Let’s face it. Hardware failure does happen, and not just to other people. I’ve had 2 hard drives die on me in the past and a third one is acting a little weird lately.
The beauty of digital photography is that you don’t need a dedicated storage room to put away all your archives and film rolls. Everything fits inside a tiny hard drive connected to your computer. But these HDDs are not 100% fail-proof and within minutes, you could be losing all your stored images and data. Of course there are ways to recover the lost information, but these services often cost a lot of money and you are not guaranteed to recover everything. Don’t rely on that.
One of the questions I get asked a lot is “How do I back up all my images and my Lightroom catalog?”. I’ll explain below how I do it and what services I use, but first, I’d really like to stress the importance of having an efficient backup plan. Don’t ignore it and do it now if you don’t have backups of your work.
In this post I will be focusing only about backing up Lightroom in the cloud (online) and I’ll assume you already do a good job of backing up your images on multiple HDDs. Don’t keep everything in one single location.
So let’s jump in and start by taking the easiest first step: backing up your Lightroom catalog with the provided tools inside the software.
I – Backing up your Lightroom catalog:
First question: what is a catalog (.lrcat files)? I’ve often seen people confuse a LR catalog with “the entire collection of images”. Stop right there!
A catalog is basically a database of your images, created by Lightroom, that contains all the changes you’ve applied to your photos, such as metadata, flags, stars, attributes, develop settings, etc… If you’ve spent hours tagging and editing your photos, all the edits and tags will be saved in the catalog.
It is VERY IMPORTANT to understand that a catalog DOES NOT contain your images. They are stored in a location you’ve specified and Lightroom just creates a database of previews so you could work on your photos in a non-destructive way.
The first thing to do is allow Lightroom to backup your catalog regularly. To do this, go to “Catalog Settings” (Edit > Catalog Settings for Windows or Lightroom > Catalog Settings for Mac OS).
As you can see, this window shows you where your catalog is stored (I’ll talk about it further down) and the frequency of your backup.
In the Backup dropdown, choose one of the options and click Save. I personally recommend “Once a day” or “Every time Lightroom exits“. This might seem overkill but you always have the option to skip the backup if you haven’t made any significant changes anyway. In any case, never choose “Never”!
Now, we’ll need to help Lightroom decide where to put those backups. It seems that there’s no other way to do this than to exit Lightroom. Once you try to exit, you’ll have this window pop-up:
See? I told you that you have the option to skip.
You’ll probably notice on your computer that the “Backup Folder:” is the same as where your catalog resides, which is pretty stupid of Lightroom. Never put your backups in the same location as your original catalog. It defeats the whole purpose.
Click on “Choose” and decide where you want to put your backups.
Now since we’re talking about backing up in the Cloud, this is where different services come in handy. There’s a huge variety of cloud backup services so pick up the one you prefer. Here are the ones I recommend:
- Dropbox: Probably the most famous and widely used one. I used to use it for my backups but I’ve recently switched since they are now one of the most expensive ones compared to what all other services offer.
- Google Drive: Since I live in the Google environment (Gmail, Android, Google Docs, G+, etc..), I’ve just signed up for an extra 100GB with GDrive and I store all my backups there. You can see in the image above that I’ve created a folder called “Lightroom Backups” inside of Drive and all my backup goes there. GDrive offers 15GB free when you sign up (you already have a Drive account if you use Gmail).
- Copy: This is one of the newcomers in the field and they’re doing a great job with competitive prices and fast uploads. Plus, if you click on the link (referral link) and sign up, we both get an extra 5GB for free.
By having your backup separate from your original catalog location, and synchronized to to cloud, you’ll feel much safer and won’t be afraid of losing all your precious editing.
On a side note, I’d like to mention that, as you backup regularly, it’s worth getting into the habit of going back to your backup folder and deleting the older ones. As they stack up, they’ll start taking a lot of space (especially if your photo collection is growing), so go ahead and delete the older ones and keep at least the 2 or 3 most recent backups.
So now you’re thinking that once you’ve done this process, all is well and everything is backed up? Wrong!
This process above backs up your LR catalog only. What is not backed up yet?
- Lightroom settings
- Templates (Web, Print)
- All your images
II – Backing up settings, presets, plugins and templates:
Settings, presets and templates are saved inside the Lightroom folder (where it is installed). Plugins are saved wherever you decided to save them. I recommend creating a “Plugins” folder inside the Lightroom folder and put everything there (so you don’t end up with plugins all over the different drives).
Lightroom doesn’t offer a way to backup these folders from inside the software. You’ll have to do it manually.
Go to your Lightroom folder, copy the newly created “plugin” folder and the “Lightroom Settings” folder (check inside, it contains presets and templates) and back them up in one of the above mentioned cloud services. You’ll have to remember to do that regularly though.
There is another way that is much easier and safer in my opinion. I usually use 2-3 different cloud services: one contains my backups and the other contains… my Lightroom Catalogs.
If you scroll back up to the Catalog Settings image, you’ll see that my Lightroom location is in Dropbox. Why? Because every time I use a LR catalog, it syncs automatically in Dropbox. Most cloud services have the option to go through saved file version up to 30 days, so if anything ever happens (like a corrupted catalog or files), I can always check the older file version and recover it.
Another advantage of having your catalog saved online is that if you ever format your computer, you can just reinstall a fresh Lightroom and point it to use the catalog in Dropbox and you’ll have all your edits back again!
A third advantage is when you work on different computers, your work is constantly synced and up-to-date, all you need to do is unplug your HDD containing your images and plug it to your other computer and the same edits are all applied.
III – Backing up your images:
As I mentioned before, Lightroom doesn’t back up your images. It just creates a database of previews on which you can work on in a non-destructive way (as in it doesn’t touch your images).
Previews are created on-the-go (or during import). Is it important to back them up? In my opinion, no. Don’t even worry about them. They can be recreated at will whenever you want to, so don’t waste time and space backing them up.
However, if you’ve saved your catalog in the cloud like I’ve mentioned above, you won’t need to worry anyway since they’re already synced.
What about images?
Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of having an efficient backup workflow. I usually have all my images backed up on 2 separate external HDDs and all my edited images are also uploaded on my Smugmug website.
But having ALL your images and especially RAW files also backed up on the web is essential since an accident can happen (fire, flood, burglary, etc..) and you could lose all your different HDDs altogether.
What I recommend is to have a cloud service that automatically backs up your files in the background without you having to do it manually. Here are a few that are well known:
- Crashplan: This is the one I use and strongly recommend. Crashplan, unlike other services below, does not throttle your bandwidth after a certain amount downloaded, and most importantly, they keep all your file versions forever (instead of 30 days like most).
Keep in mind that your initial backup will take a very long time (mine took 3 months to backup all my essential files and images) but after that, it will keep backing up regularly every day. This solution is important not only for images, but also for all your computer files and documents.
You can basically backup your entire computer to the cloud (and you should).
I hope this helps and don’t hesitate to ask any questions about backing up in the cloud. Feel free to share if you find this tutorial useful and don’t forget to check my Tutorial section for some Lightroom and editing tips.
Credit: Header photo under Creative Commons, created by FutUndBeidl.