Have you ever wanted to use Lightroom Classic on two computers?  There’s actually a super easy way to do this.  It doesn’t involve using external hard drives or syncing collections with Adobe Cloud.  All you need is a free Dropbox account!

Why would you want to do this?  For me, I do the bulk of my editing at my desk using my iMac.  But sometimes I would like to have a little more freedom as to where I can work.  I want the ability to take my Lightroom catalog with me if I am working from the studio, or on vacation, or on a plane.  Sometimes, when I am editing a wedding or sessions, I would much rather sit on the couch, turn on a movie or show, and edit in a more comfortable setting.  That why I set up my Lightroom to be accessed on both of my computers.  There is a way to easily use the same Lightroom catalog on multiple computers using Dropbox.

Before I go on, there might be other ways to do this using the build in sync or other methods.  However, I found no way that works more seamlessly for my own workflow than the method I will describe below.

How to Use A Lightroom Catalog on Two Computers

This is how I use the same Lightroom catalogs on my two computers, however you can apply this method to virtually as many computers as you wish.

Step 1: Set up Lightroom on your Primary Computer

Choose which computer will be your primary computer workstation.  For me, it is my iMac.  This is the computer where I store all my RAW files (via attached external hard drives).  When I come home from a shoot with new files, I load them in to Lightroom using this computer (and only this computer).

All of my RAW files are stored on one of the three attached drives connected to my iMac.

Step 2: Store your Lightroom Catalog In Your Dropbox Folder

Now you’ll want to be sure to have Dropbox installed on both of your computers.

In order to get your catalog file up in the cloud, you will need to move you catalog file (*.lrcat) to your Dropbox folder.  Once it is in there, Dropbox will begin uploading the file and will sync any changes.

The .lrpreview sidecar files that contain all your regular and Smart Previews will also sync to the cloud.

Step 3: Create Smart Previews

After importing, I allow Lightroom the time to create all the previews and smart previews of the files.  Creating smart previews is the trick to making this all work so you much be sure you have them.

Usually, you can only edit files when you have the original file on your computer.   However, when you have a Smart Preview, you are able to edit a photo even when the original is not present.  Smart Previews are kind of like a mini-RAW file.  It’s like a regular preview that you can edit like any RAW file.  You can read more about Smart Previews HERE.

After Lightroom has completed building smart previews, close Lightroom.  The catalog file and .lrdata files will now sync to Dropbox.

Step 4:  Access your Lightroom Catalog on Secondary Computer

Now that you have your Lightroom catalog in Dropbox you can now go to that folder on your secondary computer.  You will see the .lrcat file that you can open with Lightroom as you would on your main computer.

You can see that the catalog will stay synced between each computer.  This is the exact same catalog file and any changes you make will be reflected on both computers.  That means all edits, keywording, virtual copies, etc. will all be there when you move to your other computer.

Step 5: Use Lightroom Normally on Either Computer

You are all set.  Now you can use the same Lightroom catalog on both of your computers.  Just open and use the catalog in the normal way.

Since you made smart previews of your files, you can edit them remotely just as you would if you had the original raws.

Lightroom using my iMac

Lightroom using my laptop.

Things to Remember

There are things you will need to keep in mind that will be helpful for you to remember while using this method of syncing your catalog.  Be sure to check out the last one closely as it is important.

Using Smart Previews

When using the catalog on your secondary computer, you will notice that all the files you are editing will be the Smart Previews you created earlier.  This is something you most likely won’t even notice since Smart Previews behave in the same way as any of your original RAW files.

You will notice in the top right of the Lightroom window, under the histogram, there will be a difference depending on your computer that you are currently using.  On your primary computer you will see “Original + Smart Preview” and all this means is that the original RAW file is accessible to this computer.  On the secondary computer you will see “Smart Preview” only to let you know that the original is not present on this computer but you can use the Smart Preview.

This photo that I am editing on my laptop is using a Smart Preview only. If I was working on my iMac, you would see “Originals + Smart Preview.”

Presets and Plugins

If you use presets to edit your photos, you will need to install them on each computer since they are not stored with the catalog file.

So, if you install a new preset pack, create a new preset, or make changes to any existing preset, you will have to manually make sure those are updated on each computer.

This goes for develop presets, watermarks, export presets, etc.

You will also need to make sure all your plugins have been installed on each computer.

Wait for Dropbox to Sync Before Opening the Catalog

This is the most important thing to remember when using this method of syncing Lightroom catalogs between multiple computers.  Forgetting this will result in problems such as duplicate conflicted copies of the same catalog or corrupted catalogs that cannot be repaired.

Before you open a synced catalog, you must, must, must make sure that Dropbox has finished syncing on both computers.  If you open the catalog before the file syncs, Dropbox will corrupt the catalog file. 

When this happens you will get an error from Lightroom that tells you that the file needs to be repaired.  You can try to repair the file but it will not work.  Your catalog file will be done for.

Don’t worry though!  There is a super easy fix if this happens (I should say, “when it happens” because it will happen.  It’s super easy to forget and then remember when it’s too late).  Backups are very important and Dropbox will thankfully keep a backup of each of your files in case something like this happens. 

Simply go on to Dropbox’s website and go to that file, get a backup from the version history and restore that file.  The backup will now push to your folder.  Once it does, you can now go back to using Lightroom normally.

Lightroom catalog and preview files are currently being synced, as noted by the blue circle.

Catalog Can Only Be Used on One Computer at a Time

A drawback of this method is that you can only use the catalog on one computer at a time.  If you do open it on two computers at a time, then Dropbox will create a “conflicted copy.” 

You can read more about conflicted copies HERE, but basically you will now have two versions of the same catalog and the changes you just made will not be on both of them.  So you will have to compare each version of the catalog, redo all your work on one of the them, and delete the other.

My Lightroom catalog and preview files are finished syncing, as shown my the green check marks.

All set!

Once you are set up as I described, it will be super easy to use Lightroom on multiple computers!  Now you can get your laptop, relax on the couch with some TV, and edit in comfort!