The Lightroom catalog is an integral part of your image processing workflow. There are a lot of pieces to the software, but a lot of questions arise about this one part specifically. While certainly not exhaustive, here at least are answers to six common Lightroom catalog questions.
- What is a Lightroom Catalog?
- The catalog is your database.
It is NOT your pictures and your pictures are not in it.
Consider a recipe book.
Inside your recipe book or your container for your recipe index cards are the formulas to make those recipes in your kitchen. However, the raw materials to make those recipes (the images) are not in the book (the catalog). Your pictures are stored on your computer or other storage device.
The catalog is your database about your images, how you've labeled them, flagged them, numbered them, ranked them, processed them in the develop module, all that information is stored in the catalog.
- Where does the Catalog Live?
- The physical location of your catalog will be listed on the catalog dialog box.
Find your catalog settings: Look in your “Lightroom” menu (in mac, or Edit->Catalog Settings in PC). This dialog box will indicate the location of your catalog that you set up on installation of the software.
It's actually quite important to know the physical location of your catalog.
This folder containing your Lightroom catalog should be included in any backup routine you run on your system. This is your image database and should be respected and treated with the utmost of care.
I explained how to setup your catalog location and backup schedule in a previous post.
- How many Catalogs do I need?
- My Lightroom catalog contains over 93,000 images. If you don't have any specific reason for any more than one catalog, then just use one.
Here's why I have more than one: I have a teaching catalog that contains all the images I use when doing classes or workshops. It's a very specific set of images for specific reasons and because there are so few images in it, it loads super quick in class. I have a catalog for my portrait clients. Because it's work photos and not my personal collection, I keep it in a separate catalog as well.
- What's the exclamation point in my Catalog?
- The exclamation point has shown up and your pictures say “missing” or “offline”. Your images aren't gone, it's most likely just that you've renamed them. If you rename an image or a folder or move anything outside the Lightroom program, Lightroom will not know you've made that change and the connection or link between the database (the Lightroom interface) and your actual data (the image) will be broken. The exclamation point is simply a heads up to you that something has changed and you'll have to help Lightroom find out what happened (locate your images.)
Here's the fix: In the left hand file/folder navigation menu, find the folder that is indicating it's got a broken link. Right click on the folder and choose “Find Missing Folder”. Then, navigate to where you think you may have made the changes, and then choose that folder. Lightroom will discover it's images, re-link and the exclamation point will go away.
Tip: Use the Lightroom interface to make changes to your image locations. Use it as though you were using your computers filing system (finder/explorer) to move things around or rename. Anything you do in Lightroom happens in real time on your computer. Make a new habit of using Lightroom as your only image tool.
- How do I backup my Catalog?
- Hard drives crash.
Images get lost.
We know we have to backup our data.
We want to have a minimum 3 copies at all times. One on your main computer, one on an external hard drive and one offsite somewhere. An example of offsite could be an online backup and storage area, dropbox, google drive, amazon s3, or even an external hard drive stored offsite in a bank safety deposit box.
It's critical to backup your Lightroom catalog as well as your images because all of the image data you assigned to your images over the years you've used it would be gone. Your recipe book of favorite flavors and ingredients, years of rating, tagging, processing would be lost. Your catalog is equally important as your images.
Backup Your Catalog: Set Lightroom to backup your catalog automatically, each time you exit the program (recommended). Find your catalog settings under your “Lightroom” menu (in mac, or Edit->Catalog Settings on a PC) and chose from the selector box in the catalog backup section. Any time you close Lightroom, you will be prompted to backup or skip. Backup if you've made any changes, and skip if you just opened the program to check something quick.
Backup Catalog Location: Just as you store your backup images on an external drive (outside your computer so they're separate), you'll want to backup your catalog to an external drive as well. Your main catalog is stored on your computer, as we found in tip #2 above. This is a backup of that catalog (as a little service for you).
Virtual Offsite Backup & Restore: We use Backblaze offsite backup. For $5 a month, our computers are backed up in real time to a secure offsite storage area that we can access in case of a critical failure of a piece or all of our data storage. If you ever need to restore a single file or the contents of your entire hard drive, you know that the $5 a month you spend on Backblaze is giving you piece of mind.
- How many backups are enough?
- I recommend having about six backups, just so you can go back a few versions in case of any sort of corruption that might occur. My main catalog is 3gb, so having 25 backups can eat up a good chunk of space fairly quickly. You'll want to browse to your backup folder and delete all but the last 6 or so.
The Lightroom Catalog is a database for your images. It records keywords you've tagged your images with, how you've processed them, organized them or rated them. The database is stored somewhere locally on your computer and should be included in any regular backup scheme. You probably never need more than one catalog and when you do back it up, you should keep at least a half a dozen of your most recent.
Lightroom Alternative: I've reviewed what I believe to be one of the best lightroom alternatives currently available. I encourage you to check it out before making ANY decisions about your photo editing software choices.