Tutorial: Moving Folders and Photos in Lightroom

Creating new folders and moving photos from folder to folder is a fundamental aspect of file management. It’s also a fundamental task that should only be performed from within Lightroom in order to maintain the connection between the Lightroom catalog and the imported photos. There have been some changes to the functionality for creating new folders in Lightroom 2 (and above) that make this process easier than in Lightroom 1.

It all happens in the Folders panel and Grid view in the Library module. To jump to Grid view from anywhere in Lightroom, just press G. Expand the Folders panel and you are ready to start moving.

One important note is that Lightroom can only move photos from folder to folder. To create copies of photos, you must use the Export dialog to export copies to the folder of your choice.

Library Module

Moving Photos

The most basic move operation is to move one or more photos from one folder to another folder that is already in Lightroom. Here’s how:

Step 1. Click on the folder containing the photos you want to move. Select the photo or photos by clicking their thumbnails. You can select multiple photos by holding the Ctrl (or Cmd on Mac) key and click each photo. You can select all by pressing Ctrl+A (Cmd+A on Mac).

Step 2. Click on one selected thumbnail and drag it to the desired destination folder. As soon as you start to click and drag, you will notice the cursor changes to a hand and thumbnail icon. If you have multiple photos selected, you will see multiple thumbnails in the icon (this is a great clue if you’ve accidentally selected more than one photo).

Moving photos to a new folder.

Step 3. Once you move the cursor over the destination folder and it appears highlighted, you can release the mouse to drop the photos into that folder. The first time you do this, Lightroom will display a confirmation dialog asking if you really want to do this. Click the Move button to continue the operation. You could check the “Don’t show again” box, but I’d leave it unchecked as a precaution against accidental moves.

Moving photos dialog box.

Lightroom will then move the photos to the new folder and update its catalog to reflect this change.

Moving Folders

You can move one folder into another folder in the same fashion. Just select the folder in the Folders panel and drag it into the new destination folder. Lightroom will again ask you if you really want to do that, so click the Move button to proceed.

New in Lightroom 4: A favorite new feature in Lightroom 4 (and above) is the ability to select multiple folders in the Folders panel and move them all at once. It was a real limitation to only be able to move one folder at a time in previous versions of Lightroom, so this is a very welcome change!

Adding Folders

Lightroom 2 has made it easier to add new top-level folders and sub-folders from the Folders panel. Adding top-level folders was always trickier in Lightroom 1 than it needed to be, so this is a welcome change. This will also make it much easier to use Lightroom to move folders and photos from one drive to another (such as when your current disk starts bursting at the seams from too many photos). Here’s how to add a new top-level folder on a new drive:

Step 1. Click the plus-arrow icon at the top of the Folders panel and choose Add Folder. This will launch the Browse For Folder dialog on Windows or the Choose or Create New Folder dialog on Mac.

Adding new folder.

Step 2. Navigate to the new drive. If you’ve already created a folder on that drive outside of Lightroom, you can just select it now. If you haven’t created the folder, then use that dialog to create a new folder. On Windows, click the Make New Folder button. On Mac, click the New Folder button. Once the new folder is selected, click OK on Windows or Choose on Mac.

Step 3. If the folder you selected already contains photos, then Lightroom will open the Import dialog and allow you to import them as well. Click the Import button to bring those photos in. If for some reason you don’t want to import those photos, just click the Uncheck All button first, then click Import to bring just the folder in by itself.

If there were no photos in that new folder, then it will just appear in the Folders panel.

Once the new folder can be seen in the Folders panel, you can drag and drop folders or photos into it and have Lightroom move them to this new drive.

If you want to add a sub-folder within an existing imported folder, the easiest method is to right-click (Ctrl-click on Mac) the parent folder and choose Create Folder inside “[foldername]”, then give that subfolder a name and click Create.

New Move Shortcut

Now that the basics are covered, there is one other new feature in Lightroom 2 designed to assist in moving photos that can be accessed via the right-click contextual menu. It works like this:

Step 1. Select the photo (or photos) you want to move.

Step 2. Right-click (Ctrl-click on a Mac) the folder you want those photos moved into and choose Move Selected Photo(s) to this Folder.

Step 3. Click Move in the confirmation dialog and Lightroom will move the photos.

While these aren’t as sexy as some of the changes in Lightroom 2, I do think they have the potential to make your life much easier just the same. Enjoy!

50 thoughts on “Tutorial: Moving Folders and Photos in Lightroom”

    1. Yes. You can move one folder at a time from within Lightroom (or if it is one folder with multiple subfolders you can move the parent folder and all the subfolders will move as well). See the section of this tutorial under “Adding Folders” for the steps.

  1. I presume that new copies are made of photos or folders moved from one disk onto another disk? Lightroom fie tree will point to the moved copy, but I assume the originals are still in place on the original drive. So … if you want two copies, fine. But, if your wish is to free space on your boot drive, then those duplicates will need to be deleted.

    Please correct me if the above is in error.


