Best practices for finally taking care of that annoying pop up!

Ever find yourself in this situation?
You go to quit Lightroom and this pops up … Do you want to back up your catalog?

Lightroom Back Up Catalog popup dialog
Do I want to back up my Lightroom Catalog? Um, yeah … I think so???

Let’s demystify what that pop up message really means and understand the best practice to back up your Lightroom catalog.

First, this blog post applies only to Lightroom Classic because the other version of Lightroom (aka Lightroom Cloud, aka Lightroom Desktop) automatically stores all your photos on Adobe’s cloud servers.

Contents of the default installation folder for Lightroom
Contents of the Lightroom Catalog Folder

Second, at its heart, Lightroom is a database. This helps us understand that any time you complete this backup, it is a snapshot of your catalog’s database file at that moment. If your database gets corrupted and you have a backup, you can use the backup, which contains all your edits and organization of your photos.

The backup will be of the .lrcat file. This is the file that holds all the metadata information about your photos: where they are stored, the date/time the photo was taken, keywords, develop settings and much, much more. Your photos are only linked to the lrcat and stored independently. So, they are NOT backed up when you back up the catalog. 

Your photos remain in their original location on your hard drive and backing them up is a different process. See our blog post about backing up using the industry standard 3-2-1 Backup Strategy.

What’s In A Lightroom Backup?

Let’s look at the “Backups” folder, usually located in the same folder as your Lightroom catalog. When we peer in, we see subfolders, named in reverse date [YYYY-MM-DD] and a timestamp, indicating when the backup was done. Inside, there is a compressed .lrcat file that is a cloned copy of your Lightroom catalog file. 

Listing of the contents of the Lightroom backup folder
Contents of the Lightroom backup folder

Lightroom keeps only this file, as all of the other files it uses (helper, previews, etc.) aren’t critical. The idea here is you can move the backup to right where its predecessor is located. Lightroom will recreate any other helper and preview files as needed. If all else was functioning normally, then you would be able to pick up where you left off, from that point in time when the backup was made.

Personally, we’ve never experienced a corrupted catalog [knock on wood]. However, I have used catalog backups when working with clients to help them recover or correct other problems. Hence, we do recommend that all Classic users back up your Lightroom catalog, following the best practices outlined below.

Best practices for Backing Up:

  • Set Lightroom to back up, “Every time Lightroom Exits.”
    • You can set this under the Catalog Settings OR whenever you see the backup dialog box. 
Lightroom preference settings
Lightroom Catalog Settings for Back Up
  • When you get the pop up, think to yourself:
    Have I done significant work that it would be bad if I lost those changes?
    • If you haven’t done significant work during your session, then go ahead and skip the backup at this time.
    • If you have done significant work, then, by all means, click the blue “Back up” button.
Lightroom Back Up Catalog popup dialog
Lightroom Catalog Back Up Pop-up
  • In the Back Up Catalog options window, be sure to check the boxes to “Test integrity” and “Optimize catalog” before backing up.
    • It’s a good idea to let Lightroom check itself internally.
    • This also assures that the catalog you are backing up is not compromised.
  • As you back up your Lightroom catalog over time you will notice that these files will accumulate. And, it is safe to delete the older versions. Since your catalog changes over time it is unlikely very old backups will be useful. We suggest keeping a few month’s worth, no more.
    • However, if disk space allows and if you are someone who likes to hold onto things, then you can keep them.
    • You can also save disk space by offloading the backups to an external drive.
  • Finally, follow the recommended 3-2-1 Backup strategy to back up your computer AND your photos:
    • 3 copies, 2 local and 1 offsite.
    • For the offsite backup, we recommend Backblaze as the best cloud backup service for most individual users.

If you have any questions about this, feel free to leave a comment below OR reach out to us. We’re always happy to help!

P.S. If you have ever wondered about the difference between “back up” and backup,” here is a great explanatory article! Backup or Back up – What’s the Difference?