LR012 - Sync LR Classic Keywords to LR Cloud

August 15, 2019  •  1 Comment

Synching Keywords from LR Classic to LR Cloud

August 2018 (valid as of LR8) [REVISION 1 - revisions in blue]

04 Classic to Cloud Logos04 Classic to Cloud Logos

Let’s start with a bit of background and assumptions. Starting in October 2017 - when LR7 was branded with the name “LR Classic” and the name “Lightroom” changed to mean a new cloud based product -  Adobe has been supporting two different products which are both under the heading of Lightroom.  One is Lightroom Classic which is the most recent iteration of a product that was first introduced a dozen or so years ago.  The 2nd product is just plain Lightroom which I’ll call Lightroom Cloud (LR Cloud) to distinguish it from Lightroom Classic (LR Classic). 

LR Cloud has essentially the same purpose of LR Classic, but is an entirely different product.  Some of the main differences are:

  • LR Classic references images on your computer whereas LR Cloud stores your original images in the Adobe Cloud
  • LR Classic is one program that can run on a Mac or PC whereas LR Cloud has apps that can run on a Mac, a PC, an Android or Apple Tablet, and Android or Apple phone, or through a web browser
  • LR Classic has many more features than LR Cloud.  For example: printing, maps, web page creation, printed paper books, publish services, hierarchical keywords, more metadata access, smart collections, folders, etc.
  • LR Cloud manages your original images for you on Adobe servers (you no longer place images into folders), including their backup whereas with LR Classic you need to do your own folder management and backups of your images.
  • LR Classic supports hierarchical keywords whereas LR Cloud only has linear (flat) Keywords, but LR Cloud has an Artificial Intelligence engine (they call Sensei) which can detect common subjects or items in images without the need for keywords.

In order to have the rich feature set of LR Classic, but the “LR on all your devices” convenience of LR Cloud on the same images you need to have the two eco-systems work together.  Adobe has facilitated this by providing a way to sync images between the two systems.  You can read my blog on how to do that here How to use Lightroom CC together with Lightroom Classic

The key to this though is having LR sync selected images between your LR Classic system and the suite of LR Cloud applications.  In their promotional material Adobe touts this as 2-way sync, but that is a bit misleading.  What is going on is that if you have an LR Classic based workflow, you select images in LR Classic that you want to participate in the LR Cloud eco-system and place them into a collection in LR Classic that is marked to sync.  In this set up, if images enter the Lightroom world via the LR Cloud eco system, those images get automatically copied to LR Classic and placed in a default folder and automatically are added to one or more synced collections.  Once that takes place a “smart preview” of the image is created behind the scenes (if one doesn’t already exist) and that Smart Preview is copied to the cloud where the LR Cloud apps can get to it.  If changes are made to the image in either eco-system those changes are synced back to the other eco-system.

For image edits – meaning changes to what the image looks like – this works pretty well as long as you leave enough time for the syncing to take place, don’t sync too many images at one time, and the sync process doesn’t get hung up.  How long syncing takes of course depends on your Internet speed and how many images you are syncing.  For single images, with modestly good Internet speed, we’re talking about less than a minute. 

What they don’t make very clear is that there are many things present in both LR Classic and LR Cloud (sometimes with different names) that don’t sync back and forth as one would expect or as one would desire.

What syncs back and forth (for images and Virtual Copies):

  • Develop module / Edit Panel changes
  • Star Ratings
  • Pick/Reject flags
  • Titles
  • Captions
  • Copyright text
  • Capture date/time
  • GPS coordinates
  • VC’s from LR Classic arrive in LR cloud as a separate image but still sync with the VC in LR Classic


What syncs 1 time only (Values taken from when Smart Preview first created)

  • Camera settings (of course these can’t be changed so not an issue)
  • Keywords (flattened list)
  • Location data (Country, State/Province, City, Sublocation)

What never syncs

  • All other metadata fields such as:
    • Copyright Status
    • Creator
    • Job information
    • Contact info for image creator/owner
    • IPTC Data (headline, Subject code, etc.)
    • Etc.
  • Collection/Album hierarchy
  • Collection custom sort order
  • Publish Services
  • Snapshots
  • Keyword Synonyms
  • Stacks
  • Etc.

What syncs differently

  • Videos originating in LR Cloud, sync to LR Classic (one way)
  • Videos from LR Classic do not sync to LR Cloud
  • No video metadata syncs  (including metadata that would sync for still images)

But, even so, syncing is a good thing if one understands what does and doesn’t sync and how to work around some of those issues.  The main pain point in Lightroom syncing though seems to be Keywords and Location data (Country, Sate/Province, City, Sub location).  But there is a lot of confusion about this as witnessed by discussions in Lightroom forums about how it does (or doesn’t) work.  For example if you select a bunch of images in LR Classic and add them to a Synced collection, they will arrive in LR Cloud with keywords.  But then if you change any keywords in either eco-system those changes never migrate back to the other eco-system. 

So, what is going on and how do you force keywords and location data to migrate from LR Classic to LR Cloud?

As I mentioned earlier, when images are synced what is actually syncing is a Smart Preview for each synced image.  Smart Previews are actually reduced size DNG files.  They were introduced as an option in LR Classic several versions ago as a way to allow you to edit images in the Develop Module of LR Classic even when the disk drive containing those images was not connected to the computer.  Part of this was that as soon as the original images were again connected to the computer, it would catch up with any changes that needed to be written to the image files.

