How to Upgrade Lightroom 2 to Lightroom 3

This is a quick guide on how to upgrade Lightroom 2 to Lightroom 3. One of the good news for Lightroom 2 (LR2) users, is that unlike the beta version, the full version of Lightroom 3 (LR3) allows upgrading the LR2 catalog to LR3 catalog without having to re-import all images into a clean catalog. Also, Adobe allows keeping both versions of Lightroom on the same machine, which means that you can install LR3 and continue to use your old LR2 with the old catalog. Until performance issues are all addressed in LR3, I would keep both versions on the machine in case of failures or problems.

1) Download and install Lightroom 3

If you are hesitating about downloading the online version of Lightroom 3 versus buying a boxed version from a store, don’t – they are both exactly the same. Adobe lets you download the full version of Lightroom and use it for 30 full days until you input the serial number from a retail boxed version. This is a great way to try it out and see if you want to keep it or not. If you do, then simply purchase the retail version of Lightroom 3 later and when the package arrives, use the serial number to unlock the 30 day limitation – you don’t even need to insert the CD.

For now, let’s go ahead and download Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 from the following Adobe URL:

Once the file is downloaded, install LR3 on your machine using the default settings. When Lightroom 3 asks for the CD key, choose the Try option to start your 30 day trial.

2) Upgrade your Lightroom catalogs

After the installation process, you should see the Lightroom 3 icon on your desktop. Double-click the icon to open up Lightroom 3, which will fire up a dialog box that looks like this:

Lightroom Catalog Upgrade

Simply hit the “Upgrade” process to start the upgrade process. Depending on the number of pictures in your catalog and your computer’s processing power, the upgrade process could take 5-10 minutes or more. So far I have updated about 6 Lightroom catalogs and have not had any problems, so this process is pretty safe and straightforward.

3) Make sure that all images are available and visible

Write down the total number of photographs in your upgraded catalog, then close LR3 and open LR2. Look at the total number of images in LR2 and make sure that the numbers match. Close LR2, open LR3 back again and then go through some random images and open up 100% views to make sure that the images are all there. Wait for thumbnails to regenerate.

4) Review Collections and Presets

Make sure that your Collections and previous Presets are all preserved. LR3 and LR2 should be sharing the same preset folders, so those should work by default. Collections and Keywords are from the upgraded catalog, so if the upgrade was successful, you should see them as well.

Lightroom Presets and Collections

If anything is missing, something went wrong with the upgrade process…

5) Review Import Settings

One of the first things you will notice after you upgrade to Lightroom 3, is the Import Photos screen. Adobe has completely redesigned the Import Photos screen and many new features have been added to it. This also means that your old settings will probably not work anymore and you will have to reconfigure the import dialog. After I upgraded the catalogs, I had to redo the “File Naming”, “Apply During Import” and “Destination” settings from scratch – nothing was transferred over from LR2. Here is how the new import dialog looks like:

Lightroom 3 Import Dialog

6) Upgrade Process Version

Lightroom 3 does not modify the settings in your photographs during the catalog upgrade. This means that your photos stay the same way, unless you choose to “Upgrade” them to the latest LR3 version. I highly recommend upgrading the “Process Version” of all images after you upgrade, in order to take full advantage of all of the new features that are available in LR3. See my “Lightroom 3 Process Version” article on how to do this step-by-step.

Repeat steps #2 to #6 for every Lightroom 2 catalog that needs to be upgraded.

7) Verify Export Settings

Lightroom 3 now comes with “Publish Services”, which lets you export your images to your hard drive or online Photo galleries such as “Flickr”. Make sure that your export settings for Hard Drive are preserved (mine were preserved for all upgraded catalogs) and if anything is missing, make the necessary changes and try exporting an image.


  1. 1) Chet
    June 24, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Hello Nasim,

    I initially started with the LR3 beta and then LR3 beta 2. What i noticed when i installed the official upgrade, is that only half of my pictures got imported to the new LR3. I’m assuming that it only copied over what i had in LR beta, and not LR3 beta. Have you heard of such a problem, and how can i get the rest of my pictures in LR3.

    Thank you for you time, and this article was really helpful.

    • June 29, 2010 at 11:28 pm

      Chet, if you lost some images during the conversion process, then your database is most likely corrupt. Do you shoot in JPEG or RAW? If you shoot in RAW, then you could simply re-import all of your images into a brand new catalog and start over (your changes would have been preserved thanks to a DNG or sidecar file). If you shoot in JPEG, then I would try creating a new database and then importing the older beta database into the new one.