    1. Hi Chuck, No, when you move photos with Lightroom the photo is removed from the source folder and placed in the destination folder. Nothing left to clean up after.

  2. Hi Rob,
    Thanks for your clarification. If I’d taken the time to test the moving of images/folders myself “before” I made my comment I would have discovered for myslef that everything moved via LR. -:)

  3. Hi Rob,

    got all the points above except one. I want to move all my pics to another external HD without creating a new folder on the ext. HD. So in this case I connect the HD and add the whole drive a a new folder? Afterwards i just move all folders within the folder panel to the new HD?

    1. Well, you need to have a destination folder in the Folders panel on that drive to move the other folders into. Lightroom isn’t a file browser, so the only thing that will show in the Folders panel are imported folders.

  4. hi rob,
    i have different folders in different hd. When i m on shooting trips, i do use my laptop. then when i m back i have a server disk where i store my raws.

    My question is. How can i move more than one folder . i did often try to selec multiple folders but i do always end up moving them one by one. Is there any trick to do so ?

    thks ! .r.

    1. Hi Rob (great name BTW!), unfortunately when moving folders in Lightroom you can only select one at a time and move. This will move all photos and subfolders inside that folder, but you can only select one at a time.

      The alternative would be to move the folders outside of Lightroom and then reconnect them after they go missing:


      But it sounds more like you are wanting to export the catalog and photos to the other computer, no?


  5. I developed a picture that I imported into Lightroom 2 – now – how do I save it into my My Pictures sub-folder on my C drive?

    Thanks … Steve

    1. Hi Steve, Select and click File > Export. Designate the desired folder on the C drive as the destination. Configure other settings as desired.

  6. When I try to move a folder, I get the warning that any changes cannot be undone – is this just with respect to the folder move? or should I worry about any edits I’ve done to a photo that I may want to undo?

    1. No answer to this question? I get the same when trying to move a photo from one folder to another in the Folders panel. Surely moving a photo should be simple enough?

      1. Moving is simple. Lightroom is warning you of 2 things. The first is that the photos will actually be moved (just in case you dragged and dropped by accident), and the second is that the Edit > Undo function won’t be able to undo the move. You can of course always manually move the photos to another location. So, they made the warning scarier than it needed to be, but there is nothing to worry about.

  7. Please guys, I am trying a stupid operation to move photos by drag to another position. In any folders it is possible but in any not. When I klick on the selected photo the cursor does not change to hand but to the crossed circle and is not able to move it. Please, do you know why??

  8. Hi guys, I’m trying to convert my current flow to Lightroom’s before making a final adoption. I currently depend on folder structures to store originals/w.i.p./final photos. Using metadata seemed awesome, but today I’ve renamed some folders, reorganized others and…while refreshing them in my catalog, I’ve lost all Virtual Copies and all my Work in Progress got lost due to the fact that the metadata was lost. This answered one doubt that I had: basing the workflow on metadata is dangerous.
    Currently I make a VC copy of the original I want to process, and work/tag the VC using some meta-attributes such as Ratings and Color Labels.
    I’m really trying to redefine my workflow and adopt LR but I’m totally dependent on the catalog, which is less resilient than my old folder structures…
    Would any of you care to comment or provide some better suggestion?
    Thanks in advance,


    1. Hi Pedro,

      Relying on metadata is actually a good way to go, but you have to configure Lightroom to write to each photo’s own metadata, as it does not do this out of the box. Go to Catalog Settings > Metadata, and click the Automatically write changes to XMP. Then as you work Lightroom will write to both the catalog and the photo. However, not everything Lightroom does can be written to metadata, such as virtual copies, collection membership, and individual history steps. The only place those items reside is in the catalog.

      I’m not sure what you mean by refreshing your catalog after doing some reorganizing, but if it means you did the reorganizing outside of Lightroom and reimported those photos then you would lose anything not written to the photo’s metadata.

  9. How can I move ‘some’ but not all photos and LR data from one catalog and put them into another.

    Both are extensive catalogs, I just want to move some of the pics.


    1. You can use the catalog export function. Put the photos you want to go in the new catalog into a collection, then right-click that collection and choose Export collection as catalog. This doesn’t remove the photos from the original catalog, so you would have to do that manually after confirming everything is good in the new catalog.

  10. I would like to be able to reopen photo files that I exported from Lightroom to a new folder, but everytime I try, it will not let me. Can anyone tell me how I can do this? Thanks so much.

  11. I somehow imported the last 3 sets of pics into the Collections area of LR. How do I move these 3 sets into 3 different folders (by date 2011-09-26 etc) in the regular folders area of LR?

    1. Right-click one of the photos in Grid view, then choose Show in Folder in Library. This will reveal what folder they were copied into during import. If you need to move them after that use the steps in this tutorial for that.

  12. Thank you Rob,….but I’m using a Mac so no right click. When I go to the grid view in Library Module and highlight one of the pics I see in the filmstrip that it is in: Collections/Recently Modified/83 photos/1 selected/untitled-5.NEF. In the LR menubar there is a “show photos in subfolder” in the Library Selection. That’s the closest I can get to “show in Folder”. I checked the other options in the menubar too. Any other options?

