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Moving Adobe Lightroom to a New Computer

Those who were with me last week know that my laptop pretty much died. With my new, more powerful one here, it's time to my Lightroom catalog and all my settings to it from the old one.

First off, it's worth noting that the only reason I can move anything at all from my old laptop to the new one is that the old one isn't completely dead. It does boot, but there's no display whatsoever. It was showing its age in other ways too, but this was the last straw. So I can connect to it over my home network, but there's not much to see if you look at it otherwise. Had it died completely I would have had to rely on backups which thankfully, I do have. If you don't, there's no better time than now to take care of that deficiency. In this day when all of us keep so much of our important information on computers you can't afford not to back all this stuff up.

Next, I need to put into context what can be moved and what you shouldn't attempt to move. All of your images, your Lightroom catalog, and all your settings and presets can be copied over. Lightroom itself needs to be reinstalled. Simply dragging the installation folder from one computer to another really won't work too well. As for third-party plugins and extensions, some can be copied while others must be reinstalled. When in doubt, reinstall them. In the long run, the extra time needed may well save you from long hours troubleshooting some weird issue that could have been avoided.

Rather than just making available tiny incremental patches, Adobe generally updates Lightroom by releasing downloads of the full current version. As such, you shouldn't need your original product CD. You can just download whatever cumulative release Adobe has on their website since you're going to have to anyway to update your copy. You will of course need your serial number since Adobe wants to make sure you are legal wherever you got the software from. If, like me, you've upgraded from a prior major release (Lightroom 3 for instance) you'll also need that serial number. Your current version serial number is just for the upgrade, not the original purchase. Get used to typing long license key numbers.

Go ahead and start Lightroom up to make sure it's working OK but don't spend too long since it's now time to copy over all your images, Lightroom catalog and presets. You're on your own as to where you keep your images. If they're on a network drive you may be able to leave them where they are, but most of us will at least need to copy over the ones actually on the old computer. Depending on how many images you have to copy and how big they are, copying your images can take some time. You can copy them across your home network or use an external USB hard drive to shuttle them between computers.

To copy over your Catalog, just run Lightroom on the old computer (assuming you still can) and go to Edit >> Catalog Settings and have it tell you where your old catalog lives. The default location on Windows will be "C:\Users\[your name]\My Pictures\Lightroom\Lightroom 4 Catalog.lrcat" and on OS X you will generally find it at "Macintosh HD/Users/[your name]/Pictures/Lightroom/Lightroom 4 Catalog.lrcat". Copy it over to a suitably equivalent location on your new computer. If you're switching platforms you'll be glad to know that Lightroom catalogs from Windows will work fine on Mac OS and vice versa.

Your preference file tells Lightroom not only where to find your catalog but also how you want your workspace arranged. You'll find your old one on Windows at "C:\Users\[your name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Lightroom\Preferences\Lightroom 4 Preferences.agprefs" and on OS X at "Macintosh HD/Users/[your name]/Library/Preferences/com.adobe.Lightroom4.plist". You have already noticed based on the differing names by platform that preference files are not compatible between Windows and Mac OS. If you've tried looking for this file already you may have noticed too that the folder structure listed doesn't even appear to be there. On both platforms you have to enable the display of hidden files to see this. If you can't figure out how to get your profile file copied over, it's not the end of the world though since you can always reset everything from scratch. Lightroom doesn't have that many preference settings.

Lightroom presets may be more important than preferences to copy over depending on how much of an investment you have in using Lightroom. Presets are stored by type and generally live at "C:\Users\[your name]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Lightroom\" on Windows and at "Macintosh HD/Users/[your name]/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/" on Mac OS. So far as I am aware, all preset types are cross platform between Windows and OS X. Be advised that there is a setting in the Lightroom preferences on the Presets tab labeled "Store Presets with Catalog." If you have this checked on your existing installation you'll find your preset folders over where your Catalog file was as referenced above. If you're stumped as to where your Presets are, the same tab in Preferences has a button for "Show Lightroom Presets Folder..." that will open the folder for you without you needing to navigate down to it.

A few types of Presets that are shared with Adobe Camera Raw live instead in a folder called CameraRaw which lives alongside of, rather than underneath, the Lightroom Presets folder just discussed.

When you next start up Lightroom after copying all this over, you should be good to go so long as the file paths for everything remain the same as they did on your old computer. In particular though, if you decided to relocate your images to someplace else you'll be greeted by a bunch of question marks indicating that you've confused Lightroom no end. All is not lost of course as it's really fairly easy to get everything back in sync between your actual image folders and where your Lightroom Catalog thinks they are. I've written about this before so if you find yourself in need, by all means click here for how to remedy this situation.

If all goes well, you can save a lot of time and frustration by following the above and Lightroom on your new computer will look pretty much like it did on your old one. If somehow you end up horribly messing things up with all this file copying, don't despair. As a last resort you can always delete your Preference file and Lightroom Preset folder. Lightroom will create new ones if they're not there the next time you run the program.

Don't forget to profile the display for your new computer either. Although this task isn't directly part of setting up Lightroom, there's really no way for Lightroom to correctly render color without this being taken care of.

Date posted: May 12, 2013


Copyright © 2013 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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