Today’s Question: I was surprised to read that you don’t recommend keeping backup copies of the Lightroom Classic catalog that are older than six months. I understand recovering from such an old backup means you will have lost all work done in the last six months. But isn’t that better than losing everything?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Part of the reason I don’t feel the need to retain very old backup copies of my Lightroom Classic catalog is that the vast majority of the metadata that I care about most is preserved with my original photos, for which I maintain multiple up-to-date backups.
More Detail: I highly recommend enabling the option to write metadata updates directly to your photos, so updates made in Lightroom Classic are stored both with your photos as well as in your catalog. Among other things, this provides a good recovery option should you ever lose your Lightroom Classic catalog for any reason.
If you have enabled the option to save metadata to the source photos, recovering from a catastrophic loss of your catalog is quite simple. You just create a new catalog and import all your existing photos to that catalog. If your photos are stored in one location (such as on an external hard drive that contains all your photos) you can perform a single import from that drive and be back up and running.
It is important to keep in mind that if you create a new catalog and import your existing photos that have had the metadata saved to them, you will not retain all information that had been contained in your original catalog. There are some features specific to Lightroom Classic that can only be saved within the catalog, not to the metadata for your photos. This includes collections, virtual copies, pick and reject flags, and the history list in the Develop module.
However, with this approach you would retain all standard metadata (and the folder structure) for all your photos. You would therefore still have all your keywords, star ratings, key labels, and other standard metadata updates. This approach also preserves the adjustment settings from the Develop module, even though those can be thought of as specific to Lightroom Classic.
To enable having metadata updates written to the source image files in addition to the catalog, go to the Catalog Settings dialog by choosing Edit > Catalog Settings on Windows or Lightroom Classic > Catalog Settings on Macintosh from the menu. On the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog turn on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox. Lightroom Classic will then write standard metadata out to all existing photos, and will apply future updates to the photos as well.