Consolidating Multiple Lightroom Catalogs onto a NAS

I referenced in a recent tweet that I've been struggling with how to store my photography library. I have been researching, experimenting, and working on this for months now. I don't think I found a full guide for all this, so I decided to write it up so that maybe I can help one other person.

For years, I had simply been buying progressively bigger external hard drives… usually in pairs so that I would have a back up. After getting two cameras that shot 24MP and above… that strategy really got outpaced by the sheer volume of data my lovely wife shot this past fall.

In desperation, I eventually settled on a complicated "multiple catalog" scheme. I split out our family history photo Catalog on one 2TB drive, and putting each professional shoot in a new Catalog on subsequent drives as they filled up. This strategy allowed my wife and I collaborate on a shoot simply by passing the hard drive with the photos and Catalog on it.

Some quick context: Lightroom's photo management has two parts: A Catalog file, and the photo files. The Catalog stores all the metadata and edits, and points to the photo files. For some reason, Lightroom won't accept Catalogs on network drives, but the photo files themselves can live on a network drive or NAS.

The "multiple catalog" strategy meant that I kept together each Project Catalog and its corresponding Photo Files in a folder on an external hard drive. While I couldn't search across my whole collection, but I could manage them in chunks… which at least let me make sure that each chunk had a backup on another drive. (This led to a crazy-making spreadsheet that listed each drive, each Project Catalog, and where it's backup was located, and how old that backup was… 🤦)

Some of the drives that I have been juggling... it's a nightmare.

This all worked fine… until I ran out of room on the Family History Photo Catalog drive! I was faced with buying two more 5TB drives, one for the main and one for a periodic backup… and I realized that I would basically be in the price range of just buying a NAS like a Synology or a Drobo. (I wound up on a Synology DS718+ and I like it, but there's lots of better resources comparing and selling different devices.) While I started saving, I started scheming how to move the diaspora Project Catalogs back to the promised land of a single source of truth…

It took a lot of experiments, researching videos and blog posts, but here's what I settled on.

We want to end up in a state with a single Main Catalog, pointing at files on the NAS. To accomplish this, we will first make sure all the files are safe on the NAS. Then we will individually point all the Catalogs at the files on the NAS. Finally, we will merge together the catalogs and ensure the data is safe.

  1. Copy all the individual Catalogs to the NAS via USB.

  2. Connect up the Synology to your working computer (network mount or whatever.)

  3. For each Project Catalog, open it up. We are going to redirect this Project Catalog to the newly copied files on the NAS. Use Update Folder Location… from the folder on the original source (in my case, an external drive named LaCie) to the new location on the Synology.

    Update Folder Location

    Now your catalog has all the edits and metadata, but it's pointed away from your external drive to the network drive. 👍

  4. Switch back to your Main Catalog. (I just used the entry in the Open Recent… menu.)

    Switch to catalog

  5. Select from the File menubar: Import from Another Catalog… and choose the Project Catalog you just updated that now points to photos on the Synology.

    Import from another catalog

  6. For File Handling, choose Add New Photos to Catalog Without Moving.

    import dialog
    If you choose the option for moving the files, this import can take fifteen minutes… I think it compares each file over the network, and that's very slow. By choosing to take the photos where they are, the merged metadata from the newly re-pointed Project Catalog merges into your Main Catalog pointing at files on the NAS, much faster.
  7. Now that the Catalogs have merged, your File pane on the left should show the fact that you have multiple folders at play. You could leave it like this, but I wanted all my photos in one folder structure to make backup to online easier. Move the folder(s) into your desired folder structure.

    move files
    • If there are no conflicts (usually the case) it takes milliseconds.
    • If there is a folder existing in that space, you can either rename the folder to something related to the shoot (John and Jane Doe's Wedding) or drag all the files over to the folder individually… but this will take much more time.
  8. At this point, I usually make sure everything worked right. I'll typically right click on a photo in the Gallery and choose Show in Finder and Show in Library to ensure this photo is in the right folder on the filesystem and the right place in the Lightroom Library.

    show in finder

    correct path
    Looks like the file is on the Network Drive! Success!
  9. You can now safely remove the duplicate or empty folders in Lightroom Catalog.

    remove empty

  10. Obsessively check and re-check to make sure you aren't losing anything, then remove and clean up the old folders outside your new organized folder.


Phew! We are done. Y'all would not believe the relief I felt when I merged the last one, clicked around, and knew for certain where all my data was and that it was on a redundant drive.

correct path
That's a lot of photos.

Going forward, I will use a modified version of this process. Since the local SSD is faster than the network drive by a long shot, I'll work each shoot on a new Catalog local to that laptop. After I'm done, I'll use the merge workflow above to move all the files and merge the metadata into my Main Catalog.

  • 2022-06-08 11:31:29 -0500
    Rename articles

  • 2020-07-22 11:57:00 -0500
    Minor edits

    I wanted to group some of the instructions with the images for clarity.

  • 2020-07-22 11:50:12 -0500
    New Post: Merging Lightroom Catalogs