Lightroom Tips

The Truth About Lightroom Backups

I’ve had these “truths” ideas floating around in my head for a while. Basically, there’s lots of information out there about various topics and I wanted to share some of the truths behind them (truths in my opinion of course) with you.

In case you didn’t know, Lightroom will automatically back up it’s catalog as often as you tell it to. You can set or change these catalog backup preferences in your Catalog Settings (Lightroom menu on Mac, Edit menu on a PC). The idea is that you set Lightroom to automatically backup the catalog, and if something ever gets corrupt (or your computer crashes), you’ll have a backup of the catalog to rely on. But I’d like to give you the truth behind the backup and suggest that you never use it.

Before I move on, let’s get one thing out of the way first. The Lightroom catalog backup (and my suggestion to you) doesn’t back up your photos. That’s up to you. I backup mine to a separate external drive upon import. The catalog is merely all of the stuff, changes, edits, metadata about your photos.

OK, back to backing up the catalog and why I suggest setting Lightroom’s backup preference to “Never”. By default, Lightroom will back up your catalog to the local hard drive in the Lightroom folder. But if your hard drive crashes then your backup is gone right? Right!

But, when the backup dialog opens Lightroom will let you set another location. You could always just choose an external hard drive and you’d be safe, since it would be stored somewhere else. But that starts to get too complicated for me. Now you’ve got photos somewhere, catalogs somewhere, and (hopefully) a backup of your computer’s hard drive (for emails, personal files, work files, etc…) somewhere else. These are potentially all in different places which gets messy.

So I suggest setting the preference to Never. Yep, don’t ever back up Lightroom. Instead, why not be vigilant about backing up your computer’s hard drive every day. By backing up your computer, you’ll be automatically backing up your catalog every day (I’m assuming you store the catalog on your local hard drive which is the default place). Here’s a few options:

Mac option #1: TIme Machine – This one is free. Time Machine comes with the latest version of the Mac OS (Leopard). It continually backs up your computer through out the day to some external drive you select. There used to be some concerns that Time Machine wouldn’t back up your catalog correctly but I haven’t seen any issues with this. I’ve tested it out and restoring the catalog works just fine.

Mac option #2: Super Duper – If you’re paranoid (and I am) you may want to use option 2 AND option 1 (I do). Super Duper is a program that creates an image of your computer’s hard drive. I plug my computer into an external drive every night and it automatically updates the image with whatever changed that day. So if my computer crashes, I have a backup.

The advantage Super Duper has for me is that it’s bootable. If I’m traveling and the hard drive crashes, I can plug my external Super Duper backup in, boot from it, and start working immediately until I get a new drive. This comes in really handy as I teach a lot and can’t afford to ask people to wait on class until I get a new drive to load my stuff on to.

PC Option #1: SyncBackSE – PCs don’t really have a built-in Time Machine equivalent. There is a program called SyncBackSE that does something similar. It costs about $30 but there’s a free trial to give it a test run.

PC Option #2: Norton Ghost – this is similar to Super Duper. it makes a full system backup of your computer hard drive. If something goes wrong and your drive crashes, you can use that image to restore your system to the point it was at when you made the last backup. It runs about $70.

So the truth about Lightroom backups is that you don’t need ’em. Backup your computer every day and you’ll automatically take care of backing up Lightroom.

Before I go let me get a few things out there. First off, this is the truth about backing up Lightroom as seen by me. If you don’t like it then simply don’t use it. Don’t get angry and post a mean comment. It’s OK to post a comment that disagrees but be nice about it. Also, some folks out there have their own way of doing things when it comes to catalogs. Some store the catalog with the photos, some store it on another drive. I totally recognize this but realize one thing – you’re in the minority (the majority store catalogs right where LR installs them on the computer). If you fall into this category and you have your reasons then go for it. I personally don’t do it that way and honestly, I don’t have a good reason for it other then this is the way it makes sense to me. Cool? Cool!

Thanks for reading and let us know your thoughts in the comments.



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  3. Kipp Weirich 14 March, 2010 at 13:45 Reply

    I’m doing a large photo project on an older computer (5 years)…and because Lightroom defaults to storing your imported photos on your local drive….I’m desperately low on hard drive space on my hard drive. Is there a way to specify(or change) where the photos are kept?….I have external drives and that would be an obvious choice….And is there a tidy way to coordinate all the old photos with the newer imports and having them all show up and accessible in lightroom while stored on a external drive? In other words…Move all my lightroom photos to an enternal hard drive and be able to run Lightroom,access those photos on the ex. drive and import new work having it going to that same external drive?….

