Nothing gives me a thrill of terror up my spine like the nonchalant messages a computer gives when something has gone terribly wrong. Launching Lightroom and seeing a message like, “This catalog is corrupted and you’re totally out of luck” is one of the worst things that could happen to my professional life. Fortunately, the engineers at Lightroom understand this, and they’ve given us a simple way to prepare for just such an instance: automatic backups.

(This article is adapted from a chapter in a useful book by Photofocus authors, Get Organized in Adobe Lightroom.)

Make It Automatic

Here’s what you do. Go to the Lightroom menu (PC: Edit Menu) and choose Catalog Settings, then go to the General tab.

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Under Backup choose Every time Lightroom Exits.


I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t want to wait every time I exit Lightroom for it to back up the catalog.” I don’t either, but when I quite Lightroom is gives me the option, and sometimes I choose to let it backup. If I set it for every week, or every month, then I’m sure at that time I’d also be in a hurry and not do it, and then Murphy’s Law would make sure I had a problem immediately. I don’t do it every time, but I do it frequently, and the reminder helps me remember to do it every time I’m not in a hurry. Oh, and I always back it up before I go on a trip.


Backing Up Your Catalog Isn’t Backing Up Your Pictures

You gotta remember: Lightroom doesn’t have you pictures in it. Backing up the catalog doesn’t back up your pictures. It just makes a backup of the settings you’ve create for all your pictures. If you haven’t exported a jpeg or written the changes into .xmp or .dng files, then a damaged catalog means you’ve lost all your edits, but your original picture files are unchanged. I use a Drobo 5D to backup my photographs.

Back Up Your Hard Drive

Having a backup of your catalog is also useless if you don’t back up your hard drive. Backing up the catalog makes a backup file in the Lightroom folder in your Pictures folder. It doesn’t magically save everything if you have a problem with your computer itself. I use Time Machine on my Mac to backup the hard drive, which includes the Lightroom backup. I have another external hard drive that houses my hard drive backups.

Don’t get caught short when your Lightrooom catalog has an issue. It’s only happened once for me, but I’m sure glad I had the backup file to launch from that day.