      Let me know if you need more info on how to do this.

    • 1.2) Dave
      July 3, 2010 at 4:10 pm

      I found that LR3 defaulted to importing just my LR3 Beta 1 catalog.

      I needed to remove the new catalog it created and explicitly direct it to use the Beta 2 catalog after restarting LR (which required going through a file dialog to find it, since the list of catalogs it displayed only included the one from Beta 1).

      It then had all my photos/collections.

      • July 3, 2010 at 11:39 pm

        Dave, that’s valuable information, thank you for providing it. Seems like there are a few import bugs in Lightroom 3 – hope they will get addressed in the upcoming 3.1 release. I’m glad that it is a simple fix :)

  2. 2) Mike Morse
    July 21, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Nasim: Very helpful info. I just upgraded from LR2 to LR3 and most of my images were missing. I would click on the ? in the upper right of the photo to find them. Sometimes it would import just that photo, sometimes the entire file. I noticed that my RAW adjustments didn’t copy into LR3. I then reimported all of my photos from my hard drive. That was more of a mess. I thought about deleting all of my catalogs from LR3 and trying the import again. So far this transition has been pretty frustrating.

    • July 29, 2010 at 2:37 am

      Mike, sorry for a late response.

      It is strange that your images were missing, I have converted at least 5 databases so far and have not had a similar problem.

      Here is something to try: go to your old LR2 databases, then select all photos in the root folder by pressing CTRL+A, then press CTRL+S and wait a long time. What this will do, is write all metadata directly into each JPEG/RAW file. Once the save is complete, exit out of LR2 and just re-import all images with the same structure into LR3. No need to copy images, you can reuse the same folder structure as before.

      Another thing to try, is to run a check on your LR2 database to see if anything is corrupt. Once the check is complete, open the LR2 catalog in LR3 and let it reconvert everything.

      Let me know how it works out!

  3. 3) Scott Duncan
    December 16, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I was trying find a topic, and couldn’t, so I do apologize if there is one already. Please point me in the right direction if there is one.

    I’m using the 30 day trail of both Photoshop and Lightroom. I really like the organizing with Lightroom.

    I have used Gimp for post production for a few years and for the most part (and my knowledge) I’m pretty happy with it. I have added the GREYCstoration plugin for noise reduction and it seems to work fine for me.

    I’m sure they have advantages, but if you were to choose, would you pick one over the other? I’m on a budget and can’t afford to purchase the complete suite right now.


    • January 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm

      Scott, get Lightroom first! It will work great for 99% of your work.

      • 3.1.1) Scott Duncan
        January 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm

        Thanks so much for the reply, I should have posted again so I didn’t take your time. Santa was good to me, I’ve now got CS5. Now I have to learn them. lol All the best in 2011.

        • Profile photo of Nasim Mansurov Nasim Mansurov
          January 7, 2011 at 12:16 am

          Awesome Scott, looks like Santa loves you :)

  4. 4) Allen Chernack
    January 11, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Nasim, I’ve read your web page often and appreciate your simple explanations.
    Now I have a question. I did a trial of LR3, my 30 ran out waiting for my LR3 DVD to arrive. My new camera’s, Canon 60D, RAW didn’t work in LR2 so I shot in JPEG and processed in LR2. Now I have LR3 but without the JPEG folders I made in LR2. How can I move the folders from LR2 into LR3?

    • February 18, 2011 at 4:23 pm

      Allen, select all of your photos in LR2, then press CTRL+S, which will save the Lightroom changes to files. Next, import all files into Lightroom and do not set any default settings during import.

      This should do it :)

  5. 5) Tony Bliss
    February 27, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    Nasim, this is a great article, thanks for the tips! I’ve got a twist on this scenario, which is that I upgraded to LR3 AND switched platforms (pc to Mac) at the same time. Disaster! Basically no matter what I do the Mac never sees my full files, just like what happened to Mike Morse in this thread. Windows always has a drive letter at the front of the path, and I guess Macs don’t, so no matter which way I import the catalog, LR3 never sees the folder structure at all. I guess I was hoping there was a way I could say “Lightroom 3, I have the exact same folder structure as listed in the catalog, I just need to change the root path from f:/lightroom to lightroom.” Is there not a way to do such a thing? That would be so simple!

