Hurry: How to Backup Your Lightroom Catalog Today

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Hurry: How to Backup Your Lightroom Catalog Today

Backup-lightroom-todayWe all know that Lightroom is powerful photo editing software.  But did you know that a large part of this power comes from the fact that Lightroom is actually a database – the Lightroom Catalog?

Lightroom is unlike many popular photo editing softwares that we are used to.  Using Photoshop, for example, you open an image and edit it.  You hit Save to overwrite your original image with the edited version.  Or you hit Save As to create a new file for your edited image.

Using Lightroom, however, you never have to hit Save or Save as because each edit you make is immediately entered into its database.  This database is called a catalog, and it stores huge lists of information about each image you have imported into it.  For any one photo, this is a small example of the data that Lightroom stores about it:

  • The name of the photo
  • Where the photo lives on your hard drive
  • Tags and keywords you’ve applied to the image to help you search for it later
  • Edits you’ve made to the image (for example, increase exposure by 1 stop, convert to black and white and decrease clarity by 10)

There is one key item that Lightroom’s database does not store – the photo itself.  Even though you can see your photo in Lightroom’s Library, that photo does not live inside Lightroom.  It lives in the location on your hard drive that you assigned to it when you moved your images from your camera.

This information that Lightroom stores about your photos is very important and LR saves it permanently, as long as its catalog works.  But it is always a good idea to back up the catalog so that you have a duplicate copy to revert to in case the original becomes corrupt or your hard drive crashes.

Lightroom gives us an easy way to back up its catalog regularly and automatically.  It also gives us the added bonus of optimizing it for efficient processing at the same time.

To schedule your back ups,  find your Catalog Settings.  On PCs, this will be in Lightroom’s Edit menu.  On Macs, it will be in the Lightroom menu.  In catalog settings, you schedule the frequency of your back ups and learn where your catalog lives on your computer.



You can see from this screen shot that I’ve scheduled my back ups to occur each time I quit Lightroom.  And I suggest that you schedule yours frequently too.  The backup only takes a couple of minutes – it would take you much longer to re-edit all your photos, right?

Once it’s scheduled, you will see a message box like this when it’s time to back up.  Make sure that both “Test Integrity” and “Optimize Catalog” are selected.  If you’ve been using Lightroom for a while and haven’t optimized, I predict that you will be impressed with how much more quickly LR runs after optimization!


One other important option on this dialog box is the location of your back up.  It is very important that you do not store it on the same hard drive as your catalog itself.  One of the reasons for backing up your catalog is to protect it in the event of a hard drive crash, right?  If your hard drive crashes, the backup won’t do any good if it lives on the same hard drive that just crashed with your catalog.  So, note the location of the catalog from Catalog Settings and then make sure the Backup goes to a different hard drive by clicking Choose in this dialog box.

For me, my catalog lives on my external hard drive (the La Cie) and my back up is stored on my internal hard drive.

Now that I’ve backed up using the settings above, what happens if my external hard drive crashes?  Both my catalog and my photos live on it.  Even though I have backed up my catalog onto my internal hard drive, remember that my photos don’t live in Lightroom and they are NOT being backed up along with your catalog.

It’s important to schedule a separate back up using which ever backup method you have chosen for your photos themselves.  This doesn’t happen through Lightroom.  I use an online backup provider for my photos.  In the event of a hard drive crash, I would restore my images from the online provider, and my catalog would be restored from the backup created by LR.

If you only back up the catalog but not your photos, you might end up with a long list of edits but no photos to apply them to!

Lightroom users, if you don’t back up your catalog, you have homework!  Schedule this backup now to maintain and optimize your Lightroom catalog.

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  1. October 10, 2013 at 12:37 pm —

    I backup all my image folders to an external hard drive. When I’ve finished editing the images in Lightroom and Photoshop I do another backup. I’ll usually delete the image folder off my laptop tomake room for new images. If I ever need to revisit and edit prior images I use this trick. If you keep the same folder names (as in 2013CarShows) and move it back to the original sub-folder on your computer, your Lightroom catalog will recognize those photos the same as before they were moved.

  2. Linda
    August 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm —

    How to you call up the backup dialogue when you want to backup at a non-scheduled time?

    • August 22, 2013 at 9:22 am —

      Linda, you can just change the backup schedule to “Everytime LR exits” and then quit LR.

  3. Andrew
    August 16, 2013 at 9:44 am —

    Hi Erin,

    What happens if you move the original photo file to a different location? For example, if I wanted to do a re-org of my photo library. How would that effect the saved data in the Lightroom catalog?



    • August 17, 2013 at 2:15 pm —

      It won’t effect the saved data but when you try to develop the image or to export it with the saved data on it, it will prompt you that it won’t find the location of the file and you will have to choose the new location where the images are.

    • August 22, 2013 at 9:23 am —

      Andrew, if you do all of your moving and reorganizing from within LR, everything will be fine.

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Hurry: How to Backup Your Lightroom Catalog Today