Backing Up Lightroom's Catalog

by Michael Clark

A few weeks ago, a photographer called me who was severely frustrated. Somehow her Lightroom catalog had gotten corrupted during an editing session - after she had done many hours of work. Her images were fine as they were backed up in several places. She had done nothing wrong.

In this electronic world things can go wrong as we all know. My first question was did you check the box in the catalog preferences to "Automatically write changes to XMP" sidecar files. She had, and hence all of the work she had done on her images had been recorded with the images themselves - so in the worst case scenario she could just trash her current catalog and re-import those images into Lightroom again and be back to where she was when the problem came about. [Note: XMP sidecar files will not save information about virtual copies.] As she was dealing with several thousand images and was on deadline she didn't have time for that option. As it turned out - she was able to talk with an Adobe engineer who went in and fixed her corrupted catalog so she could get back to work relatively quickly. Talk about customer service!

One of the other suggestions I made to her - for the future was to make sure to set up the General catalog settings so that Lightroom backed up the catalog every so often as in the image below. The back up options are every month, every week, every day, when Lightroom is opened and the next time Lightroom is opened. Whatever frequency suits your workload - it is a good idea to back up your catalog on a separate hard drive just in case of hard drive failure or a corrupted database.


Another habit of mine, especially when I am working with a large number of images, is to go in occasionally and have Lightroom export the metadata and develop settings to the XMP sidecars just in case something goes wrong. To do this, first select all the images you'd like to export metadata and develop settings for, then go to Metadata > Save Metadata to File as in the image below.


Some other photographers I have consulted with have had massive crashing issues with Lightroom but it wasn't the software. It turned out to be bad RAM. Lightroom, and all imaging applications can tax the RAM and your computers processing engine, and expose weaknesses in the hardware that other applications won't. Once the RAM was swapped out there were no more issues at all. I've spoken with a few people who have had this problem and I have to say I am surprised it is a somewhat frequent issue. All this is to say buy your RAM from reputable dealers and don't go for the cheap stuff.

That's it for this session. See you next week....

Adios, Michael Clark


2007-07-30 08:35:56
Are there any plans for XMP files for virtual copies? This seems a big gap, especially if you take one picture and want to do several treatments (colour, b/w etc).
2007-10-03 11:19:30
There is not option to set an alternate directory for backups so it is quite a bit more work to remember to copy the backup to a different drive.
Sandy Wilson
2007-10-23 08:46:08
I am a relative newbie to Lightroom and had too many images in my catalog. I read up on creating new catalogs, created two new ones and have had no problems with them. BUT, now I cannot open the original catalog! I am working on a large book project and must find a way to open this catalog. When I changed the preferences to "prompt me when starting lightroom" this original catalog no longer shows up. When opening lightroom, I can find it in "other" but it won't open. I am in a panic here!
2007-10-29 14:45:50

When the "Back Up Catalog" dialog appears, click the Choose button, navigate to where you want the back up to be saved, click OK. You will see this path displayed in the "Back Up Catalog" dialog.

Check the "test integrity" box, then click Backup to save it to that location.

It is also worth having a third party back up application that periodically performs that operation, so you don't have to remember.