LR catalog that lives on a portable hard drive. I back that up separately each day.
      Once I’m finished editing those photos and they are ready for archiving, I import them into my main LR catalog which is BT synchronised across my machines. I then delete the temporary catalog on the portable drive.
      This keeps my workflow lean and quick but I still have access to all my files if I need them.

      Thats just me though 🙂

      Hope that helps.

      24/10/14 at 12:10 · Reply
  4. 1. Wonder what happens if you are on the road with your catalog and smart previews while someone back at the imac edits a job on that catalog. Does the sync system merge the changes?

    2. I have a mac pro and am adding another mac pro to the office for an assistant to come in and filter photography. Is it possible/advisable to have the images stored on my computer and share out my system to her without actually implementing a standalone NAS?

    23/10/14 at 10:24 · Reply
    • Hey Sean.
      Because the system has a central Database (DB) file that all the edits are stored in, any changes to smart previews are also replicated to the DB.
      If you take your catalog on the road and do edits without being connected to the net, the home system would not know of those changes. If someone edited files (even completely different ones) the changes are written to the DB file and its timestamp would be updated.
      When your laptop finally connects to the net again, the Bit Sydc would see that your home machine has the last file changed and would replicate it to you laptop. Any changes on your laptop would be lost.
      This would happen even if you have your catalog preferences set to write changes to XMP files.

      24/10/14 at 11:59 · Reply
  5. Hi, set things up with the new beta (1.4) and I guess it’s working based on history reports. However, I

    a) expected keywords to be updated, i.e. have LR on 2 PCs and one is “further along” in kwing than the other

    b) ditto on OTHER PC for Title, Headline, & Caption

    No joy. Any ideas or am I expecting something that can’t be done short of catalog copying?

    Thanks, and appreciate your hard work in discovering and exploring this technique.


    17/11/14 at 11:07 · Reply
    • Hey I.G
      As far as I know, keywords are kept in a separate location on your PC.
      Mac is something like /Users/UserName/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/Keyword Sets
      PC would be something like C:\Home\Username\Application Data\Adobe\Lightroom\Keyword Sets (Totally made that up so don’t quote me on it :P)

      You would need to setup another BT Sync folder for each of these. It would probably be a good thing to do it for only the items you want Synced to minimise bandwidth and the potential for something going wrong.

      There are a bunch of different items in here that can be synced in a similar way but I haven’t had a play with it yet. This would be a great place to sync your presets and adjustment brushes as they are all stored in that folder.

      17/11/14 at 13:31 · Reply
  6. “Computers are shit and will break…”
    Truer words have never been spoken – thanks for the article.

    22/11/14 at 14:35 · Reply
  7. Hi Anton,
    You seem very well educated on LR, and I have been searching to no avail for a solution to a problem I’ve been having.
    I will try to explain, and hopefully you can help.
    I work for a photographer that creates a new LR catalog for every single wedding he shoots. My job is to process the best of the photos, and flag certain ones.

    He creates smart previews, then copies the entire catalog along with any of its additional folders to a drive and gives it to me to open on my Mac for processing. We both use macs, and have the same version of LR.
    When I’m done, I give him the files back. At first, I was returning everything he gave me for data, files and all.
    We noticed that when he now tries to export the images at full resolution, somehow they are getting resized. His original file size of 4000×6000 is changed to 1000×2000 and he needs the largest size.

    We are CERTAIN nothing is checked in the export dialog box that would do this. Is there something else we need to consider? Something in how or what we share for data?
    More recently, I have returned only the lrcat file to him rather than all the preview files. Still unable to figure out why this is happening.

    Neither of us understand LR to the point we can troubleshoot this, and this is the first time I have ever worked with multiple catalogs, or same catalog on two different computers.
    So in summary, our main problem: File resizing on export when we create jpgs of the raw edited file.
    Do you have any guidance you can offer?
    Thanks in advance.

    23/11/14 at 4:25 · Reply
    • Hi Victoria

      Thats a bit of a strange one.
      Smart previews are a fantastic way to edit your images on the go while the RAW images are on a disconnected drive. Changes are propagated back to the RAW images (assuming they are in .DNG format) once you connect the drive back.

