Combining catalogs in Lightroom

Today I want to look at combining catalogs in Lightroom. The instructions and illustrations are from the Windows version of Lightroom 4. The instructions and screens also apply to Lightroom 3.

Catalogs are a wonderful device for managing your images. I have used separate catalogs for individual clients. This allows me to go directly to the images for that client when I need to locate a particular image or order or reorder and to trace the history of multiple shoots through the years. This also makes it easier to make a presentation to a client without the distraction of images from other shoots, to protect the privacy of all clients, and reveal only the images for that particular client.

Often when shooting in the field on a multi-day shoot, I like to review my images for that day. When I find an image that I particularly like, the temptation is there to start the processing to see just what I have. Then, the the question arises as to how to preserve the processing on those images when I get back home and want to put these images into my main catalog where all of my images reside.

Lightroom has very good utilities for managing image files and catalogs. One thing that I highly recommend is that all image file management be done in Lightroom, especially once processing has begun. When moving files at the system level (Windows Explorer for example), it is easy to miss some of the sidecar files in which the processing information is stored. Lightroom will manage all of the file copying and transfers if done within Lightroom.

The process is much like importing images into the catalog. Open the catalog that is the target catalog to receive the images. This example uses my Main-v-4 catalog where all my images reside. From the File menu, select Import from another catalog

Select “Import from another catalog…” from the file menu

A standard file dialog will open where you can select the catalog that you wish to import into the target catalog. Here I have selected one of my temp catalogs that I used for a special presentation.

Select source catalog

Click okay and the import screen will open in LR.

A check box at the bottom determines whether or not the previews show. I find it helpful to know which images I am dealing with.

This is an import of images new to the target catalog from a different catalog. The option at the bottom for Changed Existing Photos will be dealt with later in this article.

The Catalog Contents frame in the upper left shows the folders in the catalog and the number of images in each folder. The Preview frame on the right (provided the Show Preview box is checked) shows the images in the catalog. They can be viewed by folder by selecting the folder in the left frame. Checks in the boxes show which images are selected for import. Clear the check on the folder to skip all images in that folder or clear the check on each individual image that you do not wish to import.

Import from catalog dialog

Lightroom gives you three options for handling the import of images found.
1. Add new Photos to Catalog without moving.
* If you are happy with where the files reside in your directory tree, then choose this setting.
* The images will be imported into the target catalog and the files will remain in their current location.
2. Copy new photos to a new location and import
* In this case, I am importing these images from a temporary catalog on a portable drive. I would like for them to be on hard drive in the same place as all of my other images.
* Choosing this option tells Lightroom to import the image files (RAW and non-RAW) and all sidecar files which contain development settings.
* Any processing done in the source catalog will be transferred to the new catalog and file location.
3. Don’t import new photos
* This settings is useful when you have a mix of new and existing images in the source catalog.
* Perhaps the source catalog was created by exporting images from the target catalog to a catalog on a portable drive to take to a Lightroom training class. After the export, you reviewed the images in the target catalog and realized that you had some duplicates or some images that had “no redeeming value” and you chose to delete those images from your original catalog and from the disk to recover space. After attending the class, you wish to import the images and the processing that you did in the class back into the original catalog. Since some images had been deleted in the original, all of those images from the source show up as “new” images, along with the existing images found (We will deal with how to handle those existing images later in this article).
* Since you do not want the deleted images imported back into the original catalog, choose this option. This will tell Lightroom to skip the “new” images and import only those images with the changed settings, saving you the trouble of having to delete the images a second time from the original catalog.

The second option for New Photos is the Copy to: option. This option appears only if you choose Copy new photos to a new location and import. A default path from your target catalog location is suggested. If you prefer some other location, click the Choose button and browse to the location that you prefer.

Click IMPORT and the selected action will be carried out by Lightroom.

Notice that the folder name in the source catalog is copied to the new location in the target catalog. The Copy to path chosen above was C:\Photos\LR2012\2012-09. The folder in the top window, 20120912, is copied into the C:\Photos\LR2012\2012-09 path.

Folder location after import

This next import is an import of images that already exist in the target catalog.
Choose Import from another catalog on the File menu as above. From the Catalog Contents frame, you can select all or some of the folders that you wish to import. The check box in the upper left corner of each preview allows you to select individual images to include (checked) or skip (unchecked) in the import.

Import from catalog dialog

There are no new images found in this catalog so the instructions for handling new photos is grayed out.

Since these images already exist in the catalog, LR needs to know how to handle the processing of the new combined images. If additional image processing was done in the catalog being imported, you will want to make appropriate selections in the Changed Existing Photos section in the bottom left corner of the dialog.

There are three choices for the Replace: drop down box:
1. Nothing
* No data is imported for existing images and no changes are made in the target catalog
2. Metadata and develop settings only
* This replaces the processing instructions which LR applies to RAW files.
* The processing displayed in the target catalog will show the processing in the catalog being imported.
3. Metadata, develop settings, and negative files
* This replaces all data for that image in the target catalog with the entire RAW file and development settings file from the source catalog
* All files will be copied from the source location to the target location in the target catalog.
* This can be helpful if a negative file has been corrupted or lost (deleted by accident) from the target catalog. If it is found in the source, it will be copied into the target, replacing the missing file.
* Use this setting if the imported catalog contains non-RAW files. See note below re. Non-RAW files

There are two check boxes which need attention.
1. Preserve Old Settings as a virtual copy
* This great feature allows you to preserve the development/processing on the RAW files in the target catalog and import the new development/processing from the source catalog
* As a virtual copy, the image will appear in the library with the original processing settings. A second copy of the image will display with the processing settings from the source catalog.
* Both processing sets will be preserved and you may print or process either one.
2. Replace non-raw files only (TIFF, PSD, JPEG)
* non-RAW files are not as flexible as RAW but you can apply Lightroom processing to them. The changes/processing is stored in a sidecar file just like the RAW files and the original file is not changed, just like in a RAW file. However, if the non-RAW files was edited in a program other than Lightroom, the changes were written to the non-RAW file itself. Processing changes made in one catalog would not work effectively on a non RAW image that has been changed in a program other than Lightroom.
* Use this setting in conjunction with Setting three in the Replace setting if all of your negative RAW files are intact and the only thing that has changed on the RAW files is the metadata and/or processing. This setting will import only the non-RAW files and will save time by skipping the negative RAW files which under normal conditions have not been changed.

I hope that you find this information useful. If you have any comments, additional questions or other aspects of Lightroom that you would like to see addressed, please let me know.

Happy shooting.


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