  13. Brinker, I use a Mac too, and you know they do have a mouse with a right-click button now. 🙂

    You can even get right-click functionality from the trackpad on newer laptops. And there is always the old-fashioned ctrl-click that gives the same menu. Last but not least, if you select a photo you can go to the Photo menu (in the top menu bar) and find Go to Folder in Library.

    So, in Grid view of the Library module, ctrl-click one of the photos and you will see this menu:


    Choose Go to folder in Library. Then look in the Folders panel and see what folder that photo is located in. Every photo imported into Lightroom has to be stored in a folder regardless of whether or not it is also in a collection. Collections are optional. Folders are mandatory.

  14. I have the same question as David #12 and didn’t see the answer. I am trying to move photos in a collection from the folder they were originally imported into to a new folder. When I try to move the selected photos, I get the warning that any changes cannot be undone – is this just with respect to the folder move? or should I worry about any edits I’ve done to a photo that I may want to undo?

    1. Yes, it just means that if you do the move and change your mind the CMD/Ctrl-Z will not undo that move. You can of course always manually move the photos back (or anywhere else for that matter). No worry about the edits you have done to the photos.

  15. Help!! I am trying to go from Lr 2 on a Windows XP machine to Lr 3 on a Windows 7 machine. On the old machine, the photos were on the hard drive. I want to have the photos on a removable hard drive after the move.

    I have read countless how-tos from the web along with Kelby’s Lr 3 book and nothing seems to work. I have both the images and catalog from Lr2 on a removable drive and I have both program installed on the respective machines.

    1. If you have all of your photos and the catalog on a removable drive all you need to do is safely disconnect the drive from the XP machine, connect it to the Win 7 machine, then double-click the .LRCAT file to open it into LR3. You will get prompted about updating a copy of the catalog to work in LR3. Follow the on screen prompts and move forward with the upgraded copy.

      1. Thank you soooooo much! I’ve been fighting nonstop this for several days. What a relief to find someone who knows what he is talking about.

  16. Thanks a whole lot, that was some really useful stuff.
    The thing is, I moved my photos and then opened Lightroom.
    There are no solutions to this… Right? I’m gonna have to re import everything again…

  17. When using Lightroom 4.3, when I drag a photo to another folder, the original stays where it was so now I have two, or duplicates! This operation is different than what you describe.

    Also, how do you delete the duplicate pictures you get with the above operation without deleting the picture you want to keep? So far, I found that it is impossible!

  18. I wanted to mention that the issue has been resolved. I was moving pictures into a subfolder from the parent with the “Show Folders in Subfolders” option on by default. As a result, it appeared that I had duplicates! When the option “Show Folders in Subfolders” if off, then it worked like I would expect–like Windows Explorer–no pictures were shown when the parent. To me, the option “Show Folders in Subfolders” is mislabeled.

  19. Until recently, many of my recent photos were on a Hard Disk Drive “G” but somehow that has been re-mapped to “H”. All the original folders and sub-folders In Lightroom 3.6 are still shown but with a ‘?’ against each one and greyed-out. It is possible to click on a folder or sub-folder to display the thumbnails. However, when you click on one to open an image, it returns a message ‘The file named “IMG_xxxx.CR2” is offline or missing’. How do I best fix this problem to get everything working properly again?

    1. Windows can do that. The easiest thing to do is to manually change the drive letter back to G. Do a Google search for “[yourversionofWindows] manually assign drive letter” and you’ll find the steps to do this if you are not sure how. Once the drive letter is back to what it was Lightroom will find the photos as if nothing had changed.

      1. Thanks for the assistance, Rob.
        With the help of a family member, we tried to do as advised but then found that ‘G’ drive had since been re-mapped as a ‘Removeable Drive’. Anyway, that was fixed and then we were able to follow your advice successfully so that the original folders and sub-folders were once again accessible under ‘G’. I now have a situation whereby a small number of very recent photos (161) are sitting under ‘H’ drive and cannot be accessed for the same reasons as my original query. Maybe this is when the original problem arose. Is there some way of moving these 161 images onto ‘G’ as I can’t change the drive letter? LR3.6 won’t let me re-import them from my card as they have already been imported! Is there a way I can re-download them ?

  20. Thanks again for your further advice, Rob.
    By using your first option, I have been able to re-import 159 of the 161 photos. I’m not sure what happened to the other two but they are no longer showing under ‘H’ drive either as that now shows ‘0’ against each folder. I am not too concerned about the two remaining photos given that I have successfully resolved the original problem plus most of the second. I’m just a little curious as to where they might be!

    1. Shayne, You need to work in a bottom level folder or a collection, then just drag and drop the photos into the order you wish. Click the center of the photo, not the border.

  21. When there is lack of storage space and you deside to move the original dng files to an external drive, how can you move the develop history logs too? When I move the files the history log goes away and I want to move some unfinished photos

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