Using Lightroom CC Classic with Dropbox for a Great Cloud Experience

Backup Lightroom to the cloud, sync between multiple computers, and manage active catalogs easily by integrating Lightroom with Dropbox in these easy steps.

If you’re new to Lightroom, or an amateur photographer, I would suggest you sign up for the “Creative Cloud Photography plan with 1TB of cloud storage” and totally skip this article. You will never miss the features of Lightroom CC Classic that pros are used to, and “need.”

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Check out Lightroom!

Lightroom is a mingblowingly glorious editing tool for digital photography. The capabilities are tremendous. Just look at the before and after in this recent photo from my honeymoon. I didn’t even do particularly complicated things here. Just, wow.

Left:RAW from Camera — Right: After Editing in Lightroom

Why Dropbox?

I’m an engineer by day, and have worked with all the major cloud based storage systems. Dropbox is unequivocally the most reliable cloud storage, in feature and function. You may think you’re just dragging files somewhere slightly different, but Dropbox has always performed admirably and trustworthily. Trust is super duper important with my photos.

What are the goals with this marriage?

Here are the things I desire, and the things I get with the marriage of Dropbox and Lightroom:

  • The power of the full Lightroom desktop application
  • The assurance that all my photos and my Lightroom Catalogs are backed up to Dropbox (in the cloud)
  • Ability to edit photos on my desktop and my laptop with everything synced between devices
  • Quick, easy, and consistent importing of photos to either device, wherever I am in the world (even without an internet connection)
  • Mange images in a single Lightroom catalog forever (or, for as long as I want to)
  • Ability to select which photos are currently on each device while maintaining a consistent Lightroom Catalog (allowing me to sync shoots I’m currently working on, and archive others without swapping libraries or taking ages to re-sync large folders)
  • Ability to store unlimited photos to my Catalog (and to Dropbox), while working with a very limited hard drive on my devices.
  • Quick and easy access to all my final photo exports on every device I own, including Mobile!

Doesn’t Lightroom already offer that sweet cloud action?

You can kind of accomplish this already with Lightroom and Adobe Creative Cloud drive, but it’s got limitations and I don’t need more cloud drives and more monthly bills. Further, other cloud drives never work as well as Dropbox (trust is really important here). You can also definitely get most of these benefits this with the new Lightroom CC that is rebuilt just for the cloud, but then you lose a lot of features in Lightroom CC Classic that I need for my photography. Hopefully, The new cloud based Lightroom will catch up soon and this post will be meaningless. You’ve got this, Adobe Creative Cloud!!

Ok … Well, tell me how you perform such magic?

Here’s what you’ll need. An Adobe Lightroom or Photography plan subscription (or an install of a slightly older standalone copy of Lightroom, although I have not tested this). And, a Dropbox account, and probably a paid plan as your photo library grows.

You’ll also need relatively fast internet to sync data (at least sometimes), although, because of the magic of Dropbox, you do not need internet to start editing immediately once you import new photos, or to edit on the go if you’ve already synced everything recently.

Now, how do I set this up?

This is so simple it’s going to make your head explode. Boom! You can do this when you’re first setting up Lightroom or you can simple move your current catalog(s). Below I’ll describe how to set this up with a fresh Catalog.

  • Create a “Photography” folder in Dropbox (mine’s called “TBJ Photos”).
  • Create “Lightroom Catalogs” and “Lightroom Photos” folder inside your “Photography” folder.
  • Create a new Catalog (File>New Catalog), and place it in the “Lightroom Catalogs” folder (mine’s called “tbj-master-catalog”). This setup also allows you to cleanly manage more catalogs later if you want to … and, easily swap between them.
  • Finally, when you import photos and organize them in folders, make sure you import into specific folders for each project, or by date shot, or by some other feature that will allow you to later select the specific folder of photos you want to work on, and others that you can archive (even though they will always be available in your catalog.
  • Below you can see that when I import, I select “Destination” settings of “Organize: By Date” and “Date Format: year/year-month-day.” This means Lightroom will automatically put my photos into clean folders by date within the “Lightroom Photos” folder on Dropbox.
When importing photos intt Lightroom, I select “Destination” settings of “Organize: By Date” and “Date Format: year/year-month-day.”
With the settings described above, Lightroom automatically puts my photos into clean folders, by date, within the “Lightroom Photos” folder on Dropbox.

