Lightroom Catalog – post-crash recovery

Barely 6 months old, my Seagate FreeAgent 500GB external drive died on me a few days ago, taking my photo files with it. Its demise was quite sudden, following a short illness whose chief symptoms were that some files or folders started to “disappear”.

If I had been using a Drobo or a RAID array the loss of a drive would have had no impact at all, but at least all was not lost.  I had a backup in the cloud. For around a year I had been using the excellent Jungledisk system which automatically backed up all my photo related folders on the FreeAgent drive to Amazon’s S3 data storage platform.

I ran a restore overnight, but the following morning a quick check revealed that only a part of my photo file collection had been reinstated. At first I thought this was because the relevant files and folders had not been backed up. Not so.  An inspection of the Jungledisk logs revealed that the folders had indeed been backed up in the past, but then deleted again in the last few days!

What I think must have happened is that during the nightly backup, Jungledisk could not find those particular folders on the FreeAgent (due to its deterioration), interpreted their absence as the result of a deliberate deletion and accordingly removed them from the backup in the cloud.  Thankfully, Jungledisk is a well designed system that keeps archived versions of backed up files for a period, as a safeguard against unintended changes or deletions. All my files were there and I was able to get them back.  The archived previous versions all had “ARCHIVExxxxxxxxx-” prepended to the file name (where “xxxxxxxxx” is an ID number) and as there were hundreds of these files I had to write a short Visual Basic 6 program to go through all the file names, stripping out the prefixes.

At last I was ready to open Lightroom 2 and recreate my catalog, the latest catalog files having been lost. This worked fine except for the fact that none of the development histories in the imported DNG files was present.  The image displayed in each case was after the latest adjustments made in Lightroom but the history tab showed no record of those adjustments.

Now I had Lightroom set up so that XMP data would be saved automatically to the DNG file and believed, in my naive way, that this would include the step by step history of adjustments made in Lightroom in the past. Well, it doesn’t. The only way to recover those is to retrieve the relevant catalog files, it seems, as that is the only place they are saved. Without the original catalog files, you have the choice of using the fully adjusted version as is or resetting back to the original RAW import.

I had been exporting my catalog as a .lrcat file periodically and found a reasonably recent export in one of the archived folders on Jungledisk. I then imported that catalog and suddenly I was nearly back to normal.  All development histories were back, as were flags, ratings, etc. The catalog had been nearly up to date and from there it was easy to get back to a fully recovered position.  Not as easy as if I had had a Drobo but not too terrible either.

This unpleasant episode does underline the importance of making regular exports of the catalog files or ensuring that the ones in use are backed up. So back up those image files but don’t forget to back up the catalog files too.

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1 Comment

Filed under Backup, Photography, Workflow

One response to “Lightroom Catalog – post-crash recovery

  1. On the point about the develop history not being stored outside the catalog, I found this.

    Key quote:

    Develop History: “What? How can that be? Do you mean my changes won’t be preserved?” The final state of the edited image is preserved in XMP, but the individual intermediate steps of the Develop History are lost. Again, if it’s important, save it in a Snapshot.