      The first thing that comes to mind for your issue is that when you bring the catalog onto the Photographers computer, his machine may not know where the original RAW files are. You can export images with Smart previews but they are at a lower resolution. I think this is what is happening in your instance.
      Try re-connect the Original RAW files by switching to the Library module, right clicking on the folder and selection “Update Folder location”
      Select an image and verify it is the original RAW file by looking at the labels under the Histogram. There are a couple of icons that represent if it is a Smart Preview or Original file or combination.
      This article is a good intro to it by Adobe.

      A second thing to try would be to delete the Smart Previews by switching to the Library or Develop module, click Library > Previews > Discard Smart Previews.

      Let me know how you go 🙂

      26/11/14 at 10:45 · Reply
  8. I have followed your instructions above to the letter but BTSync is still copying over the lock files, and I can only assume that is also copying over the smart previews at the same time?

    Any idea what I could have done wrong?

    21/12/14 at 3:21 · Reply
    • Hi Paul

      Not sure what it could be but try checking that the file names are in the correct case.
      MacOS is case sensitive and windows is not. In saying that I believe BTSync sees everything as case sensitive.
      One thing to also try is to quit BTSync on both machines, delete all the preview files and then start them up again. Then run Lightroom on your Laptop and re-generate the preview or smart preview files. Then quit Lightroom and see if they appear on the other machine. That will at least tell you if the files are being copied over or not.
      There appear to have been some changes to BTSync recently that has changed its behavior. I’ll try figure it out soon and post an update.

      28/12/14 at 12:30 · Reply
  9. Hi Anton

    Thanks for this guide. This is very useful as I plan to use LR5 on my MBP (primary) and macmini (secondary) while having my images stored on a Synology NAS.

    I am however inexperienced on steps 4 and 5 so I need a bit more hand holding so really appreciate. I managed to open the terminal in utilities and went into text editor.

    Question is whether is I need to copy the entire box wordings above or just these few lines.

    /AO2-2012 Previews.lrdata/*
    AO2-2012 Previews.lrdata.!sync
    /AO2-2012 Smart Previews.lrdata/*

    Also after I enter in text do I just close the terminal window as it does not appears i can do a SAVE to the file. Last but not least I cannot see the file (.syncIgnore) in lightroom root folder so not sure how to copy to my other machine.


    23/12/14 at 1:47 · Reply
    • Hey Dexter

      One thing to know on the Mac is that any files that start with a period are not shown in the Finder window.
      The are hidden files or folders (its a weird throwback from UNIX)
      the Mac also has a security system that relies on elevating privileges.
      You will have your standard account you are logged in with but you can elevate its privileges to an admin in order to do certain taska. This is what the “Sudo” command does.
      You use it by typing “sudo” then the command you want to run as an admin
      EG: “sudo nano .syncignore”

      You were probably unable to save some of the files you edited because the system sees them as files only an admin can edit.
      As for the editing of the file and what wordings you need to copy:
      You should only need to copy few lines.
      Just remember to edit them to match your catalog name 🙂

      As as side note: after the last update to BTSync, I am now having trouble syncing my libraries.
      I’ll have a crack at figuring it out soon and post an update.

      28/12/14 at 12:21 · Reply
  10. Hi Anton

    Thanks. By the way the new the new version of bt sync uses IgnoreList instead of syncignore. I got it to work finally.

    But one thing I need to be careful is when LR catalogs are syncing I should close LR on all the macs. I can’t get the catalog of mbp to macmini initially and in fact mbp catalog was over written.. Does BT Sync allows me to designate which one is master?


    01/01/15 at 13:30 · Reply
    • Hey Dexter.
      Ive updated the article (finally) to reflect the changes they made and that you pointed out. Hopefully more people will find it useful now 🙂 Interestingly, BTSync seemed to automatically rename the old file to the new one. It just started one day again on my systems 😛

      26/02/15 at 17:04 · Reply
  11. Thanks for sharing this! My issue is that I create a new catalog for every single job (wedding, portrait, etc.) & don’t work off of one single Lightroom catalog. Wondering if you have any idea of a possible solution if I’m constantly creating new catalogs without having to go through these steps each & every time. Thanks!

    17/01/15 at 3:08 · Reply
    • Hey Austin
      You have me a bit stumped on that one. Im not sure you can do anything other than edit the files each time.
      The way I work is that I create a separate catalog for each job that I work with on an external drive. Once Im done editing, I import that small catalog into my main catalog where all my photos are.
      Thats pretty much it.
      Everyone has a different workflow 🙂

      26/02/15 at 17:19 · Reply
  12. Hello,

    Is it essential to have a NAS server to get this to work? Can I save my catalog drive on an external drive on my original master PC? Then my secondary pc/laptop needs to have the catalog saved on the C: drive correct?

