I'm a newish Lightroom user and my SD card is getting full, so I'd like to format it. However, before I do that, I want to back up my Lightroom library, including originals, edits, catalogue, etc. to my external hard drive.

How do I actually do that? The adobe help says

Lightroom allows you to schedule regular catalog backups when you exit the software. Backups executed from Lightroom include only the catalog file. You must independently back up your edited photos and anything exported from Lightroom.

which doesn't sound very useful to me. What use could I have for a backup of the "catalogue file" if that doesn't include the actual photographs? What I want is to back up everything, so that if my laptop's hard drive fails I can get it all back with a minimum of fuss. I don't want to worry about manually backing up differet things to different locations. Is there a way within Lightroom to do that?


3 Answers 3



Make sure to back up both your picture files, and your Lightroom catalogue. Both are important if you want to keep your pictures and the edits you made to them.


Lightroom itself does not pack a full backup solution unfortunately, so you need to take care of that yourself. The two most important things in Lightroom to backup are:

  • The catalogue
  • The actual Photos

There are a few other minor things, like saved presets for editing and such, but I don't worry about these here.


The catalogue is just a big relational SQLite Database. It contains references (paths) to your actual photo files, and the Edits, Keywords, etc. you applied to them. Most of this information can also be saved to so-called XMP-Sidecar files, but nevertheless, its very important to have a backup of the catalogue. Otherwise, you could end up with a lot of work.

The purpose Catalog-Backup-Feature you mentioned is to have a copy available, if the main one for some reason gets corrupted. In that case, you can open the backup copy and have everything available again.


Lightroom usually does not touch the actual photo files, and with Smart-Previews you don't even need to have access to the originals to edit them. But nevertheless, you should have multiple copies of your original files available in different locations.

Backup strategy

Now this depends a lot on your setup. If you have your Pictures and your catalogue in one folder, just copy that to your external harddrive (or use some script or tool to automate that), then you should be good to go if your harddrive fails.

With Lightroom it's also possible to have e. g. your older originals on some Network-Drive or NAS and having Smart-Previes. Newer Photos reside on your Laptops' drive - In that case you just need to make sure that you back up every location where Photos are stored.

Just make sure to also back up the catalogue, or you will loose all your edits!


In case anyone's still wondering...

Go to 'File' -> 'Export as catalog...' (or something to that end, I'm using the German version of LR).

Tadaaa! All the pics are being backed up, including a "new" catalog for those.


To my knowledge Lightroom only offers to backup pictures to a different folder on import. Its not a designed to backup/archive your pictures. At the very least I would recommend the 3-2-1 backup strategy. I would also recommend doing whole drive images of your hard drives, which are essentially snapshots of your hard drives that include everything: hidden files, pictures, catalog, and even system files. I use macrium reflect on windows and it does a great job.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I do back up my hard drives, but not all that often, and I wanted to do a manual backup of my photos before wiping my SD card, to make sure there would always be at least 2 copies of everything. I guess there's something in the design philosophy of Lightroom that I just don't understand - I would have thought backups (along with duplicate detection) would be one of the most basic features that anyone would expect in a photo management application. For now I'm just copying my whole Pictures folder, and hoping that Lightroom doesn't store anything anywhere else. \$\endgroup\$
    – N. Virgo
    Nov 12, 2016 at 4:59

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