Am I really all set to jet?

Yep! Go ahead. Import some photos, make some edits, and watch as everything syncs to Dropbox. There are a few more things to know about syncing in the cloud with Dropbox. See below!

ALERT: You have to wait for files to sync before moving to another computer!!!

When you import files to Lightroom on your computer, Dropbox first stores them all locally on your computer hard drive, just like usual. They are safe and sound, and you can start editing immediately.

DO NOT, however, just jump from that computer to open Lightroom on other devices or computers. You need to wait for syncing to happen to Dropbox first and for those same files to sync from Dropbox to your other computer. For this reason, I usually load new photos on my laptop, then leave it open over night (if it was a long shoot), and by morning, my laptop has synced with Dropbox, and my desktop has downloaded all the updates as well. Now it is safe to open Lightroom on any devices.

How can I tell if files are syncing to Dropbox?

You’ll notice after an import, after some edits, and/or after closing Lightroom, that the dropbox icon in your dashboard (on a Mac and probably a PC too), will show a syncing symbol (two arrows in a circle), and if you look in Finder or File Explorer (Mac or PC), you’ll see all the green arrows in the screenshots above are little blue syncing symbols, like in the images below. Once syncing is done, all hose blue syncing icons will be green checks.

The Dropbox folder syncing on a Mac | Image and Video files syncing on a Mac | The “code” and “tomato” folders, among others, syncing on a PC

Damn … Syncing is taking forever!!

Yeah. It does, sometimes. This is unavoidable with the cloud, and an issue with every cloud storage system out there … but only because you’ve taken so many great photos and because those RAW files are so think and juicy with image data.

Remember these important steps before working with Lightroom and Dropbox on another device.

  • When you want to swap to another device (say, laptop to desktop), close Lightroom on the last device you used. I generally close Lightroom when I’m done working, and I always create a backup, too (although I’ve never had to restore from one).
  • Make sure Dropbox is fully synced on both devices … you can check like this (on a Mac). See the little “Up to date” at the bottom. You’ll see syncing info if it’s not done yet.
  • Once synced, you can open Lightroom on your other device and everything will be as you left it (Make sure Lightroom was closed on any other devices.)
  • This may seem like a hassle after importing a batch of 1,000 photos, but when you’re just doing edits on the fly, the only thing that gets updated are image previews and your library, so syncing is much faster day to day. You should be backing all your photos up somewhere else anyway!!

What if I run out of space for photos on one of my devices?

Great question. I had exactly this problem. If you run out of space on one of your devices, as I have on my laptop, you can choose the specific folders to sync on any of the computers using the Lightroom catalog in Dropbox. This is why we setup the photo folders to have granular names.

To do this, open Dropbox preferences (the little gear icon in the Dropbox menu on a Mac. Then select “sync,” and then “choose folders to sync.” From here you can pick only the folders you want to make available on that computer. The images will stay in your catalog, be available on all other devices, and will show right back up if you re-sync the folders you unchecked for syncing.

This allows you to essentially load an infinite number of photos into your Catalog and you can always archive old photos by de-syncing them in Dropbox. They’ll forever be available in the cloud and you can re-sync anytime. The catalog will always remember!

Selective Sync in Dropbox
Folders with question marks are missing in my library because I chose not to sync those folders in dropbox. The other folders are fine. Sync and un-sync as needed. No problemo.

What if I already have existing Lightroom Catalogs that aren’t synced to Dropbox like this?

Not a problem. I was just like you once. Lightroom catalogs are self contained except for the photos folder, so, do the following:

  • Close Lightroom and back up your catalog on exit.
  • Move both the catalog folder and photo folders to Dropbox (you do not need to wait for these to sync with Dropbox).
  • Re-open lightroom and open the catalog from its new location.
  • Do not freak out when it says your photos are missing. You just have to point the library to the new location of your photos folder and you’ll be all set!

That’s it! Enjoy a cloud based Lightroom editing experience with a Dropbox backbone.

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