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Backing up and Restoring Lightroom Catalogues

I’ve seen a few questions recently concerning Lightroom Catalogues and back up workflows. Often people get confused when it comes to the difference with backing up images and backing up LR catalogues. Some tutorials are fun to try, others are lifesavers.. Have a guess which one this is.

A catalog does not contain your photographic images, it contains all of the collections, publish services, ratings & keywords relating to your images. Losing all that data would be very time consuming to correct manually. Therefore when considering your back up strategy for your photos, it is essential that you plan to back up both your images and your catalogues.

This tutorial only covers backing up and restoring the LR catalog.

The first thing we need to do is set up how often Lightroom will back up the catalog. So, as in the image below, click on the Lightroom menu (File menu in Windows) and choose Catalog Settings.

Catalog Settings

This will bring up the dialog box below.

Catalog dialog box

Under the Backup section, choose how often you wish LR to back up the catalog. Personally, I consider once a day to be more than adequate for my needs.

You can now close the dialog box, as LR is now set up to backup upon exiting. One strange quirk of Lightroom is that you can only set the location of these backups when prompted to back up. You can see in the screenshot below that when I close LR I get the Backup dialog box that allows me to choose its location.

Back up catalog

Clicking on ‘Choose’ allows me to pick where I want my backups stored. If possible, I would advise that these backups are on a different drive to your lightroom installation to avoid losing your catalog and your backups at the same time.

Backup location

Pick a location for your Backup catalogs.. I would suggest creating a folder to place them in as otherwise you will end up a very messy file structure. Once you have chosen the location, Click the Backup button and LR will proceed to run checks, back up and optimise your catalog as shown below. This can take some time, depending on the size of your catalog.

Checking Integrity

Backing Up

Optimise Catalog

Once this is complete, you will have created a back up of your catalog. Lightroom with create a new backup subfolder each time it runs. This can get quite large over time and I would advise that this folder is trimmed down every so often to reduce the disk space used.

Restoring an old catalog is as simple as just opening the backed up catalog, from within Lightroom. I find it quite helpful to move the backed up catalog before using it, to prevent live catalogues mixing with the backups.

Moving the back up

Find the location of the backup you wish to restore from, using Finder (for Mac) or Windows Explorer (for Windows). The file will have a .lrcat extension. Copy the file to the same location as your live catalog and rename it (or replace if your live catalog is corrupt)

Open Lightroom and choose Open Catalog from the File menu

Open Catalog

Select the Catalog that we moved to the live location.

Select Catalog

At this point, you have restored a catalog from the backup. This may seem like a hassle to set up, but I can promise you that when you need it, you will be very glad you did!

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask in the comment section below.


About Scot Baston (31 Articles)
Scot Baston is a Commercial & Wedding Photographer that lives on the south coast of Devon, that inspires much of his work. Whether it the technical or emotive sides, Photography is a passion that continues to challenge and inspire.

13 Comments on Backing up and Restoring Lightroom Catalogues

  1. Thanks for this great article Scot. One thing is puzzling me is how do we back up the actual photos properly that are already in Lightroom if this just backs up the catalog side of things? Thanks

  2. Hi Nat,

    I would recommend that you have a backup strategy for all of your data, including your images. The software to back up differs between Mac and PC and I can only tell you what I do..

    Using a Mac:

    I use Time Machine to back up my MacBook Pro to an external harddrive on an hourly basis. Also, once a month I create a bootable backup of my Macbook Pro’s harddrive, this allows me to have both a monthly backup and incremental backup.

    Most of my image files exist on a network drive which I back up using ChronoSync to an external harddrive and a Raid Drobo box. This allows me to keep triple copies of all my images.

    The standard rule of thumb with backing up is that if a file/image etc does not exist on 3 different drives then it may as well not exist at all!

    harddrives are only ever in 2 states of existance… failed or about to fail.

    maybe some of the PC guys on here can advise as to which solutions to use for the Microsoft world?

    hope that helps a little.

    oh and to be ultimately paranoid, my LR Catalog backups are also backed up with everything else 😉

  3. Martin Harvey // 08/06/2011 at 3:57 pm //

    Backup photos (and data generally) on a Windows machine.