    I’m having problems with the program not working because of the network limitations/error.

    Thanks for your help.

    21/01/15 at 4:09 · Reply
    • Hi Matt
      Nope its not essential to have a NAS but you will just need to make sure that your drive mappings to your images are the same on both machines. If you have an external drive with your images on (say the g: drive) You will need to share this on your main machine and have a network drive mapped to G: on your 2nd machine that points to the external drive on the main machine.

      26/02/15 at 17:07 · Reply
  13. Thanks for your sharing your workflow– really helpful!

    Based on your experience, is it safe to have LR running on one or more of the computers, while syncing?

    Sometimes, I leave LR running in the background on my iMac at home. I’ve made some edits on the laptop while on the move, and I want the laptop’s LR catalog to be synced back to the iMac.

    Can this be safely done (or at all) while LR is still running on the iMac?

    Thanks for your help again. Awesome workflow here 🙂

    04/03/15 at 11:41 · Reply
    • Hey Cher
      You can only have Lightroom “Running” on one machine at a time.
      Lightroom will place a lock on the files while it is open so BTSync will not be able to modify it until Lightroom closes.
      If you have it open on your iMac and make some changes on the road on your laptop, when you get back to the iMac and close it, BT Sync will see the last changes made will be your iMac using the file (even though you did nothing but open the catalog)
      All you changes made on your laptop will be lost.

      You have to keep that in mind when using this workflow 😛
      Best practice is to always shut down Lightroom when you are finished so that BTSync will see that as being the most up to date version of your catalog.
      If you do happen to leave it running on your iMac while you have made changes to your laptop, just launch your laptop Lightroom, then close your iMac Lightroom and give it a minute, then close Lightroom on your laptop. BTSync should see the laptop as being the last modified version and copy that over to your iMac.

      Hope that ramble makes sense 🙂

      04/03/15 at 11:53 · Reply
      • Thanks for the quick reply, anton!

        That makes perfect sense– BTSync looks strictly at the latest version of the file, and seeks to sync that over to all other computers.

        Will make sure to close LR each time to ensure that BTSync works fine. Thanks again!

        04/03/15 at 12:09 · Reply
  14. Anton,

    Thanks for the great article. I haven’t tried this yet as I am just starting out with LR and I have a question before I get too far down the rabbit hole.

    My setup:
    1 mac mini (main computer where currently LR is installed)
    1 macbook pro 13″ retina — this is where I will install LR again and this is what I will use for my mobile / secondary machine.

    My question is this: If I go on a vacation I would of course take my MBP with me and not the Mac mini 🙂 I like to dump that day’s photos onto my drive on the MBP so that I can delete ones I don’t like, edit and or post to social media for friends and family.

    When I get back home how would I sync my “new” photos from the vacation to my main computer along with the edits, keywords, etc?

    Also I have a NAS, but my photos are not kept there at the moment, they are all on my mini.

    Thank you so much for the help and again for the great article!

    18/03/15 at 13:42 · Reply
    • Hey Jeramey

      You have 2 options for yu setup that I can think of.

      1) Keep it simple. Create a catalog on your laptop and dump you photos on that and go crazy with edits etc. When you get home, use the “Import from another catalog” function in Lightroom on your mac mini to combine the two catalogs. Then delete the on on your laptop to free us space.

      2) If both your mac mini and your laptop have the same username “Eg: jbeck or jeramey” then the paths to your photos will be the same (EG:” \users\jeramey\photos\lightroom_photos\” ) and you can setup BTSync in the same way as the article to keep them in sync. You will just need to add the folder where all your photos are in as a syncable folder in BTSync. The downside to this is that you will have copies of your photos on both machines.


      19/03/15 at 11:41 · Reply
      • I think I will try option #1 for now 🙂 Like you said I don’t really need / want 2 copies of the same pictures at all times…I would eventually run out of space anyway on the MBP.

        Thanks for the suggestions!

