Deleting Catalog Backup Files

Deleting Catalog Backup Files

I’ve been talking to a few people lately about deleting catalog backup files. If you backup and optimize your catalog every time you close Lightroom then, over time, you will end up with a lot of excess catalog backups.

Each of these backups will consume disk space so the question becomes – what is in these backups? What use are they? And can they be deleted safely?

Backup your catalog

When you set Lightroom to make a backup of the catalog what it does is to make a backup of just the catalog and not your images, or your previews, or the sidecar xmp files for your raw files, or your presets. While having a catalog backup is undoubtedly a useful thing, it is incomplete so you will need to have a system backup system in place to backup what Lightroom does not.

In fact, because Lightroom’s backup is only a catalog backup, some people don’t do a backup this way and instead rely on their regular system backup to take care of backing up everything – catalog included. I prefer to at least have Lightroom do a regular catalog backup but that’s my personal preference.

Which backups to keep?

Because the catalog backup files are all stored in different folders by date they will build up over time and keeping them all is not a necessity.


You can be selective about which ones you keep – you should, at least, keep the most recent backups because if your catalog is corrupt you will want to be able to recover using these. If the most recent backup has issues then you would progress backwards until you get one which isn’t corrupt.


So, if I use Lightroom every day, I would keep the backups from this week and then one from last week and one from last month and beyond that I could feel pretty safe about deleting the others.

Delete a catalog backup
To delete a backup, locate the backup folder and identify the backup folders to delete and go ahead and delete them.

You will find your catalog backups, if you didn’t change the default location for them, in a folder called Backups inside your Lightroom catalog folder.

If you changed its location you can find the location you selected when you’re next prompted to backup Lightroom – the location is reported in the dialog prompting you to backup. Here too you can change that location if desired.


One issue with the Lightroom catalog backups is that the location, by default, is inside the folder that contains the Lightroom catalog. So, if the disk containing the catalog becomes corrupt you could lose your Catalog backups too. You may prefer to backup to a different disk to protect against this likelihood.

Every one of us will have different preferences for how we backup, where we backup to, the frequency of backup and what we backup. It’s over to you now – do you use the Lightroom Catalog backup tool? If you do, do you store your backups in the default location? Do you delete excess backups regularly.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Erik Unger October 24, 2011 04:33 am

    Sorry that last one should be @ Donald

  • Erik Unger October 24, 2011 04:32 am

    @ Xavier Riom

    I am not talking about metadata, I am talking about your actual processing to your RAW or jpeg files. Adjusting the exposure, sharpening, etc (all your instructions on how the image should look). Unless you go into catalog settings and check the "apply changes to XMP sidecar" those are kinds of changes are all stored in the actual catalog file. Also, I am not saying others should never back up their catalog. Like you said, virtual copies are not a part of sidecar files, but the most important thing to me is the main edit of my images.

    @ Reid

    You have no idea what you are missing. LR + PS = best thing ever for a photographer.

  • Xavier Riom October 23, 2011 08:46 pm

    Actually, most of metadata is stored in xml files, but not all. For instance, the virtual copies are not, which can lead to their lost in case you rely only on sidecar files.

  • Donald October 23, 2011 08:18 pm

    Thank god I am not using Lightroom.......... I love Photoshop CS5.

  • Reid October 23, 2011 03:47 pm

    Okay so to be curious (like an idiot), I found the backup folders and opened the one from January of this year. That opened LR and I saw that there were only a couple of folders that had been imported into LR. Figuring out what I had done, I then closed LR and opened the folder from 10-20-11. LR opened again and all my most recent folders were back. That's good since that was only a few days ago.

    Here's where I'm confused - if between 10-20 and today I had imported a folder from "My Pictures" and edited a few of the photos, are those edits and/or folders gone? I know no actual photos are gone, I mean the imports and edits I had done since 10/20 within LR. Can anyone clear this up for me? Thank you.

  • B&W Guru October 22, 2011 08:04 am


    When lightroom backups up the catalog, it is not backing up the actual images. It is backing up the instructions for the edits you have made to the pictures along with other info for the photos.

    If you want to back up the photos, you need to actually copy the images from where they are stored on the computer. This is a very good reason to turn on XMP so that these changes will be stored with the RAW or any file type you are using and you will never lose all those edits applied to the image.

  • Erik Unger October 21, 2011 05:58 pm

    I should add that I back up my master HDD as often as I can. That way, all RAW files, their XMP sidecars, and my TIFF files are backed up. I try to put everything on at least 3-4 different locations. By doing this, I never need LR backups. They are always a simple import away if anything happens.

  • Erik Unger October 21, 2011 05:54 pm

    I tend not to do the LR3 backups ever. Actually, this is good reminder for me to delete any backups I may have. Because presets are saved elsewhere and all my LR edits are applied to RAW files and stored in a separate sidecar file, I am not losing any info... except for my render previews. I can render when at work or our for lunch. Not really a big deal/

    It is a much better option to store LR edits in a XMP file, and while I don't mean to sound elitist, most people should be editing RAW files for absolute and full quality and control. Now for those that don't have the ability or know how, then yes, backup your catalogs. There are much better and secure options to using catalog backup. Keep your files organized and do not have the catalog store your edits. Though if you have a very slow or old computer, this could slow LR down, so you will have to decide which option is best. If you have a decent rig, there is absolutely no need to to use the backup feature.

    It really is no hassle at all to re-import photos as you can tell the import process to do minimal rendering and select only the images you want to render.

    The backups are good in theory, but take up way too much space and if you are well organized and are willing to understand the process there is no need for them

  • Kiran @ October 21, 2011 09:01 am

    Thanks for the useful tips. I've recently started using Lightroom and haven't back up any of my photos since it's still very new to me. I can do that now, with your guidance :)

  • Juan C. Cabana` October 21, 2011 03:13 am

    Helen, to start, let me say that I look forward to your articles and learn a lot by reading them.

    As to backups, I make it a point to create all backup folders, Lightroom, Microsoft or any others, within My Documents master folder, since this is the one I backup regularly. My general backups are selective, I do only those I created using my applications, and having the backups included as part of backing up My Documents I am assured I will-have them.

    And additional benefit is that then I do not have to hunt for where the a particular application decides to place it,
    I hope this is clear, and thanks again for all the useful tips you provide.