So, here’s what happens.  When you sync an image in LR Classic, it must place a Smart Preview of that image into the Adobe Cloud.  But, that leaves two situations.  One is where you had already created a Smart Preview for that image on your own (let’s call these user smart previews).  The other situation is where you didn’t in which case LR will automatically create one for you (let’s call these automatic smart previews).  Now this sounds like a trivial distinction but it does have ramifications. 

You can see if an image has a User Smart Preview by looking below the histogram in the Library or Develop module in LR Classic.

01 Histogram01 Histogram

But this screen won’t identify images that have Automatic Smart Previews – it only shows you if there is a User Smart Preview.  You can also use the filter bar to search for images that have User Smart Previews as well as using rules in Smart Collections.  There are no filters or options in Smart Collections to seek out images that have Automatic Smart Previews.

You can, however see all images that are synced with LR Cloud which will include images with either kind of Smart Preview.  You do this by looking at the “All Synced Photographs” standard collection in the ‘Catalog” panel (Library Module).  Of course there may also be other images, not synced with the Cloud, that have User Smart Previews but for this discussion, that is beside the point.

02 All Synced Photos02 All Synced Photos

In order to see which synced images have which kind of Smart Preview we can apply a metadata filter for field “Smart Preview Status”.  After selecting this in the filter panel and clicking on the “All Synced Photographs” standard collection we can then pick either “Has Smart Preview” or “No Smart Preview”.  “Has Smart Preview” means ones with User Smart Previews.  There is no filter for Automatic Smart Previews but as we selected the “All Synced Photographs” collection, any images that don’t have a User Smart Preview, by the process of elimination must have an Automatic Smart Preview.  So, another way to say this is that with the “All Synced Photographs” collection selected, the “Has Smart Previews” filter means those synced images that have User Smart Previews and the “No Smart Preview” filter means those synced images that have Automatic Smart Previews.

03 Synced Metadata Filter03 Synced Metadata Filter

So why does this matter?  As mentioned, whenever a smart preview is FIRST created, all the pertinent metadata pertaining to the image that happens to be saved on disk (not just the catalog) in or with the image file is included in the smart preview.  However, after that point in time many metadata changes, such as keywords, do not seem to be updated in the smart preview and are not synced with the cloud.  So, how do you get keyword and location changes you make in LR Classic to sync back to LR Cloud?  The answer depends on which kind of Smart Preview you have.

If your image does not have a User Smart Preview (i.e. has only an Automatic Smart Preview) in LR Classic perform the following steps:

  1. Remove the image from the “All Synced Photographs”: standard collection (which will also remove it from any other synced collections in which it participates) and wait for the sync process to remove it from cloud
  2. If you don’t have “Automatically write changes to XMP” checked in the catalog preferences screen, force metadata changes to the image file (or XMP side car file) by clicking the “metadata mismatch icon” (3 horizontal lines with a hollow down arrow) on the image thumbnail in the grid. 
  3. Then add the image  back to the at least one synced collection and let it sync to the Cloud
  4. All your LR Classic keywords and location fields present when you re-add the image back to the first synced collection will be in the Automatic Smart Preview generated by LR and will migrate to the cloud but will not update thereafter (in either direction).

If your image has a User Smart Preview (i.e. shows as “Has Smart Preivew” in the metadata filter or under the histogram) removing the image from all synced collections and then re-adding it does not refresh the keywords in the Cloud because no new Smart Preview needs to be built.  In this situation perform these steps:

  1. Remove the image from the “All Synced Photographs” standard collection (which will also removed it from any synced collections it may also participate in)
  2. Delete the User Smart Preview (menu:  Library -> Previews -> Discard Smart Previews).
  3. If you don’t have “Automatically write changes to XMP” checked in the catalog preferences screen, force metadata changes to the image file (or XMP side car file) by clicking the “metadata mismatch icon” (3 horizontal lines with a hollow down arrow) on the image thumbnail in the grid. 
  4. Now you can optionally re-create a User Smart Preview if desired, but either way, drag the image back to a synced collection and let it sync to the cloud. 
  5. This will force a one time reload of the keywords and Location metadata to the cloud but will not keep them synced thereafter unless you repeat this process.


  1. Keywords that sync to the cloud include not only the explicit keywords assigned to the image(s), but also all their parents regardless of your choices in the edit keyword panel.  So, even if you uncheck “Include on export” and/or “Export Containing Keywords” you get them all.
  2. Synonyms will not sync to LR Cloud at all
  3. As of this writing, I have not determined a workaround for syncing in the other direction (Cloud to Classic).  In other words if I make keyword changes in LR Cloud, how to get them synced back down to LR Classic.  If someone has a way to do this short of just re-doing it in LR Classic, let me know and I’ll update this blog.
  4. Adobe has not documented or acknowledged any of this.  The fact that keywords and location data, and perhaps other metadata, get added to Smart Previews when the a Smart Preview is first created may have been unintended by Adobe and at some point in the future they may decide to “fix” this oversight and stop such data from being added to the Smart Preview at all.  The user community however is pushing Adobe to go the other way and to embrace Keyword and other metadata syncing and make it work automatically in both directions like they have already done for image adjustments, star ratings, capture date/time, pick flags, and perhaps a few other items.




Dave W(non-registered)
Perfect. Thank you for a wonderfully detailed and clear article.
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