        19/03/15 at 12:08 · Reply
  15. Hi Anton! Thanks for this great post. I have been looking for a solution to work between 2 computeres and this was very helpful. I downloaded Syncthing and was able to synchronize a test folder, which is great because all of this is a little over my head. But I don’t know how to set up the ignore files with Syncthing and my PC setup. Can you tell if if this is absolutely necessary in order to be able to sync my catalog? I have tried using Dropbox, but space is an issue so I would really like to be able to get this to work for me. Thanks again for taking the time to post this!

    20/03/15 at 0:34 · Reply
    • Hi Susan

      I found a wiki document here:
      which give the patterning on how to ignore files and folders in Syncthing.
      You will need to create a .stignore file and edit it to ignore the preview cache folder generated by Lightroom
      It looks pretty simple in their examples to just put in the Preview folder name to ignore it all.
      You dont absolutely need to have a .stignore file but it does make synchronising a catalog a lot quicker.


      20/03/15 at 9:28 · Reply
  16. My need is to allow multiple people to start tagging roughly 30k pictures. (Only one at a time, but on different PCs)
    With the previously mentioned additional keyword sync, this seems far better to have them on the server and sync the catalog than hard-drive swapping.

    Have you found that wifi-G connected computers are fast enough for this kind of shared access, or do i need to ensure they have gig-E ?

    Currently have LR4, does LR5 with it’s “Smart Preview” help with speed when network-sharing the files? (Since only doing tagging, not edits, I’m thinking it might – although each PC still needs to get at the original once to make a Preview, right?)


    21/03/15 at 15:02 · Reply
    • Hey Mike!

      WiFi is definitely fast enough. Even with a multi gigabyte catalog, BTSync will only send the parts of the files that have changed so there is usually only a few megabytes that get shot across the network.
      In fact it sometimes takes longer for BTSync to load up and connect to its clients than it does to sync 🙂

      10/04/15 at 10:11 · Reply
  17. Anton,
    Thanks for this article, I’m having a problem and your approach may be my ultimate solution, but here is what I’m doing currently and what is not working for some reason.

    I run LR on my home laptop. I use a Synology NAS. This unit has software that allows for selective syncing between my laptop and NAS. So I can go into my menu and select my current folders and deselect folders that are older and not being accessed regularly. so I’m never moving files and the syncing occurs in the background.

    Here is my problem.

    I have several large format printers at my office. Occassionally I do print projects. So at home I’ll flag images I want to print. Then I go to my office and import the files (in their current location on the NAS). However the Flags and ratings don’t show up. I’ve tried saving Metada (on the home laptop) but no matter what my flags and ratings don’t show. Oddly the ratings and editts that are present when I first add the folder to my office; but any subsequent rating changes, flags or edits don’t seem to appear on my office computer. I syncronize the file using the LR menu, and scans for Metadata but nothing changes.

    I’ve even tried copying the folder through windows explorer onto my office computer then importing that into LR at my office, but the same results.

    This has been very frustrating. So I’m likley missing a basic concept here, but havent’ not been able to find someone doint this set up. Any advice? Don’t want to get too many syncing softwares going; so if the NAS syncing software can do part of this work that would be great; but just can’t seem to figure out why it isn’t working now.

    Thanks if you have time!

    14/04/15 at 12:50 · Reply
    • Hi Keith

      I had a look on the Synology website and through some of their online demos, however I could not see any mention of the file syncing application you use.
      Could you send me some more info on it and I’ll have a think 🙂
      The only things they mention is a cloud synching applications that run from the NAS but not from your laptop. I’d assume that the files you want to synch would need to be pulled in form your laptop.
      Anton 🙂

      15/04/15 at 16:42 · Reply
      • Anton,
        The feature is called cloudstation. Essentially the NAS is your personal cloud that is accessible anywhere you have an internet signal.

        I tried tagging photos with “print selection” as a keyword; that shows up immediately on the remote computer; but no flags or star ratings.

        Guess my question is, do flags and ratings become part of the file; my guess is no. In many cases I’m just using Jpeg, so I thought the info was embedded into JPEGS vs Raw with Sidecar xmp files.

        Another question is, if it isn’t a part of the file, then can I use the synology sync feature to sync the files you describe above in your initial solution?

        If you google synology cloud station, it will take you to the site with an overview of the feature including a description of selective sync. It’s a great reliable unit. I have 24TB at home and another 24 at office with Raid 1 at both locations. Unit to Unit isn’t really an option with the massive files quantity and sizes of our photos; especially with a 100mb download and ONLY 4mb upload speeds in our area.

        But my issues is accessing files with flag data and ratings.

