Lightroom Local File Update. No More Catalogues!

Adobe have just made local file browsing possible from within Lightroom. This update opens up a new way of working with Lightroom and will address two long standing complaints about traditional Lightroom workflows.

Last Updated: March 3, 2024

Heads up: This article may contain affiliate links and Square Pixel Photography may earn a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. This comes at no additional cost to you and helps us keep this site going. For more info take a look at our Affiliate Disclaimer

In October 2023 Adobe quietly released a new feature to Lightroom that will please many photographers who don’t like working in catalogues.

Lightroom can now browse local folders

Sounds trivial, right?

Trust me, this will be a big deal to a lot of Lightroom users out there.

Local file browsing in Lightroom will fix two things that a lot of people have complained about for a very long time.

  • No more importing files into a catalogue before you can edit them
  • No more cloud uploading requirements for non Lightroom Classic Users

Lightroom and Lightroom Classic are two very different applications that do similar things. Adobe has done a terrible job at explaining the difference between them. If you’re confused, please read my article.

Personally, I have always loved the power that comes with importing photos into the Lightroom Catalogue, but apparently I’m in the minority. There are pros and cons to each, which I will go through later.

Local File Browsing In Lightroom

First, please note that this only applies to Lightroom, and not to Lightroom Classic

Second, this feature was introduced in Lightroom 7.0 in October 2023. You will need to update your version to 7.0 or later if you want to use this new feature.

As soon as you open Lightroom you will notice a new tab in the top left of the interface.

Screenshot showing the Lightroom Local Files Interface.
Lightroom Local Files Browser

For anyone who has used older versions of Lightroom, the ‘Cloud’ interface will be largely familiar. However, clicking on the ‘Local’ tab will give you access to browse the folders and files on your PC.

Screenshot of the Lightroom local file browser and image grid
Lightroom now allows for browsing through local folders and files

From there you can edit the local files using all of the Lightroom editing tools as you normally would. If you’ve used Lightroom before, these are exactly the same as they always have been. If you’re a Lightroom Classic user, there will be some minor interface differences you’ll need to get used to – but by and large all of the tools should be pretty easy to find over on the right hand side.

Hint: Select a photo and press the ‘e’ key on your keyboard to open up the edit tools

Screenshot showing the Lightroom edit interface
Lightroom edit palette

What About The Cloud?

Now that you can work with local files without importing them into a catalogue or the cloud – how does that fit in if you want your files available across multiple devices?

Well, you can choose to use Lightroom as you always have, importing and uploading all of your files to the cloud, or you can easily upload only the files that you want to access from everywhere (your best shots, maybe?)

From within the Local Folders interface it is very easy to upload the file into the Adobe cloud. Just hit the ‘Copy x Photo to Cloud’ button at the top right.

Screenshot of the Lightroom Copy to Cloud button
Copying a local file to the cloud is as easy as pressing a button

Doing this will import the file to the cloud where you can edit, view, search, etc on all of your cloud connected devices.

The only caveat to this is that once the file has been uploaded to the cloud, you should edit the file from the cloud interface, not the local one, as the edits won’t automatically sync between the two.

The Downsides To Local File Browsing

There are a few downsides to browsing your local files without importing them into a catalogue. Whether those affect you will largely depend on how you work with your photos.

Some of the downsides are also potentially mitigable with a change in how you store your photos. I’ll be writing a larger article about that soon.

Limited Searching

When browsing through local folders, the search function will now only be able to search within that folder. There is no ability to search all of the files on your hard drive, or even subfolders of your current folder for a particular photo.

Screenshot showing the Lightroom folder search
Searching is only possible in the local folder

The power of using catalogues is that the information on all of your photos is stored, catalogued and is able to be searched. When browsing local files, Lightroom doesn’t have access to this information.

Adobe may at some point add ‘watched folders’ or similar that will keep track of the folders you tell it to and will allow for indexing and searching through your tracked folders, but at this point you can only search the folder you’re currently looking at.

No Albums or Collections

Because you are browsing your files straight from your hard drive, each file can exist in one place only. There is no ability to collect the files into virtual structures or albums.

You can of course do this if you move the local files over to the cloud… but your ‘local only’ files can only be seen in the folder in which they exist on your hard drive.

Again, Adobe may bring this feature to local files at some stage (and I really hope they do)

Lightroom’s Missing Features

Over the years, Lightroom has been slowly catching up to Lightroom Classic in terms of features, but there are still a few things missing.

I will have a comprehensive article on this soon, but for now the big hitters are:

  • No ability to use export or publish plugins
  • No ability to send a file to another application that isn’t Photoshop (although you should probably be using all of your plugins from within PhotoShop anyway, so not a big deal)
  • No ability to use the Maps, Slideshow, Books or Web modules (I rarely used these anyway)
  • No ability to use the ‘Plugin Extras’ menu to send raw files to raw pre-processors such as DxO PhotoRAW or Topaz PhotoAI – A big deal, but there is an easy workaround that I’ll write about soon.
Screenshot of the Lightroom Classic Publish Services

Conclusion

With the new local folder browsing available in Lightroom, Adobe has (in my opinion) really started down the path of being able to decommission Lightroom Classic.

While there are still some features missing from Lightroom that some photographers won’t be able to live without, this update is the first real step in addressing the shortcomings of Lightroom and enabling many photographers to make the switch from Lightroom Classic. I have no doubt that the majority of the missing features will make their way across. How long this will take, only Adobe knows.

Local file browsing will bring about some exciting new, simplified, workflows to a lot of people that have previously resisted using Lightroom Classic due to the need to use catalogues, and who have also not been on board with Lightroom due to the previous requirement to upload everything to the cloud.

Exciting times ahead for all Lightroom users in my opinion.

«
»