Managing Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalogs

So, I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for importing and editing my photographs. Great program, but in the past couple of days, I’ve noticed that my primary hard drive has been getting quite full and I didn’t know why. After doing some investigation, I realized that the Lightroom catalog files were taking up a big chunk of my HD space (using a great, free program called WinDirStat, I found out it was in the order of tens of gigabytes).

So, I came up with two solutions for this, the first less involved and second more involved (and requiring a second Hard Drive).

Solution #1: Optimize your Lightroom Catalogs

This is about as easy as it can get and, for me, provided surprisingly satisfying results. I had 20 GB magically re-appear with this move. That’s pretty substantial, in my book.

1. After launching Lightroom, select “edit” from the drop-down menu, and “preferences” from that menu (alternatively, just hit the Ctrl key and the comma [ , ] key at the same time). You should see a box like this:


2. Click the “Go to Catalogue Settings” button down at the bottom of the box and you’ll be presented with the following box:


3. Now, choose the “Relaunch and Optimize” button at the bottom of the box. Lightroom will quit, re-launch and optimize (surprising, I know) your catalogue files. Ta-daa! You should have more space on your HD now (like I mentioned above, I got about 20 GB “back”).

Solution #2: Move your catalog files

So while the previous solution is quick and dirty, I see it as more of a temporary fix. As you continue to use Lightroom, your catalogue will continue to grow. After optimizing the catalogue it’s still 4.2 GB and the fifth-largest collection of files on my HD. Again I know this because I just ran WinDirStat. Here’s the screen-shot:


So why not get it off my primary HD all together?

Right now, I back-up my Lightroom Catalogue to my secondary HD. What I decided to do was switch the two: move the back-up to my primary drive (in my case my C drive) and move the Lightroom catalogue to my secondary drive (which is the Z drive in my case). In the move, I’ll initially net about 3 GB of space (as my Lightroom back-up is 1 GB), but I’ll have also off-loaded the larger of the two catalogues and hopefully given my C drive some more breathing room.

So how to do this? A quick google doesn’t really give step-by step instructions, so I thought I would provide that here.

1. You need to find out where your Lightroom catalogues are located. The location changes depending if you’re using Windows XP or Vista, so the easiest way to locate your catalogue is to follow the first two steps above. As you can see, in the catalogue settings box, Lightroom shows the path to your catalogue.


In my case, as you can see above, my Lightroom catalogue files are located at “C:\Users\Gavan\Pictures\Lightroom” Just clicking on the “show” button opens up the location of the file folder. Easy-peasy.

2. Now you move (rather than copy) the entire folder to you secondary drive. I’m just dropping these into a folder right in the root of my Z drive. So the path would be “Z:\Lightroom” when everything is said and done.


I have Vista, so I have to prepare for a long wait. 2 hours!?! Sigh.

3. Once the move is complete, open Lightroom. It will ask you where the catalogue went.

Incidentally, at any time you can also hold down the Ctrl key when you launch Lightroom to switch locations of your catalogue:


Don’t create a new catalogue, but direct it to the new location of the catalogue (the location of the “Lightroom Catalog.lrcat” file). Make sure that the “Always load this catalog on startup” check box is selected:


And you should be off to the races! Now, all that we have left is to back-up the catalogue to the C drive. Here’s how:

Moving your back-up catalog

1. You’re going to have to force Lightroom to backup the catalogue. In order to do so, follow steps 1 & 2 from solution #1 above. You’ll be in the Catalog Settings menu. From the backup drop down list, you need to select “Next time Lightroom starts only” to force the back-up:nexttime
The important thing to note here is that once you’ve moved the catalogue, you’ll need to go back to the Catalog Settings and choose your old back-up frequency (mine was once a week).

2. Close and re-launch Lightroom. You’ll be confronted with:


Point the back-up directory to your main HD (by clicking on the choose button). I chose to put the new backup folder in the same folder as my old Lightroom Catalogue (“C:\Users\Gavan\Pictures\Lightroom”) (If it’s confusing, just imagine you’re mirroring or flipping the directories from each HD):


3. Select the Backup button, wait for Lightroom to do its thing and then, the move should be complete! All that is left is to check that the back-up did, in fact occur and then delete the “Backup” directory from the Z drive. Note: Do not delete the “Backups” directory, this is part of the main Lightroom Catalogue that you moved.

And after re-instituting the original back-up schedule like I suggested above, you’re done! Launch Lightroom and make sure everything is hunky-dory before emptying the recycling bin, though.

Running WinDirStat again shows the difference the move made:

N.B.: I’m Canadian, so I spell “Lightroom Catalog” as “Lightroom Catalogue”


  1. Very informative.. thanks. I’m curious though. You said “N.B.: I’m Canadian, so I spell “Lightroom Catalog” as “Lightroom Catalogue”. Do Canadians have problems speling :-)


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