How To Upgrade To Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 upgrade process often frustrates existing Lightroom users. Sadly, the official Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 installer disk that you purchased at the store or downloaded from Adobe online provides minimal instruction about the entire upgrade process. This lack of guidance often creates confusion because there are multiple steps involved in the Lightroom upgrade process.

Many users do not understand that each version of the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom application is a unique stand-alone entity. Installing Photoshop Lightroom 4 does not automatically erase, remove or modify an older version of this software from your computer. Hopefully, this step-by-step tutorial will ease the transition for existing Photoshop Lightroom users.

Step 1: Back Everything Up

Upgrading to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 should not harm your computer or your photographs. The odds that something will go tragically wrong are very slim, but it is always a good idea to create a complete backup of your entire system before undertaking any major software change.

Step 2: Download the Latest Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Installer Package

Life will be easier if you start the upgrade process with the most recent version of the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 software installer package. Installing an older version (Lightroom 4.0, 4.1, or 4.2) will do you no harm, but you are not getting the most up-to-date product.

DownloadThere are two ways that you might have acquired the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 installer package. Option 1: you downloaded the Lightroom 4 installer package from Adobe’s website via the Internet. This is the recommended method. If you received the installer package from Adobe’s website then you are ready to proceed with the installation process!

Option 2: you purchased the Lightroom 4 software in a box with a DVD. If your installer is on the official factory DVD then sadly you are not ready to proceed. You are not ready to begin the installation process because that DVD is not the latest dot version of the Lightroom software. The days of boxed software installers are passing away.

If you look closely at that official Adobe DVD you will see that it says “Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.0 installer.” Installing from this disk will do you no harm but the installer package that it contains is no longer up-to-date. There have been at least three .x updates to the Lightroom 4 program since that boxed DVD was pressed and packaged.

PackageThe serial number that Adobe supplied within the boxed packaging is very important so please don’t throw it out, but the software on your DVD is out of date. Save yourself the hassle of installing Lightroom 4.0 and then needing to download a dot update and leave the DVD alone.

Rather than installing the upgrade package on the DVD, please visit and download the latest version of the Lightroom 4.x installer. You can download either the 30-day free trial version of Lightroom 4 or you can download the latest program update installer. Both download options are identical, and the free trial or the updated installer will work just fine. After the software is installed you can key in your serial number no matter how or when you purchased the product.

Step 3: Install the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Application

InstallOnce you have the latest version of the Lightroom 4 installer package, you are ready to install the Photoshop Lightroom 4 application. You will need to launch the installer package that you downloaded from and let it do its thing.

Install SuccessDuring the upgrade process you will need to agree to Adobe’s End User Licensing Agreement and you may need to give the installer permission to add new information to your hard drive. If the installer asks for guidance be sure that you install the Lightroom 4 application on your internal hard drive. Apple users should install the program into their internal Macintosh HD > Applications Folder. Most Windows users will want to install the Lightroom 4.exe into the Programs Folder on their C: drive.



Installing Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 from David Marx on Vimeo.

Step 4: Upgrade your Older Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog to the new Lightroom 4 Format

Once the new software has been successfully installed you should find a new Photoshop Lightroom 4 alias (Mac) or shortcut (PC) on your desktop. Double-clicking this icon will launch the application and give you the opportunity to key in your serial number.

Now Lightroom 4 needs to upgrade a copy of your older Lightroom Catalog(s) into the new Lightroom 4 format. If you do not upgrade an old Catalog then you will start all over with a blank database and an empty image index. The software needs to know where your old Lightroom 3 or 2 Catalog is currently stored. If your old Catalog is stored on an external hard drive, then make sure that this disk is online and available to your computer. Once you have helped the program locate your old Lightroom Catalog (your old .lrcat file), then Lightroom 4 will automatically make a copy of your old index and attempt to covert the new copy into the Lightroom 4 format.

The Adobe engineers have been quite careful here. Upgrading an existing Lightroom version 3 or older Catalog does not alter the old .lrcat file. Lightroom 4 always makes a copy of your older .lrcat file at this phase of the upgrade process so that you can go back to using an older version of the program should any trouble occur. To distinguish between the old version of your Catalog and the new one Lightroom appends “-2,” or “-3” etc., onto the end of your existing Catalog’s file name.

Once the Catalog upgrade process is complete you could go back and manually delete your older .lrcat files. I would urge you not to delete anything, though, until you are completely convinced that Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 is working well and until you are sure that you are deleting the right .lrcat file. Leaving a copy of your old Lightroom 3 Catalog on your hard drive will do you no harm. Lightroom Catalog files take up very little disk space and having your old Catalog might be useful if you encounter unforeseen troubles.

Upgrading an Older Lightroom Catalog into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 from David Marx on Vimeo.

Step 5: Set Your Preferences

Once you have successfully upgraded your old Catalog into the Lightroom 4 format, you should immediately visit your Preferences Menus. The upgrade process is not complete until you set your Lightroom 4 Preferences! In the Preferences > General Tab, please tell the program to load your upgraded Catalog as the new default.

Failure to complete this step often creates confusion. Users who skip this phase of the process are often asked to upgrade their old Lightroom Catalogs again. Those who skip this critical step often complain that Lightroom 4 repeatedly asks to upgrade their old Catalog and eventually these users create a complete mess of needless extra .lrcat files.

While you are in the Preferences Menu, look through all the tabs and the Catalog Settings Menus to make sure that you have properly configured Lightroom 4 to suit your workflow.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Preferences Menu Setup from David Marx on Vimeo.

Step 6: Back Everything Up Again

If the upgrade process worked properly, you should now have access to all of the images and features that were in your older Lightroom Catalog. If everything worked you should have all of your old information plus the exciting new tools and modules that Lightroom 4 brings to the game. A clever photographer will take this opportunity to make yet another complete system backup so that they are ready if disaster strikes.


That’s the whole process. If all goes well it generally takes less than an hour to move from an older version up to Lightroom 4. The tools that Lightroom 4 offer are totally worth the effort. Once the upgrade is complete and you are confident in your backup plans, the fun of cutting edge image management and post-processing begins!


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Lightroom for Photographers – San Antonio, Texas (5/9—5/12)
Lightroom for Photographers – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (5/30—6/2)
Lightroom for Photographers – Chicago, Illinois (6/6—6/9)
Lightroom for Photographers – Cedar Rapids, Iowa (7/25—7/28)
Lightroom for Photographers – Nashville, Tennessee (8/1—8/4)
Lightroom for Photographers – Wichita, Kansas (8/8—8/11)
Lightroom for Photographers – Duluth, Minnesota (9/5—9/8)