The Most Asked Lightroom Question From Over 700 People

Last week I had two stops on my Lightroom 3 Live seminar tour. We hit Phoenix on Wednesday with nearly 400 people and Indianapolis on Friday with over 300. First, the crowds were great. Everyone was just so psyched about learning Lightroom in a start-to-finish day like we covered. What’s always interesting for me though, is that I get out from behind my desk at the office and find out what questions are really bugging Lightroom users out there.

This past week, one question won above the rest, hands down. Ready for it? The question was: How many backups do I have to save of the Lightroom catalog? You know, when you quit Lightroom you can set LR’s preferences to backup your catalog. By default it will do it every week or so, but you can tell it to backup every time you quit Lightroom if you want. Well, each time it backs up it saves a folder of your backup. If you’ve got a decent sized catalog, those folders can grow to take up quite a bit of space and I heard from a lot of people wondering how many of them they should save.

My answer: none. Yep. I don’t save any. In fact, I don’t use the backup feature for Lightroom. Instead, I back up my computer every night. I make a fully bootable backup using Super Duper for Mac. Acronis makes something similar for PC as well as many others. Just Google “PC Backup software” and you’ll find them. That’s it though. There’s not much more to it. (I do also have a Time Machine too so I can always go back to another day’s catalog if I wanted to.) But I have a daily backup of my entire computer so, if my Lightroom catalog ever goes bad or crashes, I’m covered. I just go to my backup drive. Not to mention if my computer ever crashes, I’m covered as well – not just Lightroom but EVERYTHING is backed up. Actually my hard drive crashed last Monday right before I left for the week and that backup came in really handy but that’s a whole other story ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, that’s my report from being on the road last week teaching Lightroom. A big thanks to everyone in Phoenix and Indy for making me feel right at home. And for lot’s of “oooooo’s and ahhhhh’s” throughout the day (sorry, inside joke – you had to be there) ๐Ÿ™‚
Seriously though, I had a ton of people come up through out the day saying that they read the blog and just wanted to say hi. If you’re in Tampa, Arlington (Dallas), or Philly then I hope you’ll try to catch one of the next seminar dates.


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  1. One thing anyone who takes backups seriously should do, is a test restore, both to make sure their backup method works, and that they know how and have all the resources they need to restore, independent of the backup.

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  2. My comments regarding backup plans relates directly to the primary reason for even doing backups – avoiding permanent loss of data (images). If you really want to sleep nights, then back up daily, and back up in at least 2 locations, one off your main data drive, and one off site; e.g a portable drive, etc. what good is having 3 backups on different drives on your MacBook if it is stolen? But the most heartbreaking scenario occurs when you attempt to recover your crashed drive, only to find your backup file is corrupted! No backup can be considered secure until it has been tested in recovery. As to losing one or two iterations of an image, so what. That can be redone. But losing a client image can never be explained. The IT pros back up to multiple locations, and regularly test the integrity of their backups – a lesson I learned from a close friend who is data expert.

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  3. Hi Matt, I use lightroom on my iMac, and back up everything to time machine. My 1TB drive is at 750 Gig full. I want to transfer my lightroom files to a new external drive and run them from there. How will i be able to backup the external drive where my photos are kept, with another external drive?
    Cheers Carl Melbourne AUS

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  4. I’ve just switched to Mac and am unable to use Beyond Compare any more, will think about getting Super Duper.

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  5. Had a HD failure 6 months ago on my IMac. Fortunately, had two separate external HD back ups in addition to Time Machine. Call me paranoid, but my back up system to my external drives worked to restore my LR catalog. A click on the catalog Irt. file had me back in business. Scott Kelby’s LR book made life less stressful.

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  6. While I see the logic in what Matt is doing, the one thing extra thing that the Ligthroom backup does that a 3rd party backup wonย’t do is to run the integrity check and optimize the catalog. Those would need to be run manually and are worth doing periodically ย– especially if you have a large catalog.

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  7. i use time machine, like matt, on an external drive; i don’t see what making an extra back-up with super duper adds to this, other than having an extra back-up; in other words: why would making a back-up, using time machine on a daily basis, not be sufficient? is this a matter of: 2 back-ups is better than 1 or am i missing something…?

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  8. I think backups of the catalog are an important part of the picture, but the data integrity/longevity issue becomes a workflow issue.

    To simply things, I’ll put it this way: I have a folder called “MasterVault”. All files get ingested into that. The ones that go into the Lightroom workflow are *copied* into a separate folder called “LightroomVault”. Every photo ingested into Lightroom is assigned a filename that starts with “LRV”. That’s important, since the Lightroom catalog has to have that photo so the the changes you’ve made are referenced to the correct photo. It’s easy for me to identify all the photos ingested into my Lightroom workflow–whether it’s on the original drive, a backup drive, or wherever, because they all start with LRV.

