Lightroom archiving and backup revisited

A while back I described my Lightroom 2 backup routine. A couple of recent blog posts around the web have given me some new things to think about with regard to backup and workflow.

Thomas Hawk writes about his workflow and Eric Scouten follows up with some thoughts. A core part of Thomas’s workflow is quick development of any and all keeper photos from a shoot and immediate export of those images to JPG. He re-synchronizes those JPGs with his Lightroom library and moves all the raw images offline (to a drobo; Jon at blurbomat extolls the drobo’s virtues, too) , and doesn’t apply keywords and such except to the finished JPGs.

Reacting to this, Eric notes a couple of things that get my attention (his emphasis):

  • The act of choosing what’s in and what’s out becomes an affirmative process rather than a process that’s about rejecting photos. Why not make the selection process a happy one?
  • This means the “selects” catalog is always in tip-top shape whenever I need to show someone my current work. Right now, the “main” catalog always contains some number of rough photos that haven’t been filtered out to the archive catalog.

By quickly moving from raw to selected and and “finished” JPG, the process builds the catalog of preferred images and gets the unused images out of the way. And applying keywords and other metadata only to the keepers dramatically reduces the overall metadata workload.

Where does this point me? I have a couple of thoughts:

  • Moving raw images offline, leaving only the JPGs readily-accessible, is a great way to impose some discipline over the “ooh, I might use that one someday” tendency. On the other hand, I’m not shooting in volume like Thomas is; while storage is an issue, there’s definitely a creative trade-off here. Until I shift my raw images to my network drive (usually about monthly), I’ll revisit a folder half a dozen times or more to see if there’s something interesting there that I didn’t see before. Thomas’s workflow, and that considered by Eric, are very different from mine though there is something appealing in it.
  • What this really opens up for me is a little bit of thinking about the intent and purpose of the photos that I take. Making sense of workflow and eventual archiving is a way to be conscientious of why I take photos. Is it because I’m an archivist? Is it for artistic purposes? Is it because I want to build a portfolio? I suppose I have a streak of all of those in me. I like the shooting itself, and I like the workup in Lightroom as well. So for me, it doesn’t quite make sense to workup photos quickly and move them offline.
  • However, it does make sense to develop a solid “keepers” collection as a sort of middle road; this collection gets updated frequently, but whether to keep those images as raw or JPG isn’t something I’ve quite sorted out.
  • What about those “someday” images? I need to consistently flag images with some potential and return to them regularly to re-evaluate.

Thoughts? How do you manage the possibility of future image development with your goals, limited creative time and storage space?

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.

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