  4. Adam T. 24 February, 2010 at 11:14 Reply

    Matt –

    I am having some trouble with SuperDuper!. It is saying that it “failed to enable ownership” for one of my hard drives.

    What can I do?

    Thank you.


  5. Steve 22 April, 2009 at 11:06 Reply

    I bought an external drive “toaster” (BlacX from Thermaltake) and two 1 GB drives. The toaster connects via ESATA and I can hot-swap the drives as needed. I keep one drive plugged in and the other in an off-site location. I maintain a copy of critical files on the drives and periodically swap them. So I have an immediate backup in case of a disk crash and a relatively recent copy in case of fire or theft. Not perfect, but relatively simple.

    This works OK for me. As any backup professional can tell you (e.g. DBump, above) crafting a really comprehensive backup plan that covers a wide variety of scenarios is a non-trivial problem and any solution will radically increase your storage overhead (the one I describe above basically triples my storage requirement). Any strategy is a tradeoff of cost, complexity, and coverage. Above all, the strategy has to be simple enough (in practice) that you actually use it!

  6. John Lim 17 April, 2009 at 09:23 Reply

    what do I think of your article – superb! I am going to do as you said. I had a crashed once and I did not know that the back up in lightroom is NOT a back up of the photos etc. Your excellent article explain it all and your suggestions are excellent. THANKS A LOT, a LR2 beginner, John Lim

  7. Tron 14 April, 2009 at 03:14 Reply

    I recently bought a 320GB Lacie rugged external hard drive for backing up my Macbook Pro

    I’m also buying carbonite online backup in case the house burns down.. 🙂

    The problem is when my 200GB internal drive is full.
    How do I securely backup the internal drive _AND_ external drive?

    Maybe my only option is to buy a 500GB internal an leave everyting on there?
    (+online backup)

  8. Koop 12 April, 2009 at 21:42 Reply

    I had the corrupt database issue and didn’t know about it immediately until I tried to back-up, so I’m in the “respectfully disagree” camp. Lightroom appears to have allowed me to continue to work within and edit in the Develop section even while corrupted. Once I realized I had a corrupt catalog I tried the self-repair function without success.

    I convert my RAW files to DNGs upon import and have the “Automatically write changes into XMP”, but am still confused about if this setting writes instantaneously.

    Martin Evening’s book (pg 176) says, “Checking this option will ensure that all the files in the Lightroom catalog will eventually get updated. However, if you want to be sure that a file’s XMP space gets updated right away…then you can use the Metadata>Save Metadata to Files command.” Martin recommends using the Ctrl/Cmd S function.

    In regards to a PC back-up I find HP’s MediaSmart Home Server to be fantastic! It’s networked to my desktop and two laptops. Not only are all 3 computers completely backed-up every night (in case of complete failure), it also acts as my main/central archival storage for all my photos. I have them marked for “Folder Duplication” on the HP Home Server so that the photos are placed on two separate drives in case one fails (you can use up to 9 drives in total – 4 internal bays & 5 external ports).

    I use the free Microsoft SyncToy software to back up my personal and current year’s business photos on a 1TB external drive and then store it at work. Except for the external drive EVERYTHING is automated and hassle free.

    • Nicole 2 August, 2016 at 02:15 Reply

      I have consistanly used the ‘Save Metadata to file’ it doesn’t work. I have just lost all my edits because I had to move my Lightroom backups to an external HD.
      Lightroom backups maybe one or two however definitaely not the solution.

  9. James Anthony 10 April, 2009 at 17:15 Reply

    All approaches are good because each one respects individual and different needs. Being somewhat paranoid like DBump I do not mix strategies for system backups (full or incremental) with Lightroom backups. Using both a laptop and a desktop for Lightroom editing I use Microsoft’s SyncToy (free).

    I keep my photos and catalogue on a portable hard disk which is always up to date as I have the SyncToy copy all changes to photos and catalogue to the desktop hard drive and vice versa in the opposite direction back to the portable disk which makes it always ready to go with the laptop. I let Lightroom leave the backup catalogue on the hard disk of the machine in use. Just in case. Once you get your head around this it’s worth it if you’re running two units.

    I also use Sidecars like David Terry but I don’t know if this handles the two computer scenario easily.

    SyncToy is also handy for other uses and is worth a try. Mac might have something that mirrors this program. Don’t know.

  10. David Terry 9 April, 2009 at 17:53 Reply

    I don’t back up my catalog either. And while I do back up the system hard drive, I’m perhaps not as rigorous about it as you.

    But the catalog itself … I simply don’t worry about it.

    When I import images, I have LR automatically create the sidecar files (.XMP) at the same time. Any changes I make are stored in the sidecars. If my catalog gets blown away (and I used to have to do that regularly before LR 2.0 came out), that’s okay, I just reimport the images into a new catalog and viola’ all of my metadata is still there!

