Restoring Adobe Lightroom from backup (on a Mac)

For well over a year now, my digital photography workflow has been in tatters. The Mac that I use for photo editing had some defective memory which corrupted the file system and the “genius” at the Apple Store reinstalled OS X. Data and application re-installation relies on me though, and it just hasn’t risen high enough on my list of priorities… until now.

So, I needed to:

  1. Re-install Adobe Lightroom (and the various other tools that I use).
  2. Restore my Lightroom catalog.
  3. Repoint Lightroom to the new location of my images (I’ve given up trying to maintain enough space locally and they all now sit on a Synology NAS, backed up to Microsoft Azure).

This post may be more for my benefit than for readers of the blog but you never know… someone might find parts of it useful.

Re-installing Lightroom

Re-installing Lightroom is reasonably straightforward and these are the steps I took:

  1. Install Lightroom 5 from physical media (My Mac has no DVD drive, so I needed to use a USB-attached DVD drive).
  2. Launch Lightroom from the finder.
  3. When prompted, enter the serial number (or elect to use it in trial mode). My copy of Lightroom 5 is an upgrade, so I was prompted for the previous serial number too (from Lightroom 3 in my case).
  4. Lightroom needs to create a catalog. Let it get on with it.
  5. Lightroom then detected that an upgrade was available (5.0-5.7) and it directed me to the Adobe website, from where I downloaded 5.7.1. Incidentally, I have a feeling that these updates are the full product, and I could probably have used this for the original installation. That may be one to try next time… [Update: that’s confirmed by Lightroom Queen.]

Restore the Lightroom Catalog

Nex up, restoring the catalog. Amongst the many excellent posts from the Lightroom Queen is one titled “How do I move Lightroom to a new computer”, which is kind of what I wanted to do, except in my case it’s “How do I move Lightoom from a backup of my computer to the currently-running version of my computer”.

Starting Lightroom had created two files in ~/Pictures/Lightroom called:

  • Lightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat
  • Lightroom 5 Catalog Previews.lrdata

I made some backup copies of these, then tracked down the last versions on my backup disk and copied them to the folder.

The Lightroom Catalog Previews file can be pretty large (mine was around 37GB), so this took some time…

Ideally, I would also have restored the following:

  • Preferences, from ~/Library/Preferences/com.adobe.Lightroom5.plist
  • Presets, from ~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/ (there are more details about these in Lightroom Queen’s Lightroom 5 Default Locations post).

Unfortunately, these were missing from my backup (I’d had some issues backing up the Library in single-user mode), though I did find the presets on another machine and may be able to restore them later…

Helping Lightroom to find my images

Whilst I was waiting for the Lightroom catalog to copy, I started preparing for when I open Lightroom using the new (old) catalog. In my original installation, my images were in ~/Pictures/Digital Camera Photos but now the images are on my NAS. So, I created an alias for the folder on the NAS and moved that to ~/Pictures, hoping that this would look to Lightroom as though my images are in the same location…

Unfortunately, although Lightroom was able to follow this alias (symlink), it was smart enough to work out that the folders within it were at a different location – and not on Macintosh HD. Thankfully it wasn’t too big a task to select each orphaned folder in Lightroom (displaying a ? over the folder name), right click and select Find Missing Folder. Once the catalog was re-connected with the images, the ! on each preview went away and I could view the full-resolution image. More details can be found in the Lightroom Queen article I referenced earlier.

Wrap-Up

So, Lightroom is re-installed and my photos are back where I need them. Now all I need to do is sort out my workflow… and there’s the small matter of picking the best images from the 50000-odd that I’ve taken since I started using a digital camera so I can print some albums. Because, sometimes, analogue media is good.

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