How to Backup Your Lightroom Catalog

how to backup lightroom catalog

When it comes to skills that can take your wedding photography to the next level, there is plenty to learn. Effectively cropping images, removing unwanted objects, and touching up skin tones are just a few of the essential elements for complete photography packages. Yet there is one skill that is even more important than any of those for making your business and workflow fast: knowing how to backup Lightroom catalog.

How to Backup Lightroom Catalog

Because it takes time and dedication to learn a photo editing tool like Adobe Lightroom to deliver professional-level results, we wanted to share our insights. As a company that specializes in photo editing services online, we are experts when it comes to Lightroom and its features. Below, we share more about catalogs in Lightroom and how to back them up for an efficient post-wedding workflow.

open sky wedding portraits

Image by ShootDotEdit Wedding Pro, Gold Hat Photography

Why You Need a Lightroom Catalog Backup

Just as with any field that relies on digital technology and computers, your photography and final images are susceptible to many issues related to storing those files. Loss of files can mean the loss of hours of work, as well as the loss of income from the wasted time. The following are just a few of the reasons it is so important to have a backup Lightroom catalog. These concerns apply to all digital files, but are particularly important for photos that cannot be replaced:

Unexpected Crashes. Program and computer crashes are never convenient, but they can be particularly disastrous when, as they often do, they come with the loss of files. A backup of your files, including a Lightroom catalog backup, ensures that even if your computer is lost, your photography and work is saved in another location.

Computer Viruses. Along with crashes, computer viruses are another digital danger that is often accompanied by corrupted or lost files. In some cases, these files may be recovered at some level, but the only real protection is having a backup of your Lightroom catalogs and other files that are not attached to your computer.

Physical Damage. Theft, dropping the computer, damage from electrical surges, and internal computer issues like an unstable power supply are also threats to your device and files. Precautions can be taken, but a Lightroom backup catalog is a definitive way to secure your files and hours of your hard work.

All of these potential disasters threatening your computer, and your work as a wedding photographer, underscore the need for a backup plan. Knowing how to backup Lightroom catalog not only provides security for your raw and edited files but will also give you peace of mind that your work is safely stored.

How to Backup Lightroom Catalogs

There are several different approaches you can take to create a Lightroom backup of your files depending on how you want to store your backed-up files and how often you want to make backups of your Lightroom catalog or catalogs. The 2 main strategies for creating a second copy of your valuable photography are manual and automatic backups. Depending on your needs, you may use one or both backup strategies.

How to Backup Lightroom Catalog Manually

Manual backups give you full control over the backup process as well as the timing of Lightroom catalog backups. You may want to use a manual backup while you are in the middle of an important project, as a supplemental backup to your scheduled ones, or to create a third backup of your Lightroom catalogs in an additional location.

Take the following steps to create a manual backup of your Lightroom catalog:

  1. Within Lightroom, locate your Catalog Settings menu.
  2. From this menu, find the Backup-Catalog option in the General Catalog Settings menu.
  3. Choose “When Lightroom Next Exits” as the frequency.
  4. Close the Catalog Settings menu and the Lightroom application.
  5. The backup of your catalog will start automatically. Be sure to allow it to run through to completion.

How to Backup Lightroom Catalog Automatically

Automatic backups of your photography files mean you do not have to constantly think about your Lightroom backup catalog. Depending on your preferences, you can set Lightroom to create a backup of your catalog at automatic intervals, allowing you to spend more time focusing on your work. These automatic backups help to ensure you always have a second copy of your working files in Lightroom.

Take the following steps to schedule automatic backups of your Lightroom catalog:

  1. Within Lightroom, locate your Catalog Settings menu.
  2. From this menu, find the Backup-Catalog option in the General Catalog Settings menu.
  3. Choose the frequency option that best suits your needs:
    • “Every Time Lightroom Exits” creates a backup each time you close the application, ensuring all your changes are consistently backed up.
    • “Once a Day, When Exiting Lightroom” makes a new Lightroom catalog backup just the first time you exit Lightroom each calendar day. Only one backup is created per day regardless of how many times you close the program.
    • “Once a Week, When Exiting Lightroom” creates a backup of your catalog once a week when you exit the program.
    • “Once a Month, When Exiting Lightroom” makes a new Lightroom catalog backup each month upon closing the program.
  4. Click the “OK” button to apply your new backup settings. The Lightroom files will be backed up based on the settings you chose.

How to Manage Lightroom Catalog Backups

As you are planning how to backup Lightroom photos, you will also need to know how to manage these Lightroom catalog backups. You may find you need to change the location of your backed-up Lightroom catalog or create a secondary backup in a different location. You can also change the names of the backup Lightroom catalog or merge Lightroom catalogs into one.

How to Change Lightroom Catalog Location

The default location of your backup Lightroom catalog varies slightly based on whether your computer is Windows or a Mac. On a Mac, the Lightroom catalog location for backups on your computer will be within your user files by default. They will automatically be stored in the “Backups” folder that is under “Lightroom” in your “Pictures” folder. On a Windows computer, backups are stored by default to the C: drive, under your user files, under the structure of “Pictures,” “Lightroom” and “Backups.”

black starry sky couple portraits

Image by ShootDotEdit Wedding Pro, Gold Hat Photography

In both cases, each backup folder will be labeled with the date and time the Lightroom backup was created. The default locations may not work for your individual file naming and storage system, or you may want to save a specific catalog backup to a different location. Either way, it is possible to change a Lightroom catalog location for backups of your photography.

