How to: Backing up your Lightroom in the Cloud


How to backing up Lightroom in the cloud

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).

Catalog Settings in Lightroom

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:

Backup on Exit in Lightroom

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
  • Presets
  • Templates (Web, Print)
  • Plugins
  • Previews
  • 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).
  • Backblaze
  • Carbonite
  • Mozy

 

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.


  • AbdiYohan

    Thanks for the post! It’s a good read. :)

  • Wes Nations

    Hey, thanks for this — very helpful :)

  • Kristy

    Wow, I don’t know that it is easy to do lighten up picture. Thanks.

    Regards,
    Kristy of http://www.migrationexpert.com

  • Great tip! I occasionally back my catalog files up to the external hard drives I use for backing up my photos but setting it up to save to my Copy account is an easier solution.

  • snoopyq

    It pays to practice a partial restore too. Understand how you import catalogs, templates, & images to a new/replaced computer or hdd.

  • This is one of the best, and easiest to understand, tutorials I’ve ever seen on photo backup methods and workflow.

  • Matt Pontin

    That is great – can I just ask why you don’t use Crashplan for the catalogue and settings too? I don’t use the Lightroom catalogue backup option and have Crashplan set to keep all previous copies of everything. Anything wrong with this approach?

    • Hey Matt.
      Actually, I do use Crashplan to backup literally everything on my computer. So yes, Catalogue and Settings are also backed up.
      However, I don’t rely only on Crashplan because it’s pretty slow at syncing everything (because it’s basically backing up my entire computer).
      Nothing wrong with that approach, but it’s better to be on the safe side :)

  • JBedford

    Am I alone in wishing that Adobe had a direct ‘backup to cloud’ link within Lightroom? I would pay an extra 5 bucks a month for the convenience of not having to dick around with a 3rd party solution…

  • Meghan Miller

    Thank you so much for this tutorial! I just got a new computer and when I look at my Google drive on my old computer, my backups are there is a folder “Lightroom backups” that I created. When I look at Google drive online or my new computer’s downloaded Google drive they are not there- any idea why?

    • Thanks Meghan!
      About the syncing, are you sure that Google Drive finished syncing everything? Catalogs and backups are usually pretty big and it may take some time before the syncing ends.
      Also make sure that you have enough space in your Drive online, that you didn’t fill up your quota.

      Hope that helps!

  • Elena Denny

    When you did your initial backup to CrashPlan, how does it affect the day-to-day of your computer? Do you need to keep it on at all times and just not exit out of CrashPlan?

    • Hey Elena,
      Yes, I kept Crashplan running all the time in the background and it didn’t affect my usage at all.
      It usually starts backing up when your computer goes idle, and pauses when you’re active. You can also set specific times (like at night) for backing up if you’re concerned about it.

  • Pascal

    Ok hear me out peeps. i’m a photographer and i deal with a huge amour of raw images. I’ve reached the point where using multiple external HD to back up Lightroom catalogues containing my processed raw images does not cut it anymore for me and i am now facing a storage crisis. I’ve heard positive feedback about cloud storage and decided to look into the various available cloud storage on the net.
    After searching various forums the web, 3 names associated with cloud storage for photography come up regularly: Blackblaze, Crashplan and Carbonite. There are lots of positive feedback for these 3 cloud services. However, i’m not really sure if they will be useful to me because of the way their backup us being done.

    ideally for me, i would like to backup any Lightroom Catalogue together with their raw files after i’ve finished editing them in LR. Initially, once i have finished with a catalogue, it was backed up on my external drive and the original one was deleted to make space for future catalogues. This process would carry on until the external HD is full and would start again when a new HD would be bought for backups. So this little process has already costs me 6 1TB external HDs and we all know that external HDs don’t last forever and they were kind of pilling up on my table.

    So what i’ve read so far, and please correct me if i’m wrong here, these cloud storage mentioned above , they all offer to back up your whole computer, which in my case i do not need as my back up is very specific or the least i will be backing up a specific folder containing all my processed LR catalogues containing the processed raw images.

    I’ve also read, and again if i’m wrong please bear with me, that once your whole computer is fully backed up and if you delete a folder, this folder who is already stored in the cloud will be deleted after 30days. Meaning you always need to have you original files on the computer….hence creating another storage crisis on the computer itself…To me this defies the purpose of backing up your files in the cloud.. Why do you need to still have the original files on your computer when it has already been backed up in the clouds. In my opinion, the idea of backing up your files into the clouds is 1) to have your files safely stored in a secured location and 2) to make room for more space on your computer…

    So can somebody please shed some light on this topic for and help me out with my storage crisis.
    Thanks

    • Thanks for your comment Pascal,
      Ok, so obviously having multiple external HDDs is not the optimum solution. It’s cheap, works fast but hard drives fail and you don’t want that.
      Of the 3 cloud providers you’ve mentioned, I use Crashplan.
      I’m going to clear 2 misconceptions:
      – Crashplan doesn’t need to backup your entire computer. You can specify any folder you want and you’re done. Having your entire computer backed up is useful, but it’s not necessary for your workflow. So if you want to backup only RAW files and LR catalog, you can do that (and it’ll be much faster).
      – Yes, most cloud providers delete a folder after it’s gone from your computer. But Crashplan doesn’t. They’ll keep it as long as you wish, even if you’ve deleted it from your computer.

      Now, I’m sorry this post needs serious updating, which I will get to soon. There is also another option which can work: Amazon Cloud Drive. It costs very little (or free if you are a Prime member) and it backs up Photos and RAW files. Problem is, it’s not automated, so you have to do it manually (drag/drop folders. It doesn’t sync).

      So, you can always go for Crashplan, which is reliable but also slow to back up, or Amazon Cloud Drive, which can back up all your images (RAW or not). And both allow you to safely delete your images from your drives to make room. A word of warning though, if you ever need the images back again, the downloading process is usually slow. It’s meant for archiving.

      Hope it helps.

      • Pascal

        Spot on Daniel et merci pour le conseil. I’ll definitely consider crashplan, mostly for archiving as you suggested.

  • Brian Murph

    I’d like to suggest a very good backup solution which is the guys at Enveloc. We have been using them for 2 years now and the backup process is seamless and easy to setup. We maintain onsite backups and then do remote backups to Enveloc. Everything is setup on automation and if an error occurs you are notified. In 2 years it has been smooth sailing. Its worth looking into if your worried about data.

    https://enveloc.com/index.php