    My backup strategy? I backup the images! And since the images and the sidecars are in the same folder, they get backed up at the same time and to the same place and are easily restored all at once without having to figure out “which catalog goes with which images”.

    I totally dislike the idea of the catalog being a separate entity and the confusion that can arise from them being in separate locations, separate backups, separate time schedules (i.e. potentially out of sync).

    Sidecars rule for me.

  11. Nathan Youngman 9 April, 2009 at 12:06 Reply

    I use Time Machine for a regular backup with a small 1.8″ USB drive and occasionally do a SuperDuper backup. Before going on a trip, I’d make the SuperDuper backup to leave at home, and take the Time Machine backup drive with my laptop.

    I’m trying to figure out what hardware to use to backup a new Mac Pro, and taking an interest in what ZFS could do for RAID like arrays (reliability) as well as external backups… also considering Amazon S3.

  12. mike meyer 9 April, 2009 at 08:27 Reply

    Hey Matt, here’s another thing to consider. I though my back-up crashed the other day when it turned out to be just the power connection to my external hard drive. The actual drive was fine I just had to plug it into another power converter. But the other thing I do is burn two DVD’s of my images along with the hard drives and keep one of the DVD’s at a seperate location, not My house. Because, God forbid my house catch fire, but a Super Drobo and a dozen DVD copies will ALL melt if they are all in the same location. Have a nice day 🙂

    mike meyer

  13. charles augustus 9 April, 2009 at 06:29 Reply

    This is so true, I always get the back up message pop up. I always ignore it as I have my own back up system in place. But I clicked on it the other day as I felt maybe it might be additional back (back up the back up). Then I noticed it was going to save on my local drive the same place where the catalog is already saved. I had to ask myself where is the sense in saving my back up in the same drive as what I wanted to back up.I suppose not everyone has multiple external hard drives so the programme by default will be set to back up to the local drive. It is up to the individual to change to the location that best suits them.Thanks for the info on Super Duper…i think i’ll give it a try.

  14. DBump 8 April, 2009 at 23:54 Reply

    I’m always curious about different backup strategies, so thank you for a really different perspective on this! Photography is my hobby; backups and disaster recovery are a central portion of my profession, so I’m probably more paranoid than average, having seen way too many multi-layer failures.
    One thing I’d suggest: make a distinction between backups for disaster recovery (drive failed, computer stolen/destroyed), and backups for archival (mistakenly deleted priceless folder X last week/month/year, and just noticed today). Two very different recovery scenarios. A traditional full backup that you overwrite every subsequent time you run it will not help in the second scenario, if you’ve run a full backup since deleting the folder. Even an A/B rotation will only give you an extra backup period to realize your mistake. This applies to more than just the catalog backup–any data file is vulnerable. My solution is to run a file-copy of images and catalog backups to a different folder on the backup drive weekly, in addition to the full backup. The file copy is additive only–I do not replicate deletions. Each month I swap backup drives. Each quarter I swap drives with a third drive, and take that offsite (work, friend/family, etc.). It’s not bullet-proof, but it’s reasonably simple, cheap and effective.

  15. Darren 8 April, 2009 at 21:09 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for your thoughts. We’ve heard a lot about Scott’s “paranoia” about backing up and his chosen strategy. I would be interested in hearing about your overall strategy and workflow for backups both at home/office and while traveling.


  16. Jim Lewis 8 April, 2009 at 19:05 Reply

    Here’s one drawback to services like Carbonite: they can go out of business at any time. Just ask the folks who used Digital Railroad. So, as an earlier poster said, it makes more sense to use it as a second backup (First being on-site with a physical drive of some sort.)

  17. Don LaVange 8 April, 2009 at 17:48 Reply

    When I import pictures I make sure they are backed up to an external drive, and I also backup my catalog to an external drive. Other than stacks and stacks of redundant catalogs, it seems to work. But, I get what you’re saying.

  18. Jaap 8 April, 2009 at 14:35 Reply

    Quite a strange type of reactions today. Normally 90% is happy with your great ideas and today most of all disagree. So I do. Had big problems before with ACDSee catalogues, moved to Photoshop Elements and had to start all over again, migrated seamlessly this catalogue to LR1 en LR2, but I am still anxious to have a corrupt database again one day. Regarding these no-agree’s I suppose we’ll get a reply of yours in the next Q&A’s. Still a great weblog!!

