Lightroom & Dropbox

29 Mar 2020

Lightroom & Dropbox

Over the last year or so I have tweaked my Lightroom file management a bit and thought this may help others improve their own setup.

For years I only had one computer and so keeping my catalogue backed up and my files backed up was a pretty straightforward thing to do. I have a Synology which backs up to the cloud whenever I import new images and I rotated a pair of hard drives with Time Machine Backups, so worst case scenario I would only lose a weeks worth of edits and no images.

When I bought a laptop and started travelling more frequently, the issue of how I would manage files changed a little. I had started making a new catalogue each trip on the laptop so I could edit and keyword and so on while I was away. In order to retain those edit’s and merge those with my main catalogue on my Mac at home, I went through the procedure of selecting all the folders from the trip and exporting those as a catalogue (onto an external disk). I could then attach this disk to my main Mac and import the catalogue INTO that catalogue.

Not that much of a big deal, pretty easy, but quite slow at both ends of the procedure.

As time went on and I travelled more often this became more of an annoyance and I went about trying to address both the offsite backup of the catalogue and making trips easier too.

The obvious thing was actually the best option in the end.

I subscribed to a Dropbox Plus account to house my Lightroom catalogue and moved the Lightroom Catalogues from the default location in the pictures folder, to a new folder in my dropbox.

Why Dropbox?

I tried a few other cloud storage solutions, such as, but every time I closed my catalogue they uploaded the ENTIRE 2Gb catalogue, even if I only opened it to export an image rather than making a change to the catalogue, This was obviously a bottleneck, even on a good connection and quickly proved unsuitable.

Dropbox, as far as I am aware, is the only product to offer block level syncing. What this means is that it only syncs the parts of the catalogue which have changed. Although the catalogue is simply one big file, it’s actually just binary data and Dropbox is able to sync the blocks of data which have changed. Often the catalogue only takes a few seconds to synchronise. The Lightroom backups take a bit longer, as they are large zip files, but this could be directed to a local folder if it proved inconvenient on a slower connection. 

All that remained was to install and log into Dropbox on my laptop so that the catalogue synchronised onto that.

An ideal solution. Now when I travel, I plug in an external disk to my laptop, open my main catalogue and import to the external disk. The files on my Synology just show as offline but I get to see previews of what’s cached. When I get home and the Synology is available I can simply drag the new folders from the USB disk to the main folders with the rest of my files.


1 - USB External Disk 

2 - Main Storage - Synology network attached storage in my case. The Folder "Landscape" is my top level folder with yearly folders within that.

3 - Indicated Green for a connected/plugged in disk. In this example, the Synology PHOTO-AJF is connected and the grey icon next to "Andys Disk" indcates that is unplugged.

To move files from one hard disk to another, drag folders from one to another from within the folders panel in Lightroom.

DO NOT do this in Finder or Windows Explorer, or Lightroom will not know where the the files have gone and you will have to relink them all.

Try Dropbox for free

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My laptop hard disk doesn’t have a huge amount of space, and so the catalogue backups quickly took up too much space when they synced onto the laptop. To sidestep this, I set up a selective sync on just the laptop, so it doesn’t download/sync the Lightroom catalogue backup folder contents at all. I am happy with the backups being local on my Mac Mini and online, on the remote dropbox folder. (I can download a backup should I want to for any reason.

You have to be sure to quit your catalogue and let it sync BEFORE you open and resume editing on the other machine to avoid conflicts. They can be fixed without too much issue, but it’s way easier to be in the habit of quitting!

If anyone would like assistance setting this up or Lightroom tuition, I do have online training available or contact me with any enquiries.