    As for backups. I agree with Matt, backing up is essential. If you want no downtime, then keep the Lightroom catalog (.lrcat) files and the associated photos (.jpg, dng, .nef, .cr2, tiff, whatever) on their own diskdrive, and backup offsite. If you lose the whole drive, then just plug in a new drive and populate the drive from your backup. Simple, and you’ll be up in no time. Also, that way, if you change machines, just pick up your drive and move it over to the new machine. Your photos and sanity will thank you.

    Even better, which is what I do, is to have a RAID array where you store your working files (the Lightroom Vault). There’s a small upfront cost. But after that, with regular offsite backups, you’ll sleep easily and have almost no downtime and NEVER lose data.

    I’ve not lost a file of any kind in over 20 years. The peace of mind, money and time saved having a straightforward data schema that’s easy to maintain is amazing.

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  9. “Matt, one problem with a single nightly backup is that when a file fault or missing file
    is not noticed for a day or two the backup has the same issue.”


    I’m surprised you’d tell people not to use the backup feature at all. I’m following the same backup method you are, although with a couple additional backup drives. And Lightroom’s backups have saved my ass at least a couple of times. Given enough time, it’s likely that almost anyone using LR will experience some kind of catalog corruption and if it goes unnoticed for a day or two, your backup can’t help you anymore.

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  10. Is a good way of seeing it.

    Judging by the sizes, Lightroom’s backup is NOT incremental, so it eats up a lot of space. That’s one thing you guys could suggest to Adobe for Lightroom 4. Incremental backup.

    A great backup tool for PC is “Oops Backup” from Altaro. Very good in price, folks there are really great (got an answer in 10 minutes on a Sunday) and is like MacOSX’s Time Machine. It saved me a couple of times on the PC.

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  11. i installed Lightroom 3.2 when i start catalogue it stuck with monitor it says
    adobe photoshop lightroom has stopped working (whai i open with jpg were indicating monitor when i trying to open it)

    please help me


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  12. Your idea is very good, however I have had a situation as Ian states and an image of my HD would have been worthless.

    If you have been lucky enough to not take it on the chin yet good luck beating the odds. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  13. Why Super Duper over Time Machine? I finally figured out that was a ton easier than the WD software that came with my drive, which I bumbled along with for a year or so!

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  14. Hey Matt,

    Great article, great suggestion. Just FYI you should probably switch software to something other then SuperDuper! There is a known issue with SuperDuper! not properly backing up the reg info of the system. The dev knows about this issue and has refused to address it. This problem does not exist in Carbon Copy Cloner which shares almost identical functionality with SuperDuper! You can download Carbon Copy Cloner for free from their website and test it to your liking before purchasing it.

    Also, as Ian above me mentioned, the backups from LR do optimize and verify the integrity of your LR library. While my use of LR is fairly gentle (20-30K per year) my friends who use it professionally insist that the likelihood of a catalog being corrupted is fairly high. As the other Ian above me mentions, if your backups are running daily (or nightly) and you do not notice a corruption occurring in your catalog, then you will only have your retention policy duration to catch this error and perform a restore. This is why I have made my best practice to perform the LR catalog backups and keep 1 just in case, though this is not required as long as the integrity checking occurs.


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  15. Matt,

    I too do a SuperDuper back-up but also back-up my catalogs for the reasons Ian states above.

    WWMD (What Would Matt Do?)

    Soooo. . . If you did keep catalog backups, how would you make us go oooooooooo and ahhhhhhh?

    Thanks for the post MK!


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  16. So should I go and delete some of the old LR catalog backups to free space on my hard drive?
    Super Duper sounds great and if it keeps images/information safe it is a priority along with the trusty time machine.

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  17. I use Acronis for a disk image weekly, and I keep images for several weeks. I also subscribe to SpiderOak online backup. It backs up my image files daily to the cloud. It saves versions, but it also uploads only changes (deltas), so my catalog backups don’t take up that much space.

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  18. Great post Matt! How long do you keep photos on your local hard drive before either switching catalogs or moving the files to a backup drive?

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  19. While I see the logic in what Matt is doing, the one thing extra thing that the Ligthroom backup does that a 3rd party backup won’t do is to run the integrity check and optimize the catalog. Those would need to be run manually and are worth doing periodically – especially if you have a large catalog.

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  20. Matt, one problem with a single nightly backup is that when a file fault or missing file is not noticed for a day or two the backup has the same issue. If you don’t use LR for two days then notice the catalogue is corrupted it is too late. Keeping a cycle of, say, weekly backups for a few weeks can help you return to a good catalgue.
    LR catalgues can be recreated from XMP or DNG files (if you create them) but other important PC files may not have this luxury.

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  21. Hi Matt,

    Nice comment about backups. This is a recurring issue I see with many people.

    I have been using for 2 month now Crashplan and I love it. It has been better than anything I ever used before.
    I wrote about backups onmy blog recently

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  22. That is exactly what i’m also doing.

    For Windows I can recommend Shadow Protect Desktop.

    This is creating images of my hard disk in the background, 4 times per day, once per week a complete backup.

    the backups can be mounted to recover single files, or a crashed hard disk can be restored to a new hard disk completly.

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