  19. Matt Timmons 8 April, 2009 at 14:23 Reply

    Richard # 37- I’ve only commented on here twice, but I’ve seen several of Matt K’s articles that have included some sort of “don’t shoot the messenger” statement and indicated that some people around here get angry at him and post negative comments for his way of teaching things. Over at Scott’s blog, it’s happened several times much to his frustration as well. So jokingly (but also to make a point about negative commenting) I threw in my word for those who can’t constructively disagree. I’m sure around the NAPP offices they joke to themselves about who got burned at the stake just for teaching something. So that’s what I meant by saying it happens next door a lot too, and those people should lighten up so the instructors can stop issuing disclaimers and just teach without fear of backlashing. Didn’t meant to offend (sigh), rather to have a laugh.

  20. Ron 8 April, 2009 at 12:05 Reply

    with all this back up talk i wanted to share my way of what i do.

    i use one drive dedicated to only programs, all my photos are on external drives. i have one for business photos and one for personal photos. each drive has its own LR cat stored on the drive. it may seem much for some to load the catalog they want to use each time you start LR, but if i take my external drive to another computer i have my catalog with me for that drive. since the OS is most likely the drive to crash i dont worry about my LR cat as much. i make a back up once a month on to dvd by burning a copy of my cat. this saves disk space for the all more important photos. i also burn a copy onto dvd of my raws (with the side car xmp file) and jpegs after i have made my adjustments and converted in LR. again saving the need to have so much back up hard drives. i make two copies of the dvd’s also, and if you do it right away its not as time consuming as burning everything after days of shooting or months have passed. although online storage is a great option, but the servers they are on could also crash and you can still lose your stuff thats supposed to be a backup.

  21. Walter Beck 8 April, 2009 at 12:00 Reply

    I was amazed at the amount of space my Lightroom backups were consuming and thought there had to be a better way. It took a while to accept that not backing up the catalog was a good idea, so I compromised. I back up the computer daily, as I always have, copy my photos to another drive, not needed but reassuring, and backup the Lightroom catalog about once a month.

    Eventually, I will trust the system and only back up the computer to my network RAID configured drive. Just a note, one of the disks in the drive “blew up” and I was able to replace it and not lose a thing. I have decided after that incident not to use any off-board storage unless it supported RAID. I still do have some USB drives but only use them for temp storage. My office looks like a drive farm 🙂

  22. Chris Allevik 8 April, 2009 at 11:35 Reply

    If the computer crash and it’s backed up according to Matt’s suggestion. What is the procedure to reinstall the system and files? Should the HD be formatted and then restore system and files from the backup drive?

  23. Christian Løverås 8 April, 2009 at 10:17 Reply

    Interesting, approach. Doesn’t the Time Machine backup of your catalog take a lot of time – every hour?

    I prefer to backup the Lightroom database and all image files separately from the operating system and other files. I let Apple Time Machine (and Time Capsule) take care of the standard backups, and use a RAID 1 (mirrored) drive for the images, and also back it up to a second drive on the network.

    All the details are in this blog post:

  24. Paul C 8 April, 2009 at 09:41 Reply

    I have to say I’m in the “back it up in case your database gets damaged” camp. Copy it to a second drive. I use mozy to do backups of the recent catalog backups, as well as images (obviously, I have a paid subscription).

    I’m doing my own, local backups as well, but it’s good to know they’re offsite without a lot of effort. The big problem with Mozy is the length of time to do that initial dump. You’re going to be leaving your computer running for a very long time dumping files up if you’ve got good internet connectivity (1mbps or more up). With DSL, forget it.

  25. Alex 8 April, 2009 at 09:35 Reply

    On a related note, what is the best way to keep backed up while working on two stations? For example, I have my entire catalog on my desktop, however I have an abbreviated catalog (my most recent photos) on my laptop to keep it light. How in LR can I work on one and transfer the work to the other? If I’m travelling and edit my travel photos on my laptop, what is the best way to bring that work onto my desktop when I get home? Will it mess things up if the catalogs don’t mirror each other (my laptop doesn’t have the memory for that. Thanks!

  26. Matt Kloskowski 8 April, 2009 at 09:19 Reply

    Hi All,
    Thanks for all the feedback. Great stuff here and good conversation. Honestly, no one has swayed me the other direction though. I back up my catalog each and every night so I’m not sure what’s wrong with the way I do it. I shut down Lightroom every night (I pretty much shut everything down before I back up), so I’m assured that my catalog is not corrupt as it always opens the next day just fine.

