Catalog Backup Options

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Today’s Question: I used to perform my periodic catalog backups in Lightroom [Classic CC] by highlighting All Photographs in my catalog and using the Export as Catalog function. It was my not-very-clear belief that this was the only way to have an exact copy of my catalog that would function just like the original in the event the original was lost or corrupted.

More recently, I have taken to backing up by simply dragging and dropping the Lightroom folder from my main drive to my backup drive to copy it. Backing up this way seems to take less time than using Export as Catalog and to run more smoothly. I can’t see that there’s any difference in the result. Am I missing something?

Tim’s Quick Answer: When it comes to backing up your Lightroom catalog on a regular basis, I actually recommend using the built-in backup feature. It is also important to backup your photos, since that isn’t included in the catalog backup. The “Export as Catalog” command provides an option for backing up both the catalog and all of your photos as one big (and possibly time-consuming) process.

More Detail: The reason I recommend using Lightroom’s built-in catalog backup is that doing so includes the option (enabled by default) to check the integrity of the catalog and to optimize the catalog. This can help avoid (or get an early warning of) potential problems with the catalog file itself, such as corruption of the data file. By default Lightroom will prompt you to backup the catalog once per week, but you can also change the frequency or perform a backup on-demand at any time.

You can certainly drag-and-drop the folder that contains your Lightroom catalog to a backup location in order to copy the entire contents of that folder, including all of the previews associated with the images in your catalog. However, this is not the approach I would generally recommend. Instead, I would suggest including the hard drive where your catalog is stored as part of a general backup process.

The “Export as Catalog” option is not really intended as a backup solution, but since the result is a duplicate catalog, it can certainly be used for backup purposes. To backup all photos in your entire catalog you either need to make sure that no photos are selected before choosing the “Export as Catalog” command from the File menu, or that you have selected all photos from the All Photographs collection in the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module. Also, if you want to backup the photos themselves in addition to the catalog, you’ll want to be sure the “Export negative files” checkbox is checked. This will cause the source images to be copied to the selected location, along with a catalog containing all of the metadata for those images.

Of course, all of these various options can be combined as part of a thorough backup workflow. You can backup your catalog and photos as part of a normal backup workflow, you could certainly drag-and-drop the folder containing your catalog at any time to create an ad hoc backup of just the catalog, and you can use the “Export as Catalog” command to create a standalone catalog with copies of photos, either for your entire catalog or for a portion of your images.