Lightroom Backup Strategies

Backing up your photos is essential. In the digital world, there is no strip of negatives that you keep in a shoebox. If you have a single copy of your images, you are at risk of losing them. All it needs is a disk error and you may have lost all your precious images. Backing them up is the only safe way of ensuring you will not be heartbroken should something unforeseen happens to you PC.

Determining how you back up, how often and where to, will depend on several criteria such as amount of photos you have and budget.

If you have just one disk drive, then one option is of course to burn the images to disk. Today, with 8, 10, 12 or more megapixel cameras, you’ll find that a CD won’t hold much. After all more and more people have 2GB or 4Gb memory cards, while a CD is only 800Mb. A writable DVD is therefore a better option at 4.7GB. However, make sure you invest in Gold Archival quality media. Admittedly, they are much more expensive, but be warned that “normal” media will not last very long. The “100 year life cycle” is a myth, with “regular” CDs and DVD often showing errors after only 6 months or a year.

A much better solution is a second disk drive, either internal or external. Internal drives are usually faster, but they require installation. If you do not have the know-how to install an internal drive, then an external disk drive is the obvious answer. They come in Firewire as well as USB2.0 versions, two common connection types. USB is very common as most peripherals such as printers and memory card readers need USB ports. Firewire is the name that Apple uses, but it is also known as as IEEE 1394 on PCs and Sony uses the term i.Link. They are all the same.

Backup Configurations

My preferred set-up is having two identical external drives. One is the “master” the other is a clone. I leave my internal drive (C: drive) for operating system and for transient images, such as exported files I upload to websites or email).

My Lightroom Catalog (the database) does reside on the C:Drive. That way, I can browse my images even if the external drive is offline (which is rare).

So, how do we back files up?

Upon importing, Lightroom gives you the option to backup your images to a second location.

Backup at Import

Backup at Import

This is extremely convenient and assures you have two copies of you images. However, it does not create a backup of your database. This feature simple copies the pictures to a folder and, in the case of a disaster, you need to do the import process again in order to get these images into your working catalog.

For that reason, I do not use this method. Not because there is anything wrong with it per se, it’s just that I prefer to have my two external disks to be identical copies of one and other. Therefore I use a backup tool to duplicate the images. It requires some discipline as I have to remember to do it. The tool I use is from Microsoft, called SyncToy (soorry, I have little Macintosh experience, so if you are a Mac user, this tool is of no use to you, but I like to think the method is still applicable and that there is a similar Macintosh tool available) . It is free and does not come with Windows or Vista automatically. You need to go and download it. You can find it here.

SyncToy is a tool that works on the principle of identifying two folders (a source and a destination) and then defining how the two relate. SyncToy offers copying options. They are:

  1. Synchronize – Files are copied both ways, assuring each folder is identical.
  2. Echo – Files are copied from only ONE Folder to the Other, this will include renames and deletes. The destination is a clone.
  3. Contribute – Files are copied in one direction, but no deletes. The destination accumulates everything.

I use the “Echo” option, so everything I do on the master drive, is “echoed” on the secondary drive. This includes new images, renaming of images and any deletions. I never access the second drive, I prefer it to be my backup only.

It copies everything within the source folder, so that includes subfolders. So, I create folder “sets” such as “2007 Photo Backups”, “2008 Photo Backups” etc.

Backup in Progress

Backup in Progress

Lightroom Backups

When you start Lightroom it will ask you to backup your catalog. I’m sure you will have seen this dialog box. It is of course a good idea to do this, but note that this does not back up your photos, just the Lightroom database which includes the work you have done to your images.

Backup Lightroom Catalog

Backup Lightroom Catalog

How often do you need to do this? I recommend once a day, every time you start Lightroom.


you can find this setting under the File Menu -> Catalog Settings.

Removing old backups

Every time you have Lightroom make a backup of the Catalog, it creates a file and this can start to eat away at you disk space. Older backups can easily be deleted as you’ve made fresher backups since then. It’ll save you a lot of space.

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This entry was posted in Lightroom Tips.

One Comment

  1. Gloor January 27, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    -.- I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives useful information ..”

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