    Matt Timmons – While I think the wording may have been a bit strong, I tend to agree. Luckily 99% of these comments are in good taste. It’s that 1% that always leaves an impression but it’s becoming easy to ignore them

    Matt K

  27. Chris Allevik 8 April, 2009 at 08:34 Reply

    I have been thinking of this issue and Matt’s suggestion comes in handy. Up until now, I kept images on a external 300 GB winchester drive. I back up my mac and external drive daily to Mozy online. Starting now, I’ll be backing up my entire HD on separate external drive and it can go with me on travel in case the disaster decide to hit on the road. Neat….. thanks

  28. Richard 8 April, 2009 at 06:54 Reply

    @Matt Timmons: What do you mean by “some people really asshole commentors over here”? I only see normal comments.

    @ ElliR
    Don’t you think your EHD gets slower too when it becomes full? Unless you use E-sata tranfers rates are also slower.

    RAID-mirroring doesn’t help you when something on one drive gets corrupted or your computer gets infected by a virus which damages your files, because all the corrupted/damaged files are mirrored to the other drive. It’s a common misconception that RAID is equal to backup. It is not.
    Fortunatly you backup to an extra disk to so you’re more safe.

    I also whish that Adobe introduces a option to backup the catalog when exiting Lightroom. And an option to set the number of backup instances I want to keep. (I now manualy delete the oldest backups).

  29. Karsten Jensen 8 April, 2009 at 05:02 Reply

    Interesting article…..

    For PC-syncronisation I can recomend Microsofts Windows LiveSync (previously named FolderShare). It’s for free but only works on two or more computers – not between a computer and an external harddrive.

    Matt, you say that all metadata, edits etc. are gone if the catalogue file is missing. I’m saving all my changes in the sidefiles XMP to each photo. Will all my editing changes also disapear if I loose the the catalogue?

  30. ElliR 8 April, 2009 at 03:56 Reply

    Well with so many responses to todays blog I’m not really sure whose camp my left foot is and who I agree and disagree with 🙂

    1. I don’t keep ANY images stored on my PC’s internal hard drives as in my experience the fuller a drive becomes the slower it becomes also.

    2. LR and it’s catalogue etc are stored in the default location on Drive C along with other applications which is RAID mirrored.

    3. All images are on a very large EHD and I have chosen the option of backing up the catalogue to this drive upon each and every startup. So – main catalogue on internal drive C, backup catalogue on EHD along with the images.

    4. The entire contents of this EHD (images plug backup catalogue) I subsequently backup to another EHD using SyncBack (the free version).

    5. Addressing the point made by a previous poster concerning there being no point in backing up a catalogue at the start of work – I quite agree with this. My own preference for this is prior to closing down LR is to optimise the catalogue which also invites a backup following the optimising process. So now I have two backups – one at the start of play and one at the end.

    6. The process given in 5. above doesn’t eat up HD as one might think as I only retain 1 week of backups deleting those older than 7 days.

    7. With a RAID mirrored drive (C) and using SyncBack to backup any personal documents etc on drive D to an EHD I personally have no need for Norton and Co. Why pay out good money unnecessarily?

  31. Matt Timmons 8 April, 2009 at 03:01 Reply

    I agree, I have time machine back up to Time Capsule (it does it like every 5 minutes and is distracting), and my photos are on a Drobo, so I never have to think about backing up. When I was using a PC, I did get a virus and lost my OS. Fortunately before that I did backup to an external every time LR opened. Once I rebuilt my system and installed LR, I loaded the backup file and everything was fine just like before the big crash. Both ways work, but the way you describe is easier. Cheers, -Matt

    P.S. Are some people really asshole commentors over here? I thought that was just on Scott’s blog.

  32. Andrew 8 April, 2009 at 02:33 Reply

    Hi, Matt,

    I, like many others, have to disagree. I’ve gone through the VERY painful and panicking experience of having a LR catalogue get corrupted. Imagine my horror when I realized that ALL THOSE IMAGES I’ve already shown to clients needed to be exactly re-processed! It was only a week’s worth of work I had to do (back to my last LR catalogue backup), but the lesson still stung. My work is too important, and I can spare the extra time and hard drive space any week.

    I urge you to re-think this one.

    Thanks for sharing,

  33. Kevin 8 April, 2009 at 01:59 Reply

    Hi, Matt~~
    I recently adjusted my monitor with Datacolor’s Spyder3Pro.
    But I found pictures in Lightroom and PS CS4 looked different to other programs such as ACDSee and Picasa. Lightroom and PS showed over-saturated version of my pics… How can I solve this? I really need your help.
    I am using Windows 7.

  34. Bill G. 7 April, 2009 at 23:52 Reply

    I have several backup drives for my images and use SuperDuper to back up the computer but I still do the Lightroom Backup. I only wish I could set the Lightroom Backup to happen each time I shut down the program…in this way all of the work I had done would be backed up at that time rather than waiting until I started it up the next time.