    The solutions I did try were to simply copy over the catalog from my external hard drive and let LR upgrade it when I opened. Then I tried upgrading to LR3 on my pc, upgrading the catalog there, and then copying the catalog over – still couldn’t see the pictures.

    So what happens is LR sees all 40,000 photos, but no folders at all. The folders section is literally empty. And all 40,000 files are previews only.

    I guess I could follow the advice you gave Mike Morse, the ‘select all and copy all the changes to each file and then import them into LR3.’ That would take me a couple of days of processing time because of my ancient pc, which I was really hoping to avoid, since I’ve already lost several days trying to make this work (wish I’d known about this option sooner!). Any advice would be greatly appreciated, and if I just need to copy all the changes down to the files and re-import, then I’ll just have to do it! Thanks!

    • February 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm

      Tony, do you see any folders on the left side after you open the catalog in LR3? If yes, then you could select the top folder and then right-click on it and select “Locate Folder”. This works for me when I switch from one PC to another. If you do not see any folders whatsoever, then I would recommend to save Lightroom data to each file and then reimport all files to a brand new Lightroom 3 catalog, as I suggested above…

  6. 6) Scott Duncan
    March 1, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Hi Nasim,

    I have been running Lightroom since late December, but was running out of hard disk space on my laptop. I was moving my images and catalog to an external hard drive, and lost all kinds of images in the process. Now I’m getting a lot of ?’s next to the photos and they are for sure gone. I admit, a real amateur move. On the good side, I had made a back up of all images to a different hard drive a month earlier. So, I only lost about a months worth.

    Is there a way to just start over without having to reinstall Lightroom? If I move my images to my second external hard drive to save them, delete the lightroom file with lrcat, will that start me over. Once I open Lightroom again, will it create another catalog since one will not be there?

    Then, I’ll just start uploading new pictures to that catalog. Will this work?


    • March 3, 2011 at 5:59 pm

      Scott, your images are not gone – just right click on the parent folder inside Lightroom and click the “Locate” selection, then choose where you moved your photos and Lightroom will re-adjust to the new folder structure. Just make sure that all the photos reside in the same location. If you have files that are sitting on two different partitions, you will have to have separate parent folders in Lightroom. There is no need to reinstall Lightroom!

      Remember, your catalog is a database that stores information about your photos – your actual photos are stored in a folder inside your hard drive. If your photos are moved, simply pointing Lightroom to the new folder will fix your issue.

      • 6.1.1) Scott Duncan
        March 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm

        Thanks Nasim, I’ll give that a try. I appreciate your time.

  7. 7) Allen Chernack
    March 1, 2011 at 10:50 am

    If you have ? next to photos you can re-locate them on your new hard drive can’t you? LR needs a new path. I’m not an expert but I’ve done this before. Nasim is the guru and final word.

    • March 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm

      Allen, you are right – all he needs to do is point to the new folder where he moved the files and everything will be back to normal.

  8. 8) Michele
    March 15, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Hi Scott… Great blog with lots of good info and instructions… However, I am still a little (ok, a lot) apprehensive about upgrading from LR2 to LR3. I have had so many “loses” in LR2 because of careless mistake, or something I forgot. All of my photos, catalog, backups are on one drive (external drive), which I have filled. I now need to start a second catalog on a new external hard drive which I am ready to do, but am seriously thinking of upgrading to LR3 first. I really want to, but am apprehensive even more with some of the problems people are having. Is there anything I can do to “protect” my catalogs/photos so I don’t loose anything?


    • August 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm

      Michele, just back up your catalogs to a different drive and upgrade to LR3. Don’t worry, your photos will not be damaged and you will not lose anything. Worst case scenario, you could always downgrade back to LR2.

  9. 9) Paul
    April 12, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Hi, I’ve installed the upgrade – but now discover I have both versions of LR on my machine? I rather expected it to be clever and update/upgrade the existing version. Is it safe to now uninstall V.2, or is there a chance uninstalling V.2 will remove joint DLL’s and mess up V.3?

    • 9.1) Howard
      August 15, 2011 at 9:00 am

      Is it possible to use the Lightroom 3 upgrade from Lightroom 1.4 on a Macbook pro?

    • August 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm

      Paul, I apologize for a late response. Once Lightroom 3 is up and running and you have a new catalog, you can safely uninstall Lightroom 2 – it won’t mess up any DLL’s on your computer.

