Be Careful With Those Hard Drive Cables

by James Duncan Davidson

Quite a few people I know are using external drives to hold their Lightroom databases and images on. I'm one of them. With many of my shoots pushing the 50GB of data mark, and with over half a TB of imagery that's survived at least a few passes of culling, being able to use external drives to transport and work on my images has become de rigor. The best part about using external drives is that you can start your edits on your laptop, then plug into a more powerful desktop machine and do color corrections or print out contact sheets on a large display with 4 or more CPU cores to help out.

However, there's a dark side to using external hard drives. The cables. Firewire and USB cables are easy to connect and disconnect, and that's the rub. They're quick to set up, but they are also somewhat sensitive to being knocked around and accidently coming undone. You don't typically notice this much when you are using a desktop or using a portable drive with a laptop for a few minutes. But when you sit down for a few hours with your laptop and a portable drive hooked up, its so very easy to jiggle the cable loose as you move the laptop around, especially when you move it off of your laptop and onto a table so you can take a break.

Inevitably, as you move the connections around, the plugs loosen up and then all it takes is one bump and your hard drive comes unplugged. At that point, at least on my Mac, you'll get a dialog box letting you know that a volume was not properly ejected. That's not the bad part however. In a minute or two, maybe less, Lightroom will try to access the database and then put up a warning saying that the database is corrupted or the like. At that point, the old PacMan game over jingle might as well be playing.

If it sounds like I'm speaking from personal experience, that's because I am. It's happened to me a couple of times. The first time, I was mad at the computer. The second time, I was mad at the cable. The third time, which actually just happened earlier today, I was mad with myself. Luckilly, I've got Lightroom set up to make a backup of its database every time I start it up. So, I haven't lost much in the way of work. But, I always worry about the time when I've been working for five hours straight and something like this happens. And, I worry about the majority of people out there that don't have the SQLite mojo to attempt a manual database recovery.

Be careful with those cords. It's a bumpy world out there.


2007-05-23 19:55:21
You said when your firewire drive becomes disconnected, Lightroom will try to access the database and then put up a warning saying that the database is corrupted. Why would it say it's corrupted? I haven't had this happen... yet, but I find it strange that it would get corrupted just because of this. Shouldn't it just say it can' t find the photos and maybe you'll get the question mark on the top right of each photo, yet the database is still fine? Let me know, because I'm not one to try first hand on purpose.
Duncan Davidson
2007-05-23 22:23:59
I believe the error message goes something like "The database is corrupted or cannot be found". In any case, when you attache the drive back, the database registers as corrupted. One thing to clarify, this is what happens when you put the database itself on the external drive along with the photos. If you simply removed a disk containing photos, but your library was on your internal hard drive, you'd never see this problem. Of course, then you couldn't use your library easily on a seperate machine.