  35. John M. 7 April, 2009 at 23:36 Reply

    I’m going to have to side with Andy. So much so that I would suggest they should probably change the name of the Lightroom backup feature to “Catalog Archive”. It has far more use to me as an archive than as a backup. I’ve not had issues with either a corrupt library or failed drive, but I’m guessing from the posts listed above that a corrupt library is more common.

    Since photography is a hobby to me and not a job, my catalog files are very manageable in size, so turning on the backup feature isn’t all that painful. For my photos and all important data (including my LR catalog and all of its archives) I backup periodically using an external hard drive which I keep at work. This solution seems to work, although I hope to never have to test it. If nothing else it let’s me sleep well at night.

  36. William L. (Frank) Collons 7 April, 2009 at 21:00 Reply

    Hey Matt, I like the idea that you posted…I back up to a separate hd that is make a full back up and then schedule an incremental back…

    I would like to suggest that for the PC check out Acronis True Image Home v 11…I use it and it is great…I used Norton Ghost but decided that Acronis is better…

    Thanks for the great info…


  37. Richard 7 April, 2009 at 18:44 Reply

    I always backup my Catalogs so I have a backup in case my Catalog gets corrupt.I’m using SynBackSE to copy my photos, catalogs and not to forget all my PRESETS and TENPLATES to external drives. I don’t want to lose those either.

    All my data (not only photo related) is on a seperate disk, thus not on the Windows-partition. Now I can restore a Windows image (made by Acronis True Image) in case of a crash without moving all my data. It’s also easy to move the disk to another pc, plug it in there and have all my data ready.

  38. Christine Gacharna 7 April, 2009 at 18:18 Reply

    it’s not a matter of IF you’ll need a bootable backup — it’s WHEN.

    “…the best I can describe it is a long, disturbing, throbbing SCREECH, such as the sound a rodent might make. A rodent trapped under a PowerBook keyboard, for example. The kind of screech that quickly conjures up the shocking, flash-before-your-eyes realization of all that might be lost in a hard drive failure. Starting to feel my pain?”

    this is from my blog, June 2007. read the rest and why I agree completely with you, especially the part about SuperDuper!, bootable backups and external backups here:

  39. Jason 7 April, 2009 at 17:37 Reply

    Another option for desktops is to create a RAID setup that does disk mirroring assuming your motherboard supports this option, which I think a lot of them do now. I like this option in that it is cheaper (no software costs), the backup is handled automatically in hardware, and is always up to date. I haven’t done this yet, but plan to do so soon. I also like to keep all my data on a separate drive in case the OS gets hosed.

  40. Ed 7 April, 2009 at 15:20 Reply

    I also recommend Carbonite. The best $50 (annually) you will spend. With unlimited backup you can’t go wrong. I use it as a third backup to may hard drive and time machine. It now also accommodates Mac Users.

  41. pierce 7 April, 2009 at 13:55 Reply

    Hi matt
    Thanks again for a very useful idea. I will be disabling backup on Lightroom with pleasure. I already backup to an external hard drive with time machine and i have partitioned that drive (It is 1tb) to enable me also copy over my whole photo library. Not sure i would be keen on backing up what can be many large files to an online source. One problem I am now experiencing which i would be interested in some feedback on…..I have lightroom on multiple computers (laptop,home mac,office mac) and I am getting very confused with finding my photos and in particular where the photos are that I have done work on.It is probably sloppy workflow on my part but i am finding lightroom does not make tracking photo versions very easy.Also, when i click on ? if a photo is missing and LR offers to find it for me …it never can. i end up doing a harddrive search for the photo number which is tedious.
    thanks again

  42. Dickie 7 April, 2009 at 13:45 Reply

    I’m going to disagree as well. 😉

    I backup everything to my Drobo via SyncBack nightly. But if I run into a problem between backups, OR if a backup fails, It’s nice to have a temp backup to restore to (and I’ve had to do this recently). No harm in the redundancy, just make sure you check the backup folder size periodically.

  43. stefano giovannini 7 April, 2009 at 13:22 Reply

    I am suggesting also CarbonCopyCloner and Synk for the Mac.
    Synk costs about the same as SuperDuper but is more flexible, it also lets you copy the files deleted in a backup to a third location and kept in folders by date for how long you want to [and then automatically deleted].

    It is a very good safety net if you delete something accidentaly without knowing and then you perform a backup.

    Anyway some posters made a good point about using LR backup option. will start performing backups within LR of the just current working catalog.

    I noticed that LR catalog backups if zipped / compressed the size decreases almost 10 times…

  44. Nick 7 April, 2009 at 13:21 Reply

    I hate when LR asks me to backup the catalog but I usually do it, thanks for giving me an excuse to disable it.

