Lightroom tip: Save disk space by trashing backups

Psst, buddy, wanna save a few gigs of storage? Try deleting some of your old backup Lightroom catalogs.

If you’re like me, you often let LR back up its catalog data when it prompts you to do so (and if you don’t, you should–it’s a pretty painless insurance policy). Unfortunately LR doesn’t automatically delete old copies of the backup data, and I noticed recently that I had several gigabytes of “.lrcat” files hanging around my hard drive. These live in a “Backups” directory adjacent to your Lightroom catalog file (in my case, in Pictures/Lightroom/Backups). I deleted all but the last two or three backups, figuring I couldn’t use that many backup copies (and that the older ones were probably pretty out of sync with the current state of my image collection).

Nice JDI-style bonus: Instead of interrupting you when you just want to get to work, Lightroom 3 now prompts you to back up on quit, not on launch. I was pleased to see that Scott Kelby noticed & digs this change.

12 thoughts on “Lightroom tip: Save disk space by trashing backups

  1. you guys are unbelievable clever… who would thought such a thing…!!!
    from now on i call you mr albert hawkings!!

  2. pleasew ignore the ironic nature of my posting.
    i really think you are great in advicing the obvious!!
    [I guess you’re just smarter than I am, as I’d been ignoring the effects of this backup process & hadn’t noticed the data backlog that had been slowly accruing. –J.]

  3. John,
    I really like your blog. On the backups: You can save a factor 20 in size by packing the backup folders in a zip file. In this way you can shrink 4GB to 200MB. If we are lucky Lightroom will do that for us in the future 🙂

  4. I have a repeating task in Things to remind me every first sunday of a month to delete some of the backups.
    A build in way to limit it to a certain number of backups and to compress them would be nice.
    BTW: Aren’t YOU the Adobe guy? 😉

  5. If you just want to save space on Windows, change the Backups folder properties to compressed and the i/o subsystem will transparently handle it for you.
    While this will save space, copying the files to another location without compression enabled will store them at their natural size again.

  6. You should actually also choose a backup folder on a different physical volume so the backups will be available in the event of primary disk failure. LR should arguably warn you if the backup location is on the same physical volume, but it (currently) doesn’t do that.
    [FWIW, I have my whole HD (including of course the backups folder) backed up by Time Machine targeting a Drobo, so hopefully that has me covered. –J.]

  7. Sean mentioned my plugin for compressing LR catalog backups ( ) above. With the introduction of LR3B2 you can now use keyboard accelerators (Alt + F, then S, then 1) to quickly request compression of backups, but there is no way to automatically run it at startup (which would be even better). I had been hoping LR3 would make the plugin redundant but no such luck so far. Given the comments above I’ve added backup cleanup (via quantity, size or age) as a feature request to add to the plugin.

  8. Ok…I am relatively new to Lightroom, and unfortunately I paid no attention to setting up collections, and I somehow managed to upload every single picture I had on my hard drive (and some from my external drive) to Lightroom. I have made no lightroom adjustments to the great majority of those pictures. As it stands, I can hardly do anything in the program without my computer telling me that my disk space is low. I looked back at my backup files (since I started in February) and found that the data has indeed been accruing. I am assuming that means that when I did my last backup a few days ago, that it backed up everything I’ve done since February. If that is so, then I should be able to safely delete all my other backup files and my work would still be there. Is that correct? Also, is there an easy way to delete all those files that I have not adjusted in Lightroom? Help! I can’t get my work done with the constant low disk space warnings. Thanks!

  9. so i did that. deleted about 7 backups from 2010. not from reading this article, but because it seemed like the legit thing to do.
    it completely wiped out all my current work and reloaded a wedding i shot back in 2010.
    to say i lost my shit is an understatement. i have spent hours recovering deleted files to no avail.
    found this article trying to google search why deleting old backups would erase my BRAND NEW LIBRARY. in fact, my library from the past 3 years.
    have not found an answer. if anyone has some tips for me and is still reading this, any advice is much appreciated.

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