How to Upgrade Lightroom 4 to Lightroom 5

This is a quick guide on how to upgrade from Lightroom 4 to Lightroom 5, if you are considering moving up to the latest and greatest Lightroom version. While the process of upgrading the actual software is pretty straightforward, there are some important steps you need to take to make sure that the catalog is upgraded successfully and you are using the latest available features. If you are scared about upgrading and have not done it in the past, this guide might help you to go through the process. The good news is, Adobe allows keeping both versions of Lightroom on the same machine, which means that you can install LR5 and continue to use your old LR4 with the old catalog(s). Once you are satisfied with the upgrade, you can then remove the old version of Lightroom, along with the old versions of catalogs.

1) Download and install Lightroom 5

If you are hesitating about downloading the online version of Lightroom 5 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, or the one supplied by Adobe when you purchase it digitally. This is a great way to try it out and see if you want to keep it or not.

For now, let’s go ahead and download Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 from this article (the latest version of Lightroom is 5.2 RC).

Once the file is downloaded, install LR5 on your machine using the default settings. When Lightroom 5 asks for the CD key, choose the Try option to start your 30 day trial.

2) Back up your existing Lightroom catalogs

Before you upgrade, it is always a good idea to locate every catalog you have and back it up to a place other than your computer (ideally to an external back up drive). All you have to do is find the actual catalog files with .lrcat extension and back them up. You don’t need to back up all other files and sub-folders like “Previews.lrdata”, because those folders just contain thumbnails of images that you can re-generate later. Plus, if you back up the whole folder, it will take significantly longer than just backing up the single catalog file. If you do not want to go through the hassle of regenerating thumbnails later, you can back up everything – your choice.

3) Upgrade your Lightroom Catalogs

After everything is backed up and Lightroom 5 is installed, you should see the Lightroom 5 icon on your desktop. Double-click the icon to open up Lightroom, which will fire up a dialog box warning you that you need to upgrade your catalog. It is required to upgrade the catalog, so you will have to do this for each catalog that you have in your computer. The upgrade screen should look like this:

Upgrade 1

Lightroom will place the upgraded catalog in the same folder where you have the original catalog and will preserve the folder structure and the file name (by default, it will add a “-2″ to the catalog name as shown above). You can either keep it in the same folder, or you can move it to a whole different folder structure. I typically just leave the folder structure the same and clean up the folder later (more on that below).

Next, simply hit the “Upgrade” button 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 anywhere from several minutes to several hours:

Upgrade 2

By far, this Lightroom 5 upgrade has taken the longest when compared to previous Lightroom upgrades. Part of the reason is the complete overhaul of the way the data is stored and searched in the catalog, so the upgrade process has to do all that from scratch. On my primary machine (which is a very fast one with the latest generation Intel Core i7 processor and lots of memory), the upgrade process took between 15 to 30 minutes per catalog! This is the window that stayed on the screen the longest:

Upgrade 3

I upgraded a total of about 8 catalogs and I am happy to say that I did not encounter any issues.

4) Make sure that all images are available and visible

Write down the total number of photographs in your upgraded catalog, then close LR5 and open LR4. Look at the total number of images in LR4 and make sure that the numbers match. Close LR4, open LR5 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, since previews for the new catalog are not migrated.

5) Review Collections and Presets

Make sure that your Collections and previous Presets are all preserved. LR5 and LR4 should be sharing the same preset folders, so those should work by default. If the upgrade was successful, custom Collections and your Keywords should be visible as well.

Lightroom Presets and Collections

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

6) Process Version

The good news is, Lightroom 5 and 4 both have the same process version (2012), which means that you do not have to go through the hassle of moving your images to the new version to be able to enjoy all the new features. However, if you are upgrading from an older version of Lightroom (like LR2 or LR3), then Lightroom will prompt you to update the process version in a window like this:

Lightroom Update Process Version Dialog Box

I highly recommend upgrading the “Process Version” of all images after you upgrade if you have not done so previously, in order to take full advantage of all of the new features that are available in LR4/LR5. But keep in mind that changing the process version will most likely affect the colors, tones and even exposure on your previous images, so definitely review the heavily edited work before and after the change. If worst comes to worst, you still have the old backup of your catalog, so you can repeat the upgrade process again.

Repeat steps #3 to #6 for every Lightroom 2 catalog that needs to be upgraded.

Good luck and please let me know if you have any questions!


  1. 1) Darin
    August 21, 2013 at 4:25 am

    Thanks Nasim! I just upgraded to LR5. One question…You mention having multiple catalogs, I currently have one large catalog with all my images. Is it advisable to maintain multiple smaller catalogs and why?

    • 1.1) Bill Raab
      August 21, 2013 at 10:22 am

      I create a general catalog for every year. I put my yearly snaps into this catalog. I also create a catalog for every job I shoot and also every trip I take. Then I can archive the jobs and shoots with a copy of the catalog. I also do not have the concern of all my eggs in one basket as it were. If a catalog was to somehow become corrupt and unusable I can recover pretty quickly and easily from that.

      Consider the filing cabinet analogy… you would not just dump all your files into one cabinet. You’d organize the cabinet with folders and labels.