    I also use both Time Machine and Super Duper. You’re not paranoid, just thorough and prepared for anything.

  45. Richard 7 April, 2009 at 13:04 Reply

    Two other options for PC backups are:

    Acronis TrueImage –

    Which is far better in my experience than Norton especially if you need to image a corrupt HD.

    Second Copy –

    Great back up software that also allows for versioning control. This is great if you overwrite a file as you then can go back and recovery the previous saved file… Downside it doesn’t support system locked files.

  46. william foster 7 April, 2009 at 12:48 Reply

    I agree with your approach entirely!! This is the system I use except for one difference– I use a different program to sync my 2 external hard drives– it is called Personal Backup X5 and it has a section to sync the 2 drives. I use Time Machine the same way you use it.
    Thanks for all the great tips!!

  47. Al Schmitt 7 April, 2009 at 12:25 Reply

    I backup the same way Matt does but I also changed the backup location Lightroom uses to my iDisk and it gets saved on-line to my MobileMe account.

  48. Sean Phillips 7 April, 2009 at 11:21 Reply

    I also have to say that I totally disagree with you on this one. I have had reason in the past to revert to a former version of my catalog after my main catalog, and the nightly backup version of the main catalog, got corrupted.

    I set my automatic backup frequency to weekly and store them on the same drive as the main catalog. They are also backed using my nightly backup so I end up with many copies of them…

  49. Dan 7 April, 2009 at 11:19 Reply

    Great post, and I agree with you 100%.

    Given that most people aren’t willing to lose their images OR their catalog files, why not just back up both at once? Mac gives it’s users tools such as Time Machine, so in my mind, it makes sense to use them and have each backup be compressive.

    A quality, 3 TB external drive that can be used with Time machine is under $400 these days, and if that isn’t big enough , you can use the Disk Utility function to combine multiple smaller drives into one big drive using a RAID array. There’s really no excuse for not having some sort of comprehensive backup.

    On a side note, if one does choose to use Lightroom’s built-in backup function, note that it is backing up the catalog at import. This means that it’s backing up the changes you’ve made since your last import, and in no way will back up the work you’re about to do doing on the image you just imported. Why backup a catalog at the beginning of your workflow when there’s no crucial information that’s changed?

    It makes more sense to many people, including myself, to backup the catalog (and the images) at the end of the workflow so your most recent changes are backed up. I for one don’t want the changes I’ve made to my catalog to remain without a backup until I happen to need to import function again.

  50. Michael Dunmire 7 April, 2009 at 11:16 Reply

    I’m going join the ‘i disagree’ group here too. Just this past week I moved everything from 1 PC to another. I mean everything. MS Office data files, CS4 & settings, LR2 photos & catalogs, various games & save game data, music, media, you name it. Hundreds of gigs were transferred from 1 computer to another. One of the easiest of all these was LR.

    I pulled my second hard drive out of the old PC and moved it to the new PC. All of my photos are on that drive. Before I did that, I copied all of the LR catalog data from the old PC to the new PC, maintaining the same drive letter assignments and folder structure. When I launched LR for the first time on the new PC, everything just worked. I have almost 7000 photos in that catalog and I had a total of 7 photos that had problems, 3 of which I was unable to recover and they weren’t that important anyway.

    If I hadn’t had those catalogs to just copy/paste from one machine to the next, I’d have spent hours doing computer geek work which I spent instead on producing 50+ images from a recent Pittsburgh trip. I spend too much time monkeying with computers from 9-5 in my IT related job to have to worry about doing the same at home. It was refreshing to move all that data and configuration between machines and find that LR just played along like my best friend. 🙂

    As far as backups go, I have 2 identical external drives and use Peersync to keep my originals on the internal drive and 2 copies on the external drives at all times. It’s probably a little over kill, but I feel pretty secure with the setup other than the fact that all 3 are in the same room, in case of a fire, etc. and that problem is managed by making DVD backups that are kept off-site.

  51. mattk 7 April, 2009 at 10:56 Reply

    Nazgulled – Thanks for the comment. Notice I never said “There is NO equivalent to Time Machine”. I said there’s no free one. And I agree with Renaissance that Norton is definitely not bloat. Lots of people trust them. But hey, next time I’ll make sure I do my homework.

    Renaissance – good point!

    Nick – I’m sure it will. The problem is that the term “Linux Bootable Rescue Disk” will have most people running for the hills 🙂

    – Matt K (the homework hater)

  52. Dave Yuhas 7 April, 2009 at 10:53 Reply

    @Nazgulled: A better alternative to Ghost or Acronis is the free DriveImage XML. Used with the free Bart PE live cd, it’s a complete rescue system.