  10. 10) Paul
    April 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Hello, can anyone help me out with this post (maybe I should start a new thread?)

  11. 11) Jeremy
    May 5, 2011 at 4:01 am

    Hi, just wondering if anyone knows how to preserve the ‘Develop’ history when importing photos from LR2 to LR3? I imported all my photos fine but all of the editing history is gone.

  12. 12) Allen Chernack
    August 15, 2011 at 10:31 am

    I had to do a total restore. Long story. Short is that LR3 is up and running but somehow some of my collections got lost or worse, never backed up. Assuming ‘lost’, how can I find them on my hard drive which is my backup drive?

    • August 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm

      Allen, your photographs are not lost. If you lost your catalog, you can build a new one and re-import all of your images.

      • 12.1.1) allen chernack
        August 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm

        my concern was collections not cataloges.

  13. 13) michele
    August 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Hello… Thank u for the tips and tutorial… I am having to click on each folder to update images inside each one. How do I select the top level folder so I can select all images at once to update? Also, in regards to “publish” section, how do I make sure the hard drive is correct?
    Thank you…

    • August 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      Michele, select the root level folder, then select all pictures by clicking on the first image then pressing CTRL+A and you can do whatever you want!

      As for the publish section, just change the folder where your files are extracted and set your output format (JPEG) and quality, and you should be good to go.

  14. 14) Paul
    August 28, 2011 at 3:13 am

    Nasim, Thanks for your update/reply. Cheers, Paul

  15. 15) Scott
    November 10, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    I have had some issues with LR 3.2 and now 3.5 and I’m wondering if you can help. I have tried to “Set up” publishing to SmugMug in LR and it errors out every time. There was a time when I was publishing with no problem, then I started creating Catalogs for each of my weddings (on the advice of another photographer). As soon as I did that, the capability to publish went away too. Now I have to export to my HD before I can send them to SmugMug, Facebook, or anywhere else. Have you heard of this before, and is there anything you could suggest to fix it?

    Thank you,


    • November 13, 2011 at 10:06 pm

      Scott, creating a Lightroom catalog for each wedding is not a good idea, not sure why anyone would recommend that. I always recommend creating a catalog for each year and separate it by quarters and months if you shoot a lot. As for your SmugMug issue, have you tried reporting the problem to SmugMug? I would try their forums to see if there is a solution…

  16. 16) Caren
    February 28, 2012 at 6:39 am

    Hello Nasim –
    I am pleased to have stumbled upon your advice / QA site.
    I feel as if I am limping along here, not fully understanding what is happening with imports.
    I shoot in raw only now. When I import into Lightroom, are the files accumulating elsewhere on the computer? I understand that raw files are large, and have just added a second external – 2 TB. (After purchasing I was told that the larger the external, the greater the chance of it failing?) I currently have just under 8000 photos in Lightroom 3 on an iMac with a hard drive of what appears to be just under 250 GB of space. Does that sound accurate? And I’m at the point now where every time I try to import, I get the message that I need to clear space. Do I need to move ALL of my photos to one of the externals? And do you advise backing up to more than one external, or keeping photos separate from other back-up material? Do you have a preferred system for moving photos? I have been using the + button next to folders and choosing one of the externals, and then creating a folder within the external… Does that make good sense?
    That is several questions within one broad question.
    Next question – how do I uninstall Lightroom 2 now that I have been using Lightroom 3 for awhile? (I won’t go into my lost photo issue – there seem to just be some photos that do not show up in either version even when I right click Locate…) Is it true that having both versions on my computer is taking up twice the space??
    Thank you again so much for your invaluable help! Do you operate by donation? Or fee?

  17. 17) neil
    July 31, 2012 at 4:45 am

    hi nasim,
    how are you mate just got couple of question about upgrading my lightroom 3 to lightroom 4 just wondering what would happen after that when finish downloading lightroom 4, in my case i upgrade to lightroom 4 but nothing happen and the reason to upgrading to lightroom 4 is because it won’t read my files from lghtroom 3 why? because of my my new nikon d800 apparently it doesn’t support d800 i have to upgrade to lightroom 4, please help would be great appreciation…
    thanks again neil…

Comment Policy: Although our team at Photography Life encourages all readers to actively participate in discussions, we reserve the right to delete / modify any content that does not comply with our Code of Conduct, or do not meet the high editorial standards of the published material.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *