Laura Shoe's Lightroom (and Occasionally Photoshop) Blog for Digital Photographers

Avoiding Lightroom-Generated Headaches and Heart Attacks

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I get emails from around the world  from people in panic-mode over Lightroom-related issues.  Some of these can be easily cured, but sadly, some are fatal.    I do consulting in-person and over the web and phone/Skype, so you can always contact me to help you work through your issues (sorry, yes, that was a blatant plug), but I thought I would recommend some preventative medicine first.  It is a chance for me to pull together some older posts that you might not otherwise come across.

Once you understand how Lightroom works you may think some of these are silly, but they are real misconceptions, and many real tears have been shed.  It is understandable, given that Lightroom works differently from other photo programs people have used.

1.  Your images don’t live in Lightroom, so please don’t think that just because you can “see” them there, that it is ok to go delete the originals from your hard drive.   What you see in Lightroom is Lightroom’s catalog.  It only has information about your images, including some jpeg snapshots of  them.   If the card catalog in the library had a snapshot of  a book’s front cover, does that mean that you could go throw away the physical book that is in the stacks?

In this blog post that I highly recommend you read, I talk more about the catalog concept using the public library analogy.

After reading the post, you now know that your images aren’t in Lightroom, they are in folders on your hard drive, but are you going crazy trying to figure out exactly where on your hard drive the new ones from your memory card imports are?    This is most likely because Lightroom’s Folders panel isn’t going to tell you unless you ask it to — and I think you should.  Here’s a post on this.

2.  Lightroom’s catalog contains all the work you have ever done to every single one of your images.   This means keywords you have assigned, star ratings, color labels, other metadata, all your develop work, collections you have built, virtual copies you have created, etc…    If the catalog becomes corrupt or your hard drive crashes, you have lost all this work.  Given this, it just might be a good idea to back up the catalog regularly (every day you do significant work, in my opinion).

3.  Because your images don’t live in the catalog, backing up the catalog using the prompt that comes up when you close Lightroom (or open, in Lightroom 2)  does not  back up your images.   Lightroom does not back up your image files — you have to do this outside of Lightroom.  Not doing so is a  mistake of the fatal variety.

4.  Backing up your catalog and your images  using Time Machine, Windows 7 Backup, or any other process will back up both your images and catalog, so this is critical to address the above two bullets.  However, it is not sufficient!!    If the catalog became corrupted right before you did that backup, all you have on your backup hard drive is a corrupted catalog.  You also need more catalog backups accumulated over time, so that you can get back to one before your corruption issue occurred.  This is what the Lightroom backup prompt is for.

Here’s my post on backing up everything.

5.  If you have moved your Lightroom catalog to an external hard drive, make sure you close Lightroom before disconnecting the drive.  Disconnecting it while Lightroom is open and writing to the catalog is a sure-fire way to eventually corrupting your catalog.

6.  Use Lightroom to move, rename and delete files and folders, not  Finder on the Mac or Windows Explorer/My Computer on the PC.   Otherwise Lightroom will become  upset with you and put question marks all over everything, and as in a typical relationship, you will then become even more upset back at Lightroom.  Here’s my post on avoiding and fixing this.

There are many other things that can happen that may seem panic-worthy or are frustrating, but I believe I have covered the ones that really are the most serious.

Of course you can learn about these topics in depth, and much, much more on my new Lightroom DVD — over 6 1/2 hours of training on 36 videos for both beginning and intermediate Lightroom users.  Do check it out HERE.


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  1. […] Laura Shoe has a great article on troubleshooting Lightroom to avoid headaches. […]

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