  53. Bill Hamilton 7 April, 2009 at 10:53 Reply

    One of the concerns I have heard about using Time Machine with LR is that the one single change in the database causes the entire catalog to be backed up. With my catalog being about 4 GB this causes a lot of HD space to be used in a very short period of time.

    Love your Blog. Keep up the good work!

  54. Renaissance Man 7 April, 2009 at 10:46 Reply

    @Nazgulled: talking about homework…there is absolutely no way in which Time Machine and the Windows Backup system and/or System Restore could ever be compared. I have 20 years of experience on both platforms BTW… And Norton Ghost is not bloat either…

    @Matt: some users already explained why it is indeed useful and recommendable to leave the LR backup option ON: before backing up it checks for corrupted entries in the catalog (database)… if you leave it off, it could take a very long time (months? a year? until the next major upgrade of LR?) before you notice that something is seriously wrong with your catalog *and* with all of the copies/backups you made of it using the “normal” backup software…

  55. Nazgulled 7 April, 2009 at 10:34 Reply

    You better start doing your homework…

    Windows had “time machine” equivalent long before “time machine” came to Macs. It’s called “Windows Shadow Copies/System Restore” and it’s there on XP and much improved on Vista.

    And since you are going to recommend software for Windows equivalent to “Super Duper” you could at least recommend good software and not bloat like Norton. There’s a better alternative out there for Windows users and it’s called Acronis True Image.

  56. Blake 7 April, 2009 at 10:26 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    It’s kinda related to backing up… how can I sync my Lightroom catalog to my iPhone? When I set the iPhone to sync to the Lightroom Photos folder – it’s syncing the originals, not the edits. Any ideas? (And I know it’s not the seamless iPhoto-to-iPhone solution, but I thought there’d be a way…)


  57. philou 7 April, 2009 at 10:20 Reply

    My browser submitted the comment too early…

    Ouch ! I totally disagree with you.

    Here is a little story that happened to me a couple of month ago. While I was doing tasks in Lightroom, my mac suddently crashed (no idea why). Anyway, after I restarted the computed I started Lightroom again and Lightroom was saying : “Unable to open a corrupt catalog.” Fortunately, I had just done a backup of the catalog file. So it may be useful even if it is on the same hardrive.

    If I had an automatic backup software running before I saw Lightroom catalog was broken, it would have backuped the broken catalog and bye bye Lightroom 😉

    So I keep Lightroom backing up the catalog in the same place of the original catalog and I’m backuping the whole stuff (Photos, LR catalog + catalog backups) to a separate hardrive…

  58. philou 7 April, 2009 at 10:14 Reply

    Ouch ! I totally disagree with you.

    Here is a little story that happened to me a couple of month ago. While I was doing tasks in Lightroom, my mac suddently crashed (no idea

  59. Andy 7 April, 2009 at 09:53 Reply

    When talking about backups, it’s important to distinguish between archives and copies. If your catalog is corrupted (much more likely than your hard drive dying) and you don’t catch it immediately, option #2 above will simply give you a copy of the corrupt catalog. The archiving feature in option #1 will let you go back to previous versions of the catalog to a time before it was corrupted.

    I’ve got an older Mac without Time Machine, so I let Lightroom run weekly catalog backups, which are then backed up regularly onto an external HD with the rest of the stuff on my computer. If there’s a problem, I can go back to a variety of different catalog dates, depending on the situation.

  60. Timmy Samuel 7 April, 2009 at 09:47 Reply

    I agree 100%. After experimenting with LR’s Catalog Backup feature, I realized it was redundant. My workflow is similar to Matt’s: my catalog is stored on my startup drive (in my case, a MacBook Pro), and my photos are stored on an external drive. I back up my startup disk to its own backup drive using SuperDuper!, and also back up the startup disk to yet another drive that also has the photos backed up to it. I do this at least once a day, sometimes more, depending on what I’m working on. And in the paranoia department, I also have a duplicate set of backup drives that get swapped out weekly. During the week that either set is the inactive set, it is stored in a fireproof/waterproof safe. In the slightly-beyond-paranoia department, there is also a third set of backup drives that are stored in my bank safe deposit box. Triple-redundant backups. That’s the ticket.

  61. Mark 7 April, 2009 at 09:37 Reply

    Carbonite is a great option for PC users too ( Like Time Machine it just runs silently in the background, but it backs up online rather than to a local disk. That means there’s a fee to pay but for an affordable annual fee you get unlimited backup – great for photographers. I use it in conjunction with daily backups to a local external drive using SyncBackSE – also recommended.

    I’m not employed by Carbonite, by the way, just a happy customer. 🙂

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