    There’s lots of solutions – I have used the product NTI Shadow in the past but now use the open source program Freebyte. In any solution I like incremental backups – only backing up files that changed. Saves on space of course and more manageable.

    Also don’t forget using services such as Flickr and Picasa as a cloud backup.

  4. Martin Harvey // 08/06/2011 at 4:01 pm //

    Oh and BTW if one is using Windows there is no Lightroom menu item so the Catalog Settings is found under Edit (?)

  5. Cheers Martin,

    I’m sure I mentioned about the catalog settings in the post 😉

    Good to know about the Windows backup solutions, Thanks

  6. Michael Hoffman: (replied on Facebook)
    For Windows, the same processes apply, and I recommend it not just for LR images, but for all the precious contents of your hard drive(s). For creating excellent backups, I recommend either Acronis TrueImage, or Symantec Norton Ghost. For either one, you should have a separate drive (external is OK, Drobos are fine) and set the backup software to run regularly. How often depends on your workflow (I back up my system twice a week, overall).

  7. A quick comment on backups. It’s important to check your backups to make sure they work. In the past I’ve worked with companies that went to pull backup data only to realize the backups were corrupt, not setup correctly, or any number of other issues.

    It’s also good to understand the steps necessary to do a restore of your data before you actually need to execute them. This will make the process less stressful in the event you suffer data loss.

  8. Excellent advice AJ..

    In the case of LT Catalog backups, it is possible to open your backed up catalog in Lightroom and check

  9. Hi Scot,
    My computer hard drive that had my photos on it crashed. We reformatted the drive and it works, but it is now call the D drive (previously called the F Drive). Now, in LR i see the F drive with all my folders and the E drive with none. Is there a way i can take my backup catalog and somehow locate everything? If i open my backup it doesn’t recognize anything. Thanks.

  10. Frans Balder // 29/06/2011 at 3:48 pm //

    Thanks Scot for the lesson about restoring and backing up.

    When I open the Lightroom program I see the window with the message ‘back up’, because I chose in the Catalog Settings for ‘Every time Lightroom starts’. I press ‘back up’ and get almost always following message: ‘Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has met an error and must be closed’. The only thing for me to do is restoring the latest made back up, but always lose the editing in Lightroom from 1 session.
    Do you know what’s going on and how to solve this problem?
    Thank you in advance,
    regards, Frans

  11. Hi Frans,

    There are two possibilities here I think,

    1) your lightroom catalog might be corrupt, in which case try the following

    a) run catalog optimisation in the file menu
    b) create a new test catalog and see if you get the same issues

    2) your install of Lightroom might be corrupt, and if so, reinstalling lightroom could help

    really though, I would contact Adobe Support and they should be able to assist you with this

    Hope that helps


  12. I REALLY need your help desperately!!!! I am a professional photographer and love using Lightroom 2.2. I am having allot of problems with it at this time and need your help!!!!!!!! First, my files are not named just have ?, second, in develop, i can’t use that feature, and third, the whole program is just not working and nothing looks the same at all! I don’t know what to do. Can you please help me, I have clients waiting for their photos and I am in need of your desperate help.
    You can call me at any time at . My computer is a Mac Book pro. I did try to reinstall this program several times, but it didn’t work. Don’t know what happened. I did go into some files to try and fix things but only made things worse.

    Thank you so very much,

  13. Susie,

    I’ve spoken to Scot regarding your question and we are in agreement that, in this case, we’d advise you contacting Adobe Support. We could come up with possibilities but without a much fuller investigation we could advise you to do something that makes the situation worse.

    Adobe Lightroom Support: http://www.adobe.com/support/photoshoplightroom/

    My own experiences with Adobe have proved them to be very helpful, there’s even a live chat box.

    Hope things go well,
    Tippy and Scot

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