How does one coordinate Lightroom used on a laptop when traveling, with a master Lightroom catalog back in the office? I’ve written about this before (see my blog for October 2, 2012) but the topic keeps coming up at workshops and on tours, so….
I have one main master Lightroom catalog for all my images, which resides on my desktop computer in my office. That master catalog is on an internal drive (a different drive than the internal SSD drive I use for all my programs). A backup copy of this master catalog is made to another internal drive (automatically done by Lightroom when I exit the program), and a third copy of the catalog is on a small external USB drive. Yes, I’m a bit paranoid about loosing all that data.
I have another Lightroom catalog named Travel on my laptop. When I’m on the road, I download images using Lightroom, in the exact same format structure I use for the image files back in my office. As the files are downloaded, Lightroom automatically renames the files and adds my copyright information, using templates I’ve created in Lightroom. My naming template is a YYMMDD_camera-generated-file-name-and-number format, so individual files appear along the lines of 150624_D4S_4752. Nikon lets you set camera names in the menu system to a three character code, so my cameras are named D4S and D8T. Yeah, real original thinking there. Image files are always downloaded into a _Photos folder (the underscore makes it the topmost folder in my laptop’s directory), into a subfolder named by month and location of shoot. 06 Namibia would by a June trip to Namibia while 09 Denali would be a September shoot in Denali. Each day’s images are automatically sorted as Lightroom reads the file metadata, makes YYYY-MM-DD folders as needed inside the month-shoot folder (the 06 Namibia or 09 Denali folders), and puts the correct images into the correct folders (I always have my cameras set to the local time, which in turn means all images will be correctly sorted by date). Once all these parameters are checked in Lightroom they remain as set, so the only thing I ever have to change is the name of the month-shoot folder. I flag any images I work on in Lightroom, highlight those images, and save all metadata to file by doing Ctrl/Command + S.
While on the road I copy every day’s take to two small external USB powered hard drives, so that by the end of the trip I have three duplicate copies of all my images. Since the files are already in the organization I use in my office, all I have to do once I get home is to copy the image files to their correct location on my master hard drives, and to add the trip catalog to my master catalog. I open the Travel catalog on my laptop, select the folder with the trip images, and do File > Export as Catalog, saving the exported catalog on one of the small USB drives. I make sure to include the image previews. Since the image files on the USB drive are all current with the correct metadata saved to them, there is no reason for me to do what Lightroom calls Export negative files (“negative files” is Adobe-speak for the actual images).
Back in the office I plug this drive into a USB port on my desktop computer, and use my operating system to copy the image shoot folder, which has all the photos, over to the correct date location on my main hard drive array. Then I open my master Lightroom catalog, and do File > Import from Another Catalog, and select the catalog on the USB drive. When this is finished working, I disconnect the small USB drive, at which time Lightroom want to know where the files are located since the imported catalog still thinks they are back on my laptop. I point Lightroom to the correct image folder I’ve copied over, the 06 Namibia folder or whatever it is, and I’m done. The backup software on my desktop computer automatically kicks in, and backs up my new images.
When I’m positive that all is well with my desktop system, I remove all the photos from the Travel catalog on my laptop, so that I can reuse the catalog shell again with all my preferences still set. I reformat the USB drives, reset the time in my cameras, and I’m good-to-go on my next adventure.