Lightroom, is definitely a one user one, computer kind of gal. She is very protective of her catalogue, actually SQLite database(s) of links to your photos and possibly the only instructions to how you have post processed them. This is fine if you just want to do all your work on one computer. However if you have a few computers moving photos around your network can be a real hassle. Further it can create a serious backup/archive issue. Your catalogue should only be stored on an internally connected drive (ie never on a network drive) and thus often separately backed up to your photos which could easily be stored on an external hard drive or network drive.That physical separation and different processed required at backup time leaves a risk of the catalogue becoming out of sync. For this reason I see many heavy Lightroom users recommend storing the back up of your catalogue (which can be automatically generated every time you exit Lightroom, see below) with the photos. This works really well if you have small project catalogues, everything is together and can be backed up together. It might even work ok if you choose to have different catalogues for each year and all the photos from that year in one location (I have been experimenting with that idea, but no longer keen on it). Trouble is few of us will be that organized and probably have many many photos spread over a disorganized range of places!
So where does this leave the rest of us?
Preserving Post processingI have found the easiest way to preserve any post processing changes even just adding metadata, is to have Lightroom write out these changes into individual sidecar .xmp files that sit in the sub-directory beside the original photos, so when the directory is copied that file is also copied and when the photo is imported into any new catalogue, the settings will be read and updated for the display of the image as well as into the new catalogue. The problem was finding where to do this and it is somewhat buried in the Lightroom menu system under Edit/Catalogue Settings/Metadata.
Lightroom does not do this by default. Even if you don’t intend to transfer photos between computers it will mean you will be able to reload your previous post processing from a backup of your folders containing your photos. There are very small overheads in time to write these files and time to read them on re import as well as a small amount of space required for them. They also tend to make your folders look messy. These are however tiny issues in comparison to the benefits or making sure your [post processing is are always available.
Preserving Collection OrganizationThis puzzled me for some time, since many photomangers share the Idea of Collections or Albums but none seem to offer ways to export/import them to and from other packages. Lightroom does allow you to save a collection as a new sub-catalogue for exchange with another computer running Lightroom but these can not be read by Picasa or Windows Photo Gallery (and probably not aperture). Then it struck me that metadata was the perfect place to store collection details and why not use the # hashtag approach, as in twitter and now google+. It worked brilliantly but I was left with the underlying fear that I could unbalance the web world using # in my metadata so I opted to use the ~ tilde special character instead. Why the Tilde you may ask? Well it is the first key on the top row of the keyboard, and to the best of my knowledge not widely used as a special character. So now once I have a collection prepared I just select everything in that collection and give it the ~collection_name tag in the metadata.
I’ve even started using the ~collection idea as I first go through my photos (in either Picasa or Aftershot Pro) when I first load and cull my images. Its then easy to group the new photos into collections, when they are loaded into Lightroom. Just use a text filter to select the ~collection keyword and Library/New Collection… (or <Ctrl> N) to create the collection. You can use a similar selection based on thge ~collection metadata in other packages as well.
Avoiding corruption of the LR Catalogue
- Never store the catalogue on a network drive (this is the one warning I did find in the Adobe on-line forum & help files. Whilst this didn't apply to me it is good advice)
- I have stoped using file synchronization to automatically move my photo between computers at the end of the month. I don’t have any evidence that this cause any problem but it was a suspect for some time. I know do this and my Monthly Backup manually.
- Back up you catalogue regularly, I think the default is once a week when Lightroom exist, Change this to Every Time Lightroom exist. Make sure you know where the backup catalogues are stored (if you do this every time Lghtroom is closed there may be a lot of them). Again these settings are not obvious and can be found under Edit/Catalogue Settings/General
- Don’t leave Lightroom running overnight and unattended. This is my main suspect because my main desktop, where the archive is stored is left on-line most of the time and occasionally it reboots (most often due to software upgrades but it could be power outages etc). I know suspect this is the point at which the catalogues is not closed properly and the results is some information is lost.
- Test you backup files from time to time (Looking back into my backups I have found most of my collections and post process was at some time backed up. BUT once the catalogues looses stuff then those things missing are not backed up. You can open and look at a backup any time using the File/Open Catalog… menu but remember to reopen you mater catalogue before you do any further work