        16/04/15 at 11:43 · Reply
        • Hey Keith

          The software that syncs the files (in this case Synology cloud station) would need to support XMP sidecar files or the ability to write those changes to the .JPG file.
          Im guessing they just store keywords in a database somewhere or as part of the file metadata. The metadata is filesystem specific and probably is not transferred over in some or all cases.

          Is there a way of creating a “Smart Folder” that will copy/sync in only files with a specific keyword or tag?

          16/04/15 at 11:57 · Reply
  18. AL

    Hi! thanks for your article, and apologies if this has already been answered in the comments. I’m trying to troubleshoot a problem I just encountered.

    So, I’ve been using Smart Previews for a while no, having no problem. The other day, I decided to go through my old backup catalogs and delete the less recent ones, and leave the files of Smart Previews. Today, when I restarted Lightroom, it looks like the latest catalog dose not recognize that most of the files have Smart Previews, so most of my library is showing up blank. Do you know how I could re-integrate the existing Smart Previews into my current catalog, or otherwise import the existing Smart Previews? Hope this is a clear description! Thanks

    14/05/15 at 5:03 · Reply
    • Hi Al

      No idea 😛
      Between updates (even the minor bug fixes) Adobe has changed the catalog file format in subtle ways which could move things around in the database.
      I do know that Lightroom does set a limit to the size of the previews it generates.
      You may have the Smart previews generated (Lightroom -> Catalog Settings -> File handling) but this may be different to the actual previews generated. Just guessing at this one though

      Your best bet would probably be to start off with running a manual “Optimise Catalog”
      If that does not fix it, I’d close Lightroom, delete the Smart Previews and Previews folder, then relaunch and get Lightroom to regenerate them all.
      It sucks and will take a fucking long time but at least everything will be up to date and in the right place.

      21/05/15 at 13:20 · Reply
  19. Hi Anton,

    I’m wondering if you can help me figure out a Smart Preview problem. I edit photos for a wedding photographer who shares the smart catalogue with me via Google Drive. I sync them onto my desktop Google Drive, then import the catalogue into Lightroom and edit.

    This time I’m using Lightroom CC. When I imported the catalogue, it said the file needed to be adjusted by Lightroom. I clicked ok. Since then I can’t access the files, I get a message that the original files are offline, and the location is the photographers computer.

    She has tried downloading the same folder on another computer at her home and can access everything. I can import the files but can’t see anything.

    I have no idea what to try next and I need to get this catalogue edited. Thank you for any suggestions!

    14/05/15 at 10:36 · Reply
    • Hi Michelle

      The only thing I can think of is that Lightroom uses absolute paths to point to files on the hard drive.
      Your Google Drive path would be different to the photographers one.
      You would both need to be logged in to your computers with the same username to have the same path (Eg \USERS\Michelle\Documents\Google Drive\ )

      Im not sure if you can relink Smart previews but that might be an option to try.
      There is also the command to “Generate standard previews” which may regenerate the images from the Smart Previews.
      Lightroom CC has changed the catalog format and so it may need to re-generate the previews and even the Smart Previews again before you can use it as normal.

      21/05/15 at 13:27 · Reply
  20. Thanks so much for this post, Anton. I’m new to Lightroom, but I’ve already suffered through several mini-disasters with trying to share Lightroom photos and catalogs between my two machines. This does exactly what I need, and it appears to do so reasonably safely without too much danger. My main concern is what happens if I forget to shutdown LR on my other machine – fortunately, I usually do shut it down when changing machines.

    29/07/15 at 12:34 · Reply
    • Hey Wolfy 🙂

      Basically it will not save your edits one one of them.
      Here is how it works/doesnt work:
      1) You open lightroom on your 1st machine and make some edits. Lightroom locks the catalog file so nothing else but it can change it (this is a standard way of doing things to avoid huge problems. Remember, computers are dumb)
      2) You open lightroom on your 2nd machine and make some edits. Then close lightroom.
      3) BTSync sees that changes have been made and attempts to send them over to the 1st machine.
      4) BTSync cant copy the changes because the catalog is locked.
      5) You close Lightroom on the 1st machine writing all the changes to the catalog.
      6) BTSync now sees the catalog on the 1st machine as having the latest changes and will copy them to the 2nd machine. Any edits you did on the 2nd machine will be lost.


