Hard Drive Recovery


Today’s Question: I had dropped my external hard drive that held the Lightroom Classic catalog and photos and it was inoperable. The catalog is also on my laptop hard drive plus I had a backup of the inoperable external hard drive using Time Machine. Seagate notified me that they were finally able to retrieve the data and will send it on a new drive. Now what?! Any advice would be appreciated.

Tim’s Quick Answer: If you are able to restore from one of your backups, that would most likely be the best solution. When data is recovered from a damaged hard drive, the file and folder structure is often complete chaos compared to how the data was organized before the data recovery.

More Detail: It is obviously tremendously helpful that data can be recovered from a damaged hard drive. However, such data recovery can be quite expensive, and often results in a file and folder structure that in no way matches what the contents of the drive looked like before it was damaged.

Data recovery generally involves a rather complicated process of scanning the data storage areas of the drive multiple times. Files on a hard drive are often stored in data blocks that are not contiguous. This fragmented nature of data storage is only compounded over time as some files are deleted and other files are added. It is also quite possible that the recovered data will include duplicate copies of the original files.

Because of these issues, it is generally preferable to recover from a backup of your files, especially when it comes to the source image files.

The first thing you’ll want to do is identify the most recently updated version of your Lightroom catalog. This may be reasonably easy to find on the recovery drive, since you can search for the “lrcat” filename extension. Just be sure that all of the catalog files are intact within the folder that contains the “lrcat” file, such as the accompanying file(s) with the “lrdata” filename extension.

Once you have the latest copy of your Lightroom catalog, you can open that file with Lightroom to make sure it is working properly. At this point, of course, all of the source images will appear as missing.

The next step is to recover the source image files. If you had a recent backup, it will probably be easiest to restore from that backup, ideally to a new empty external hard drive. Make sure the new drive you restore to has the same drive letter (Windows) or volume label (Macintosh) as the original drive, and Lightroom will then be able to locate those photos on the new drive.

Depending on when the backup of your photos was performed, you may still be missing some of your photos. At this point, however, you would be able to search for those images on the recovery drive you receive as part of the data recovery process.