  1. Within Lightroom, locate your Catalog Settings menu.
  2. From this menu, find the Backup-Catalog option in the General Catalog Settings menu.
  3. Find the settings for the Backup Folder.
  4. Navigate to and select the folder/location where you want the backup file to be stored.
  5. Click “OK” to change Lightroom catalog location.

You can change the Lightroom catalog location for both manual backups you initiate and automatic backups that are scheduled in Lightroom. This gives you control over how your Lightroom backup catalogs are stored, whether it is a location on your computer, on a separate drive or on a local network.

How to Use Lightroom Rename Catalog

Although you can complete many file management tasks, even for your catalog backups, in Lightroom, changing file names must be done outside of the program. You can, however, use the information provided in Lightroom to rename the catalog to better fit your needs and your filing system.

Locate the Lightroom backup catalog on your computer.

Here are the steps to take to locate the Lightroom backup catalog on your computer:

  1. In Lightroom, find the Catalog Settings menu.
  2. Select the “General” tab from the Catalog Settings menu.
  3. Find the Location in the information on this tab.
  4. Click on the “Show button” to open the folder on your computer.
  5. Close Lightroom completely before renaming the backup catalog.

Identify the files to be renamed.

Both the main catalog file and related files must be renamed.

The files you need to rename will be:

  1. Lightroom Catalog.lrcat
  2. Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata
  3. Lightroom Catalog Smart Previews.lrdata

Rename the Lightroom backup catalog files.

Right-click on the name of the file to be renamed and click on “Rename.”

Edit the name to the new name that you want to use.

Files can be given any name you would like, with the following rules:

  1. The main file name must be the same for all 3.
  2. “Previews” and “Smart Previews” should remain at the end of those files’ names.

How to Merge Lightroom Catalogs

After you have become more comfortable with how to backup Lightroom catalog, you may find yourself wanting or needing to combine 2 separate Lightroom catalogs, the process of Lightroom merge catalogs. You may have ended up unintentionally creating multiple catalogs by editing a backup catalog instead of the original, or you may have purposefully created multiple Lightroom catalogs but now want to consolidate. In either case, merging Lightroom catalogs is possible but can be a complex process.


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Make a list of Lightroom catalogs and key information: 

  1. Identify the current Lightroom Catalog from Catalog Settings in Lightroom.
  2. Identify all other catalogs that need to be merged; each one that has metadata you want to keep.
  3. Make a note of catalog contents including the number of photos, and whether they have been duplicated or edited.

Make a plan for merging the Lightroom catalogs:

  1. Reconnect all files and folders that are missing.
  2. Determine whether you will keep one of each duplicate set or send both to the merged catalog.

Merge the Lightroom catalogs:

  1. From the File menu, select New Catalog.
  2. Merge each catalog from your list into the new catalog using “Import From Another Catalog.”

Finish the catalog merge process:

  1. Fix missing photos and previews.
  2. Clean up duplicates sent to the new Lightroom catalog.
  3. Clean up the Folders and Collections panel to reflect the new Lightroom merge catalog.

Tips and Best Practices

Learning the process of how to backup Lightroom catalog can seem both complicated and tedious when you are just learning. It is likely you will come across some unexpected challenges and questions as you backup your photos in Lightroom. The following tips and best practices will help you be more successful with Lightroom backup catalogs, which will bring greater success to your post-wedding workflow overall.

Watch Your File Storage Space

Regular backups of your working files in Lightroom are important, but those backed up files can take up a great deal of space on your computer or an external or network drive. In order to prevent excessive files from causing problems with your computer, or running out of space, you can regularly delete your oldest backup files. To store more backups with less space, you can also put them in a Zip folder to compress the file size of those backups.

Vary Your Backup Solutions

Having a backup of your Lightroom catalog on your computer is helpful in case something happens to the working catalog, but it does not prevent all potential loss. The 3-2-1 Backup Rule recommends having not two but three different copies of important files, which would certainly include wedding photos. The “2” in the rule stands for using 2 different media types to store those backups, and the “1” is that you should have 1 of those backups stored offsite; away from your home or photography business.

Stick to a Single Working Catalog

Although you can have multiple catalogs of current images within Lightroom, this can make file organization and management difficult. Keep it simple with a single Lightroom catalog from which you can more easily create regular backups and only use multiple catalogs on a temporary basis as needed.

A solid backup system is essential to any professional that involves digital work and file storage. With a better understanding of how to backup Lightroom catalog, you can design or improve your personal process for regularly backing up your wedding images.

We understand the importance of an effective backup system for file security and to demonstrate your professionalism as a wedding photographer. We also know there are several other features in Lightroom you can learn to assist you in your workflow. In our Online Training: Advanced Lightroom Skillsets, expert Jared Platt focuses on how to maximize Lightroom to create a fast and efficient post-wedding workflow. Click the banner below to access the Online Training and learn more from the industry’s Lightroom and workflow expert!

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