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My Lightroom 2 Backup Strategy

Related: A more recent post about archive and backup in Lightroom.

With this morning’s comment from martie asking about a crashed hard drive, I got to thinking about making my own Lightroom 2 backup plan a bit more automated and reliable. My general approach is to periodically copy my catalog file and image directories to an external hard drive, but there’s been nothing systematic about it until now.

I’ve previously described a bit of my Lightroom file structure, noting that I import new photos into a single directory per import. As part of a strategy to save space on the MacBook where I do my actual work, I periodically move those folders to an external hard disk currently named Grundle. This is simply a matter of dragging the folder, in the left-hand directories pane of Lightroom, from one hard drive to another.

Lightroom display of multiple drives

While this copying step is manual, the rest of the system is now automated, thanks to this tutorial at MacResearch and a bash script by Aidan Clark. The bash script took just a bit of tinkering to work with Lightroom’s catalog file, which by default will have rsync-breaking spaces in it, and to perform the second backup from the external volume to the iMac. I’ll post those specific and very minor modifications if there is interest.

Here’s the final result: Using OS X’s launchd tool, whenever I mount Grundle on my MacBook, whether via network or direct firewire connection, my Lightroom 2 catalog file is copied to Grundle using rsync. And, whenever I mount Grundle on the upstairs iMac, a similar combination of launchd and rsync copies both the catalog file and the image directories from Grundle to the iMac. This means that in the course of regular use of my two Macs and that external drive, both my Lightroom catalog and folders full of images get backed up.

One caveat to this system is that the backup of the image folders still involves that manual step of moving them from the laptop to Grundle. I could automate this the same way the catalog backup is done, but that could potentially mean trying to backup a gig or more at a time over the wifi network — a time- and bandwidth- consuming process that isn’t really necessary. Now, the obvious down-side is that the newest photos I’ve taken are always the ones most vulnerable to data loss, and that’s obviously not a highly desirable thing. But I’m satisfied with my current workflow of moving folders to Grundle generally when I’m done working with that set of images. I’ll continue to think about this situation and may come up with some additional redundancy for that stage of processing.

Update: Okay, I buckled. A bit more tinkering and I now have my current folders of raw images copied to Grundle. After I relocate the folder using Lightroom, the folder will disappear from the backup directory, so I don’t have redundant backup files stacking up anywhere. Nice and clean, and everything’s safe.

Update the second: One item I neglected to mention in the original post was the automated backup feature built in to Lightroom: Available in the catalog settings menu (alt-cmd-,) this feature performs scheduled backups of your catalog file only, to a location you specify, and can be set to run a backup on any of several schedules. My process above includes allowing that backup to run weekly — it never hurts to have a little more failsafe security. The benefit of automating getting that backup to another hard drive is one more important layer of keeping safe your data.