Lightroom Database Backups (Part 1 of many)

Everyone tells us that it is important to back up your Lightroom database (catalog). The problem is there is no “one size fits all” backup strategy. Every photographer needs to decide what’s best for him/her.

Rather than a long post about backup and restore I will post smaller articles addressing different issues I’ve come across. As always, I welcome feedback and comments.

In Lightroom’s Catalog Settings users have the option for the software to prompt to perform a backup. The choices are:

  • Never (not advisable unless you have a better process)
  • Once a month
  • Once a week
  • Once a day
  • Every time Lightroom starts
  • Next time Lightroom starts only

I have chosen “once a day”. The only choice for the month / week and day is “when Lightroom starts”. I find this very inconvenient.

What happens is that I come home with a load of photos on my camera. I want to import them into Lightroom while I am having a shower / cup of tea. However, if Lightroom decides it is time for a backup I have to wait for it to finish before I can start my import.

I can skip it until the next time Lightroom starts or until the next interval – but that is a bad habit to get into.

I would much prefer it if Lightroom gave me the option to back up the database at the end of my session rather than the beginning: i.e. “when closing Lightroom”. Of course that can also be onconvenient if I am rushing out the door, but nothing is perfect. The point is, I want the option.

I don’t know how thorough the “Test integrity of this catalog” is. I have not had any errors in the few months I’ve been using Lightrom 2 seriously. The check is in two phases: checking the catalog itself (the .lrcat file) and checking the thumbnail cache. I don’t know if that is the time it will delete old 1:1 previews according to the policy I set in the Catalog Preferenced (File Handling tab).

Some users ignore the Lightroom prompted backup and take responsibility for backing up the database and images. That is fine as long as you do it consistently. You do lose the catalog integrity check if you do-it-yourself which may mean you are backing up a corrupt catalog. A fakse sense of security like that is worse than useless.

Note that:

  1. The Lightroom Catalog backup DOES NOT BACK UP YOUR IMAGES. You have to do that yourself. I think Lightroom should warn the user in large red letters about this. Indeed, if you write the metadata as XMP to your images then it is easy to re-build the database. The images themselves are the irreplacable items. I am surprised Lightroom does not help. In my ideal world Lightroom would support archiving (offline storage, e.g. on DVD). I will write another article on archiving.
  2. The default backup location is on the same drive as your database. This is no use if your hard drive crashes or someone steals your computer. Change it to another drive. I have a little 320GB Seagate USB drive that holds my images and my database. I can lock it up separately from my computer or carry it in a pocket when I travel. It’s an amazing piece of technology.
  3. The backup process does not back up your thumbnails. That would make the backup process longer and the backups huge. I would like Adobe to add that option. Disk space is cheap – a photographer’s time isn’t. (They should write that on the wall of the development team’s office).

I have more to say on backups but I said I would keep these blog posts short.


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4 Responses to “Lightroom Database Backups (Part 1 of many)”

  1. Matt Says:

    “The default backup location is on the same drive as your database. This is no use if your hard drive crashes or someone steals your computer.”

    I’ve tackled this problem another way. My Config Backup plugin (link above) zips the catalog backups – zips are typically 10% to 15% of original size – and I set the compressed backup directory to a different drive. So I work around the same spindle problem and save disk space at the same time.

    I’d love to be able to trigger backups at different times (inc immediately) but there is no way to do this within the provided SDK.

  2. bkkphotographer Says:

    Great info about your Config Backup Plugin. I will check it out and the other info in your blog.

    I was going to talk in another post about backing up the configuration info in the C:\Documents and Settings\\Application Data\Adobe\Lightroom directory (on Windows XP). For some reason that is a hidden directory in the default Windows setup. That means most users will not know about it, let alone back it up.

    Lightroom does not seem to use C:\Documents and Settings\\Local Settings\Application Data\Adobe tree – which isn’t hidden by default in Windows XP.

    Thank you.

  3. Flash Says:

    Great post!

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