Sync Hacks: How to Use Adobe Lightroom with BitTorrent Sync to Edit Photos Anywhere

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Sync Hacks is a column dedicated to exploring new applications for BitTorrent Sync, as built by users like you. BitTorrent Sync is a free, unlimited, secure file-syncing app. (And now, it’s 2X faster.) If you’ve got an epic Sync idea, use-case or how-to, shoot us an email at sync[at]


In this week’s Sync Hacks: Photographer Paul McElligott (@PaulMcElligott) walks us through setting up BitTorrent Sync with Adobe Lightroom so professional and hobbyist photographers can edit photos on the road and keep files in sync with their computer at home (adapted from Paul’s original tutorial).

From Paul:

If I had all the money in the world, I would have a MacBook Pro connected to at least one 27-inch Thunderbolt display. In that way I could A) avoid the pain that is Windows 8 and B) do all my work on one computer, both at home and the road. I currently have two Windows 7 machines, one laptop and one desktop, both running Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC.

The Problem
The problem with working on the road: Getting my RAW files from my notebook’s Lightroom catalog to the permanent one on my desktop machine. My original solution was to export new images from the laptop to another catalog on an external hard drive, then plug that drive into the desktop, and then import that catalog from the external drive into the main catalog on my desktop machine. And, I want all that information: pick flags, ratings, develop settings, metadata changes, to carry over when I bring the photos into the permanent library.

The Solution
Here’s how you can skip the export catalog, move to the desktop, and import catalog workflow using BitTorrent Sync. BitTorrent Sync works similarly to services like Dropbox or SkyDrive, in that it copies files on one computer to matching folders on another computer. The difference between Sync and Dropbox is that Sync has no “cloud” component: There is no storing your files on its own servers. This makes Sync more secure than Dropbox and it also makes it free. BitTorrent Sync can also sync folders anywhere on your computer, not just under the DropBox or SkyDrive folder like the other services.

Setting Up Sync and Lightroom

1. Set up BitTorrent Sync on both of your computers. Download it here.

2. On one computer (let’s call it Computer 1), create a folder in your Pictures folder, or anywhere you like. Name that folder “Lightroom Sync”. Create another folder inside “Lightroom Sync” called “Library”.

3. Open Lightroom by CTRL-clicking Lightroom on Windows or CMD-clicking on the Mac. This will launch a new dialog that allows you to open Lightroom with a specific catalog file.

4. Click the button to “Create New Catalog.”

5. Navigate to the Library folder and give the new catalog a name. This will open Lightroom with a completely blank catalog.


6. If necessary, set up things like your develop presets, your metadata presets, your watermarks, and your identity plate.

Here’s a video that will show you how:


sync_hack_lightroom_5 7. Next, close Lightroom. Lightroom has created a new folder inside the Library folder, with the same name as your new catalog. Inside that folder, create a new folder called “Photos.”

8. Make a copy of the Library folder, somewhere outside the Lightroom Sync folder. Rename it something like “Library Template.” You now a have a virginal copy of the new catalog you just created, which you can re-use .

Add Your Lightroom Folder to BitTorrent Sync

1. Open BitTorrent Sync and select Folders view.

2. Click Add a Sync Folder in Windows or the “+” button on the Mac. This displays the Add Folder dialog. Click the Browse button and select the Lightroom Sync folder. Then click the Generate button. This fills the Folder Secret box with a long string of characters. This folder secret is the “password” that allows your other computer(s) to synchronize securely with this folder.

Click OK.

Setting Up Lightroom and Sync on Computer 2

1. In BitTorrent Sync on Computer 1, right-click the Lightroom Sync folder and “Copy secret”

2. Paste the secret somewhere you can access on Computer 2 (e.g. by emailing yourself).

Move over to Computer 2

1. Create a Lightroom Sync folder on Computer 2 (the same way you did it on Computer 1).

2. Open BitTorrent Sync.

2. Click Add a Sync Folder in Windows or the “+” key on the Mac to open the Add Folder dialog.

3. Click Browse and select the Lightroom Sync folder you just created.

4. Copy the secret from BitTorrent Sync on Computer 1 and paste it into the “Folder Secret” box. Click OK.

Now, any changes made to your Lightroom Sync folder on one computer, will be changed in the Lightroom Sync folder on your other computer. Your blank Lightroom catalog will now magically appear on the desktop computer.

Hitting the Road

Once you’re on the road, use Lightroom as usual. As you copy photos from your cards, import them into your catalog, make sure you copy them into the Photo folder we created earlier. This is necessary to keep the relationship between the catalog and the photos on both computers.

After that, you can edit them and modify them, and all of these changes are mirrored back on your other computer, auto-magically!

Things to keep in mind:
• Both computers need to be on for the files to stay up to date

• This is no job for a cellular data plan. If you use a tethered cell phone or mobile hotspot, you’ll burn through your data cap in minutes.

• Make sure you move the photos to the location where you store your photos permanently.

That’s all. Happy syncing!

Paul McElligott (@PaulMcElligott or @CastleIslandPVM) is a novelist and photographer living in Lake Forest, CA.

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