A Travel Workflow for Lightroom Classic

Canadian Rockies photos in Library module

I recently returned from a week-long workshop in the Canadian Rockies with Doug Johnson Photography. It had been postponed twice due to COVID-19 border closures between the United States and Canada. So when the borders reopened, I was very excited to go!

You might be traveling again and wondering how to manage the pictures you take on your trip. What is the best way to get your new images into your main Lightroom Classic catalog at home with the least effort? I save my pictures to a travel laptop using Lightroom Classic. When I get home, I export the pictures as a catalog from the laptop to an external drive and then import them from that drive to my home computer. Here's the process I follow on my trips.

On the road

On the road I take a laptop with a copy of Lightroom Classic installed. I create a new catalog on my laptop named for my travel destination. On this trip I named the new catalog Canadian Rockies. You can perform this setup before you leave home.

Alternatively, you can create the new catalog on an external hard drive instead of the laptop's internal hard drive. If you also save the new pictures you take on the same external hard drive, you can plug it directly into your home computer at the end of the trip, saving a step. 


New catalog for trip on an external hard drive (M)

I download and import images to this catalog, using the same organizational structure I have on my home desktop computer. In my case, this is a Pictures folder with a year folder inside. Within the year folder is another folder with the name of the main destination or trip and then subfolders within that for each shoot plus the month and year. Here's an example:

Pictures > 2022 > Canadian Rockies Workshop > Athabasca Glacier - Columbia Icefield 05-2022

New photos on external hard drive

I make a point of adding location information to the photos right away so I remember the name of the place. I also add my copyright on import and then add a few basic keywords (landscape, sunrise, etc.) to the photos. If I have time, I add one star to my favorites from the shoot and even develop some that I want to share via email or social media.

I leave the original pictures on the memory cards until I return home and have copied the new photos to my home catalog and created a backup.

Back home

Once I'm back home, I open my laptop and attach an external hard drive or flash drive. I will use the drive to transfer the photos from the travel laptop to my home desktop.

If I created the new catalog on an external hard drive and saved my images there also, I can skip ahead to Import from Another Catalog below.

Export as Catalog

I start Lightroom Classic on the laptop and select the Library module. In the Library module in the Folders panel, I select the main folder containing the new images, in this case, Canadian Rockies Workshop. In the Grid view from the Edit menu, I choose Select All to highlight all the pictures. 

Then from the File menu, I select Export as catalog. By exporting the pictures as a catalog, I get to save all the location info, keywords, stars or flags, collections, and develop changes I made to the pictures. 

Lightroom Classic opens a dialog box for me to choose the location for the exported catalog and its name. I select the attached external drive and name the catalog Canadian Rockies. 

I also check the box to Export negative files. This copies the original photos and their folder structure to the external drive as part of the catalog.

And I check the box to Include available previews. This means Lightroom Classic on my desktop won't have to recreate these and I'll be able to see my photos quickly.

When I have the location, name and boxes for negative files and previews selected, I click Save. Lightroom Classic begins the process of copying the pictures, previews, and all the work I did to a new catalog on the external drive. 


Export selected photos as catalog to external drive (M)


Import from Another Catalog

After Lightroom Classic on the laptop has finished exporting a catalog of my new pictures, I safely eject the external hard drive from the laptop and attach it to my desktop computer. Then I start Lightroom Classic and open my main catalog.

From the File menu, I select Import from Another Catalog. A new dialog box appears for me to select the catalog on the external hard drive. After locating the catalog, I click on Choose.

The Import from Catalog window appears next. In the list of Catalog Contents, All Folders is automatically checked. This is appropriate since I want to import all the new pictures in this catalog.

Below the list of folders is the New Photos section with a total of the images that will be imported.  Under File Handling, select Copy new photos to a new location and import. Below that Lightroom Classic displays the default location for your pictures. If necessary, click the Choose button and navigate to where you want the new pictures to go on your hard drive. In my case, I want the Canadian Rockies photos to go inside Pictures and inside 2022.

Since this is a new catalog, the Changed Existing Photos section is unavailable.

Last, you can check the Show Preview box if you want to view thumbnails of the pictures you are importing. This can be helpful if you want to exclude some frames from your import. However, it can take some time for Lightroom Classic to display these thumbnails. I think it is easier to deal with outtakes once you have the photos in your main catalog on your home computer.

When you're ready, click the Import button and let Lightroom Classic do its magic. Unlike when importing new pictures from a memory card, the photos you import from another catalog don't appear in the Previous Import collection. So you need to navigate to the folder of new images to see them.


Import folders of pictures from a catalog

Once you are satisfied that all the pictures and metadata have been imported correctly, you can safely eject the external drive and continuing working on the photos from your trip. I leave all the travel photos on my laptop drive as a backup until I run my normal backups of catalog and images on my home computer.