      No easy way around it unless you script a program that closes Lightroom on any of your open machines if you launch it on another. No idea how you would do that though… I’d get a programmer drunk and then make them do it. But that is probably bad advice too.

      21/08/15 at 15:42 · Reply
  21. Hi Anton!
    Thanks for the great summary!
    My girlfriend and I both are very much into photography and like to have our catalogue as one across a mac, a PC and our NAS drive.
    Since we have a catalogue for each running year we plan on synching everything (pictures and previews). Our 2015 catalog is currently 15GB.
    BUT, will we have a file path issue? The originals on my PC will be on D:\Lightroom and on the mac in the pictures folder.
    Because at the moment I have been moving the current catalog around from an external drive to the mac and all the files are found without any trouble…
    I use LR 5.3 btw.
    Thanks for your support!

    03/08/15 at 17:28 · Reply
    • Hey Phillip

      You will have a problem if the one machine is a Mac and the other a PC.
      You end up having to repoint your folder paths each time you open up the library on a different machine. Unfortunately there is no way around that.
      Unless you both run on a PC or both on a Mac.

      21/08/15 at 15:31 · Reply
      • Hi Anton,

        I tested it last week using a sync software and it worked without a problem. Both mac and PC could open the catalog without any issues and the pictures were found. This was however the “light” version with the pictures being synced as well. Next is to have the pictures on the NAS while only syncing the catalog. Here your issue will probably appear.


        21/08/15 at 16:55 · Reply
  22. I’m a Bit Torrent Sync novice so this may be a stupid question (or maybe they’ve changed the application again), but I can’t find the Generate button that you mention. And if I skip this step, I can’t find the IgnoreList file. I’ve been struggling with LR on two different computers so I’m hoping you can help me.

    27/10/15 at 3:42 · Reply
    • Hey Richard
      Not sure about the new application. I’ve since moved to a single machine so I’m not sharing my catalog any longer.
      Have you tried creating the IgnoreList file manually?
      It may see it and just use the values.

      17/12/15 at 9:16 · Reply
  23. Brenton

    Hi Anton, I’ve got this set up the way you laid out and it works fine. My one issue is that I’m not using a NAS server, simply just have an external hard drive hooked to my main PC. It runs nice and fast on the main PC, but when using Lightroom on the other one, the pictures take extremely long to load. Is there anyway to speed this up? Thanks for your help.

    30/10/15 at 7:48 · Reply
    • Hey Brenton

      I’d suspect that it is a network problem then. Is your 2nd machine on Wifi?
      First I’d suggest running some file access speed tests. There are a bunch of diagnostic tools for all OS’s out there.

      17/12/15 at 9:14 · Reply
  24. Brenton

    As in so slow it’s unusable. Over 30-45 seconds for a photo to load completely.

    30/10/15 at 9:11 · Reply
    • Dan

      Hi Brenton… any success in figuring this one out?

      I’ve got much the same setup… or will have soon… without a NAS – I intend on connecting a 2TB ExtHD to my iMac and storing my photos in a folder on that ExtHD. I am hoping to use BTSYnc to keep my LR data in sync just as Anton has described.

      Anton: Does the process you describe for setting up BTSync change at all if we are not using a NAS?

      My Wifi is usually pretty good as to date I’ve been able to access files from my iMac on my MBPro using ON1 Photo10 Browse. Seems quick enough, but haven’t yet set up using the ExtHD. I have noticed since starting up MacKeeper (update) that several network tasks have slowed down. I suspect MacKeeper might have something do with this. Do you have anything similar running?

      02/01/16 at 9:56 · Reply
      • Hey Dan

        The process is exactly the same as long as both computers map the Photo folders (drive path) to the same place (EG: D:\Photos\My Awesome Pix\ or /Volumes/HD-Awesome/Photos/My Awesome Pix/)

        I’d have a quick google around for reviews on Mac Keeper. From memory it doesn’t do anything other than delete some cached files and slow down your computer.


        03/02/16 at 11:17 · Reply
  25. Anton,
    Been working with this solution and am having no love with getting it to work correctly. BitTorrent Sync is reporting the catalog syncing, as I look at its history, but when I make an edit (say a crop) on one computer, the crop doesn’t show up on the other computer. I have a NAS and two computers at home that I am trying to catalog sync. The idea is that with two photographers, on two different computers (one at a time, of course) we can share pix and share edits. Also, when the catalogs sync, LR turns of mobile syncing and tells me I’m working “with a backup catalog” and that I need to delete all LR mobile data and reload it. Problem is, if I’ve share URLs, say on FaceBook, all those links break… any ideas?

