Good Technique for Backing Up a Lightroom Catalog

In the last article I shared, "The Most Important Setting in Lightroom is Set To Off By Default", I believe there was a misunderstanding because while talking about auto-saving your edits, I didn't also discuss backing up your Lightroom Catalogs. It is important to back up your catalog and as you will see in this video I'd even highly recommend changing the Lightroom default location for a more secure backup.

The issue that many photographers have right now (and don't even realize it,) is that they are backing up their Lightroom catalogs to the same main hard drive where their working catalog is located. This means that if the hard drive fails they lose both the working catalog and back up. Bad idea. Unfortunately though most don't take the few minutes to understand Lightroom backups and change the storage location. Hopefully the video I posted (see above) helps to clear things up and gives you a good idea of how I keep my catalogs backed up and off my main hard drive in a safe place.

If you would prefer to read the information rather than watch the video, no worries I got you covered.

My Lightroom Catalog Backup Workflow

1. Go to your "Catalog Settings" (Mac > Lightroom > Catalog Settings) (PC > Edit > Catalog Settings) and under the General tab where it says "Backup" choose to have it back up the catalog "Every time Lightroom exits." Now this might be way to many backups for you, I know it would be for me, but choose this setting temporarily for now to move on to step 2.

Fstoppers Lightroom Catalog Backup 1

Fstoppers Lightroom Catalog Backup 2

2. Now close Lightroom. When you do, the "Back Up Catalog" dialog box will pop up. Click the "Choose" button in order to choose the location of your backup catalog. Make sure the location is a different hard drive from the location of your working catalog. Either choose an external hard drive or as in my situation I choose to have it go directly to a folder in my Dropbox. What that means is that my catalogs are getting backed up into the cloud each time. I feel that is a safe option.

Fstoppers Lightroom Catalog Backup 3

3. Once you have the location chosen, click the "Back up" button and give the program some time to back it all up. Depending on the size of the catalog it should take between 15-60 seconds maybe a bit longer if you've got a huge catalog.

4. Once you have the location of your backup set up, open up Lightroom again, go back to Catalog Settings and choose the frequency of your backups (once a week, once a day, on exit etc.)

That's it. You are now all set up to have your Lightroom Catalog be backing up into a location that will be safe from a hard drive failure. This will also make sure you have another catalog to pull up in the case that your working catalog gets corrupted.

Lastly, keep in mind that these catalogs can take up quite a bit of space. I'd recommend holding on to a few of them but don't be afraid of going back and deleting them as they start to pile up. If you don't feel good about getting rid of them altogether at least zip them up so you can compress the size.

This is the way I back up my Lightroom catalog. Let me know in the comments below if you have an even better option. I always love tweaking my system to be the best it can be.

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Previous comments
pjapk's picture

Import of RAW files & changes to the catalog don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. It's not unheard of to do a big shoot, importing the RAWs on day one, then do the processing over a longer period, e.g. a few days. On those occasions I'm far happier knowing I'm getting a fresh backup of the catalog regularly as I'm working through images...

Shan Lu's picture


Joseph C. Halliday's picture

I have always kept the working catalog and images on an external HDD, which is backed up to a second external, while my backup catalogs are kept on my computer's internal drive.

Javin Lau's picture

I think the 15-60 second benchmark is hilarious. My library is well over 150,000 images and I back it up onto a Drobo. I just miss those 15-60 second days of backups, is all.

Mike Nelson Pedde's picture

Great video. Two comments. One, I keep everything related to my photography in subfolders within the Pictures folder - images, presets, catalogues, modules, etc. That way backing up the Pictures folder to an external drive backs up everything except the LR program itself. Second, as mentioned briefly, LR does not have a facility to remove old backups. There is a way to automate that process; you can read more here: The first time I ran this I freed 30GB of HD space.


Tim van dyck's picture

Another catalog tip, and i've seen other people in the comments struggle with this. To use different computers, say a desktop and a laptop, i put the catalog in a folder that is synced with cloudstation, a program that came with my synology nas. It works the same as dropbox, but uses local nas storage. You can use cloud services as dropbox as well, as long as it syncs local files between different computers. When i close lightroom, the program syncs the changed blocks of data (not the complete catalog, it goes a lot faster that way). The only caveat is you cannot have the catalog file open on both computers because that creates sync conflicts. You will not lose data, but the software will create duplicate files that you have have to clean up.
For this to work you will have to have the pictures you need to work on, on both computers, and in the same path location. Depending on the situation i do as follows:
For a shoot on location, i will put the raws in my laptop. The catalog is synced. When i come home, i will transfer the raws from within lightroom to my nas. So the synced lightroom catalog is aware of the new location. When i open lightroom on my desktop, all my pictures and edits are available.
For a shoot in the studio, or for a wedding, i will import the pictures on my desktop and put the raws straight on the nas. I will also create smart previews (have your local supreme being thank adobe for inventing smart previews). These are located in the synced folder and thus are also on my laptop. So i can happily edit the shoot during my comute or while sipping my espresso in a local café. Without having to copy all those raw files over.
This does not mean i don't backup the catalog. With all that syncing, things can go wrong. Besides the occasional sync conflict, because i forgot to close lightroom after working with it, i needed to restore a catalog once in 3 years because it went corrupt.

Scott Duncan's picture

I'd appreciate some help understanding. I have two external hard drives. One of which is fairly old and don't use very often and the other is my main drive until a new one is needed. I also occasionally use Lightroom to process a couple random photos not using either external. I would assume that what ever situation I'm in I'd need to create it's own backup folder no matter where I put it; Dropbox, Backblaze or and external backup? In other words if I have one hard drive connected that would be one backup folder, then both external drives connected another Lightroom backup folder and one for just odds and ends when not using one of my external. If both drives are not connected and then backed up, I'd loose that other drive data correct?