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.