    23/01/16 at 1:18 · Reply
    • Hey Rick

      Its a bit of a head scratched but I suspect that because Lightroom has added the LR Mobile feature, it probably stores that info separately from the usual catalog.
      My suggestion would be to disable LR Mobile syncing on that catalog while you are sharing it. If you need it on, then your best bet would be to see if you can figure out where the LR Mobile settings are stored and setup a seperate BT Sync synced folder for that. I’d only suggest that if you and the other photographer share the same licence for Lightroom as the accounts it would open would be the same.
      I am unable to test it since I started using just the one computer. I only have BT Sync setup to backup my catalog to my NAS now.
      Good luck 🙂

      03/02/16 at 11:14 · Reply
    • Hey Anton

      A while back I tried implementing this solution with BT but it didn’t work (or I couldn’t get it to work). Since then, I’ve been syncing a single LR catalog between various computers using Dropbox. It’s not a perfect solution but it does work if you keep a few things in mind: 1) you have to close the catalog on one computer before using it on another, or you will end up having conflicted copies; 2) once the catalog gets quite big, sometimes it takes a while to sync (especially if you’re syncing other files at the same time – there doesn’t seem to be a way of telling Dropbox to prioritise specific files to sync over others); 3) if you import files to the catalog on one computer and then switch to another, the second computer will not be able to “find” the original files. However, if you have also imported the files to a synced dropbox folder, it’s easy to hook up the thumbnails with the original files again.

      14/04/16 at 17:34 · Reply
  26. Hi Anton

    Fantastic article and great follow ups. Pardon me if my questions has been answered before. We work in a multi user environment, data is stored centrally on a nas and at one time there may be 3 editors working on a said wedding (each will be working on a different event in the said wedding). Would your solution take care that by the end of day each of their catalogue reflects each other’s changes?

    18/03/16 at 5:09 · Reply
    • Hey Anand

      Unfortunately not in this case.
      This solution only works if there is one person working on the catalog at a time.
      You kind of have to think about it like a file being copied around on a USB drive.
      Only one person will have the updated catalog until he closes Lightroom and only then will it be copied around to everyone else. If another person opens up the catalog during that time, someones changes will not be saved.
      I’d suggest working on individual catalogs for each wedding and then import them into the main catalog at the end of the day.
      Thats the way I do it 🙂
      It makes backing up easier too as Im only dealing with a few thousand files and hot a catalog handling hundreds of thousands.

      13/04/16 at 9:39 · Reply
  27. Absolutely brilliant article! Really simple to follow and it worked first time (albeit only errors in my typing made it slightly harder work). Thanks ever so much!

    06/07/16 at 18:34 · Reply
  28. Hi Anton, thank you for your article, this is what I was looking for.

    I am on a Mac with the same setup but using NAS and dropbox for catalog, I have excluded previews, smart previews and lock files.
    I am missing a little step from your workflow, where you make the smart previews and when? If I have no smart preview on the laptop and go out of my wifi network, when I connect to another network the dropbox catalog folder is syncronized, when I open the catalog with lightroom I have no previews but the raw are connected to the NAS (via a network folder), Lightroom starts to create previews but I takes a long time for every picture because, I think, the raw files are downloaded to the laptop just to create the previews to the local folder.

    In your workflow are you creating the smart previews for all your catalog in both machine? Desktop and Laptop but INSIDE your lan? Because creating smart previews with internet connection takes a long time.
    Thanks for your help.

    03/09/16 at 18:54 · Reply
    • Hey

      Yeah that sounds about right.
      I mainly just work on my local network and even then I have my laptops plugged into a switch via a network cable.
      The only way Lightroom can create a preview (smart or otherwise) is to pull the RAW image down and churn through it.
      I don’t prevent Lightroom from creating the previews. I just dont have BTSync copy them over as I’ll tend to be working within different folders on each catalog. When I open mine up it creates the previews but because Im on a wired network, its at an acceptable speed.

      As an idea, you could try increasing Lightrooms Preview folder size (in settings). It will only start clearing out old previews once it has filled this up.
      Set it to something like 8Gb and see how you go 🙂


      07/09/16 at 10:57 · Reply
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