WARNING: Backing Up Your Lightroom Catalog DOES NOT Backup Your Photos

At my seminar last week in Salt Lake City (great folks there, by the way — had a blast!), I was talking with a gentleman and he told me his photos were backed up already because he backs-up his Lightroom catalog once a week. Ack! Another guy there thought the same thing — that backing up your Lightroom Catalog also backs up the photos you have in Lightroom.

Backing up your Lightroom catalog DOES NOT backup your photos. These are two separate processes.

Your Lightroom catalog is simply a database of edits you’ve made to your images and a collection of thumbnails of those images. It’s a list of your sorting and organization, but that’s it. Backing up this catalog is important (and to a separate hard drive I might add), because if your computer ever had a serious crash and your hard drive died, or your computer gets damaged or stolen, you’d be starting over from scratch in Lightroom, but that backup of your catalog does not include any actual photos.

Above: When you Quit Lightroom, this Back Up Catalog window appears. Hit the Choose button to choose a location to save your Lightroom catalog, and I would recommend saving to an external hard drive, or to Dropbox (as I have here) or a cloud backup. 

After you’ve backed up your Lightroom catalog, you need to back up your photos separately, and I would recommend:

(1) Putting your photos all on an external hard drive

(2) Buy a 2nd external hard drive as a 2nd backup of all those same images (ideally in a different location. That way if your house burns down or you get robbed, you still have a backup offsite. I keep one drive at the office, and a 2nd at home, and I sync them up once-a-month).

(3) I would have a third backup in The Cloud (I use Backblaze.com) because if your area experiences a natural disaster (ask folks in Houston, South Florida, New England Coast, Louisiana), you’d lose all your photos in both locations – home and office – at once.

So, most importantly — make a backup of the photos on your computer. Today if possible. And get a 2nd backup. Hard drive dies. Always. Especially when it’s the least opportune time possible, so protect yourself with a backup of your entire photo collection. Then get to backing up your Lightroom catalog.

Hope that helps you sleep better at night. :)

Only 10 more days ‘till the Photoshop World Conference! Whoo Hoo!!!
Even though we’re only 10-days away, people are signing up every single day — you can too, and join us in Orlando, May 31 – June 2nd. Tons of Lightroom training every day of the conference. Details/tickets here. 

Here’s wishing you a great Monday, and a kick-butt week!



  1. I would recommend saving to an external hard drive, or to Dropbox (as I have here) or a cloud backup.

    What’s the difference? Dropbox is obviously a cloud storage service, and you can use it for file backups, which is what you are doing here.

    1. Samir, in my opinion, Dropbox is not a cloud backup solution. Dropbox is file replication on the cloud. If you delete a folder on one of the computers (that Dropbox is monitoring) that folder will be deleted on all your computers. If some malware modifies your files, Dropbox will sync those changes to the other computers. Cloud backup is a whole different beast with other options.

  2. This backup warning should be repeated over and over as many people have the feeling that after they imported the images into Lightroom, they can delete them from the hard drive, and that’s totally incorrect. Make sure you include a cloud backup solution into your workflow. There are many options out there at different price points.

    1. I always thought “Import” was the wrong word – it implies the files you’ve identified were being brought IN, vs what was really happening which was being put in a separate table and indexed for access… maybe “Listing” or “Identify Files” … neither here nor there now, but shows how important clear thinking is in product design – for both explaining what is happening vs what someone might assume is going on….

      1. It’s like how Scott often says the “Basic” panel should be called the “Essentials” panel…..

  3. Scott,

    I’m sure I am missing something simple in the answer, but if you are backing up photos to a cloud-based service, why the second external drive backup?

    Also, how large can we expect the .lrcat backup file to typically be? Trying to find the best backup location where it will fit best.

  4. If someone is too lazy or lacking in literacy to read and understand the VERY clear note on the backup catalog dialog, what makes you think they’ll read and understand this much longer article that tells them the exact same thing?

    1. I would say “authority”. Many people don’t read the manuals, dialog boxes, etc. Suddenly someone they respect and follow tells them something that they should have known in the first place, and they learn it right there. Scott being such a great author and instructor has that power and authority.

      1. Sorry if I hurt your feelings, but that sounds like a dictatorship to me. The will to learn and understand things in the external world must come from within. Man is free at the instant he wants to be. But more often than not, the external world forces itself on us.

      2. Samir, I’m old enough not to have my feelings hurt by someone on the internet, specially someone that I don’t even know :) You’re free to express your opinion as much as I’m free not to agree with it. That does not mean one of us is wrong and the other is right.

  5. Scott,
    Great post!! I wish you would do a class on kelbyone in reference to backing up using different devices such as Synology and Drobo. I have a Synology but not sure if I am using it to its fullest potential.

  6. I bought Lightroom in 2011 as a film shooter to catalog my images that I have had scanned. As a software developer, I view Lightroom as a database for images. I love the concept of Lightroom being able to catalog images on storage media and the ability to use keywords and other search criteria to find photos.
    Yea, I would say that the Lightroom catalog backup only backs up the Lightroom database and not the individual image files.

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