      I hope that helps.

    • September 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Darin, I have exactly the same workflow as Bill when it comes to Lightroom catalogs – 1 catalog per year. If I have to work on something fast, I export it to a new catalog, then re-import it back if I need to. But that’s typically pretty rare…

  2. 2) DavidL
    August 24, 2013 at 2:14 am

    Thanks Nasim,

    This is something I may be doing later in the year. I’m using both LR and Aperture and I’m waiting a little longer to see if Apple get off their backsides and give us Aperture 4. There are things in both applications that I like. Mainly how I can sync my Library with iPad, iPhone, iPod and ability to view on apple TV (great for sharing with family without having to print).

    Also, Nic plugins seem to work less buggy in Aperture. But LR’s grads, lens correction, key wording etc are superior to Aperture.

    The way i read it is one of the new features is you can keep your library on an external storage device but the catalogues stay in LR so you can save space on you notebook HD. If I upgrade to LR5 i would love to know move my library to an external device.


    • September 3, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      David, yes, the new LR5 allows to store very small versions of images on your laptop, while keeping the images themselves in an external storage. Very handy for those that work on laptops and do not have much space to work with!

  3. 3) Luis
    August 25, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Excellent as always Nasim. Simple and direct writig, step by step for beginers but with notes and tips for meduim level users.

    • September 3, 2013 at 1:41 pm

      Thank you Luis, appreciate the feedback!

  4. 4) gregorylent
    August 31, 2013 at 2:54 am

    and then delete Lightroom 4 ?

  5. 5) jamandigo
    September 18, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Nasim: I am worried about upgrading to LR5. You indicated I can keep LR4 and also have LR5. Is there a time limit on having both or will LR5 mandate priority? What if I wanted to keep everything I have in LR4 and just put new images in LR5; is that possible?

  6. 6) SteveL
    November 5, 2013 at 11:37 am

    The author omitted something important for people upgrading from LR3 to LR5 and upgrading to the 2012 process. This not only results is slightly different default renderings of all your Raw images; but more importantly, it radically changes all your sliders and your editing workflow.

    Anyone on LR2 or LR3 who is upgrading to the 2012 process is strongly advised to Google around and learn how the process 2012 sliders have changed. It’s a learning curve.

  7. 7) Idan
    December 3, 2013 at 9:01 am

    I upgrade my LR4 into LR5 but once it’s finish to upgrade it’s says that there are no photos in my catalog.
    Do you have any idea why it’s happen ?

    • 7.1) Sue B
      March 11, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      I have the same problem. I’m wondering if I need to uninstall the LR5 upgrade and start over???

  8. 8) Andrew
    December 28, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Hi, hope you can help me. I recently bought a new Mac and had everything copied over from my old Mac to the new one. I used Lightroom 1 on my old computer and purchased Lightroom 5 with the new Mac, so when the transfer was done, I ended up with the old Lightroom 1 and also new Lightroom 5, with my images on Lightroom 5, all in folders, and named, keywords etc. It was perfect!….But, ACCIDENTALLY, we have deleted ALL the images from Lightroom 5 !!!!! (12,000 of them!). They are still in Lightroom 1 (thank goodness, and also on my old Mac).

    Do you know how to transfer the images from Lightroom 1 to the new Lightroom 5, so that they keep all the keywords, metadata, and stay in their named folders and catalogues??? We can export them (but they go to Jpegs and I shoot in RAW) to the LR5, but they lose all the keywords, folders etc, so hoping there is a way of transferring ALL the information. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Kind regards, Andrew

  9. 9) Lorretta
    March 29, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    Does anyone know how much it is to upgrade from Lightroom 4 to Lightroom 5. Do you have to pay full price for Lightroom 5, or is it cheaper if you already have Lightroom 4?

  10. 10) Andy
    May 31, 2014 at 7:49 am

    Him Nasin,
    I have installed lr 5 via a disc bought through Amazon but when I try and download the updates through Adobe by clicking on the download button it takes me to a blank page saying safari counldnt connect to the server.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks ,

  11. 11) Kristen
    August 17, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Hi Nasim,
    I really appreciated this article! As a student, its crucial that I update my Lightroom software as my college computers use it and I like to work between my personal laptop and school computers. With this being said, when I back-up my one huge catalog (I plan on starting to do smaller catalogs by year and assignment), is there a way I can make a huge folder of the images instead of the catalog? Or do both? It makes me nervous that the images themselves aren’t in a back up.

    I guess I’m, unfortunately, just really confused by the entire backup process.


  12. 12) Carla
    October 28, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I want to upgrade to lightroom 5.6. However, I currently run lightroom 4. Can I upgrade straight to 5.6 from 4? I am fairly new to lightroom and not exactly sure how all this works.

    Thank you for your help,


  13. 13) basil gavin
    June 8, 2015 at 9:31 am

    I ordered an upgrade to LR 5 for my lightroom 4.4 from Adorama Camera. . Alas Adobe didn’t send me a complete serial number.
    PayPal and Adorama tell me I have to contact Adobe. I have wasted much time trying to rectify my problem at Adobe but their MAZE of “press commands” ended up with no place to go. I am pissed.

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