As I am cruising through South-East Asia on a bicycle for the www.portraitsofasia.be project, backing up pictures (and my Catalog) is one of my main concerns. And it should be any Lightroom user’s concern…
Not only should you regularly back up your Catalog (you can schedule the frequency under the ‘General’ tab in the Catalog Settings (Lightroom => Catalog Settings (Mac) or Edit => Catalog Settings (Win)).
Mine is set up to ask me to backup every time Lightroom starts. I know I won’t do it every time (sometimes I’m just too eager to start Lightroomin’ but at least I am reminded of it – I hope in future editions it will be possible to ask Lightroom to backup on exit, rather than on startup). Catalogs do become corrupt from time to time, as I have found out much to my own discontent, and although Lightroom has a built-in recovery feature, that does not always work (as I have equally already found out, much to my dismay). So, I regularly backup my Catalog. And I do so to another drive than the one the actual Catalog is on. Because not only Lightroom Catalogs can become corrupt, harddrives are known to fail too…
Be sure to check the ‘Test integrity of this catalog’ checkbox. It takes a while longer, but the last thing you want to do is to backup a corrupt catalog. Talk about a false sense of security!
Newcomers to Lightroom think that by backing up the Catalog, they’re set, as they assume that the pictures themselves are automatically backed up, along with the catalog. Such is however not the case! The Catalog is in a very specific place on your harddrive, whereas the pictures could be anywhere (even on remote portable drives). One key aspect of Lightroom is that it is a database: the Catalog does not hold the pictures, it just stores references to those pictures. And if you backup the Catalog, you backup (amongst other things) those references, not the pictures themselves.
When you import pictures for the first time into Lightroom, the program asks you if you want to backup those pictures. Although this might seem a handy solution, I don’t use this option, the reason being that the pictures are backed up with their original filename (e.g. _DSC099.NEF or IMG008.CR2). Most of the time though, you’ll want to change those meaningless camera-generated names into something more useful, and you can actually do so a little further in the import dialog box. You can even create a template for it (and I suggest you do) but that’s for another post alltogether . So, my _DSG099.NEF becomes 20090803_Bali_002 or something like that.
So, what’s the potential problem with Lightroom’s backup feature, then? Well, remember the Catalog is a database that holds references to the files (and it does so storing the filename and the files location). If for some reason your original pictures would go missing, and you would have to recur to your backed up pictures, then you’ll want those pictures to have the same name as the original ones. Otherwise, Lightroom won’t be able to recognise them.
That’s why I prefer my picture backups to be made after I have imported them into Lightroom, using specific software.
So, that’s it for today. If you have other backup-related tips, you can leave them for all of us to enjoy in the comments.