If you are using or thinking of using Adobe Lightroom to manage your library of images, you should read this post. It is not my decision to make for you but I think you should at least be aware of this incident.
Using any software from any company presents a certain degree of risk. Read the fine print sometime on the license agreements and you will see language to that effect. That is one of the primary reasons why you always want to have good backups and a solid disaster recovery plan in place. If you don’t, the risk is yours.
Before I get into the circumstances that led me to write this post, let me make some things clear. Adobe is a fine company and I am happy to have their software products. Photoshop is arguably the industry standard for graphic artists and digital photographers to use at their primary tool for their work. Currently my personal software choice for working with my digital photographs is Photoshop CS4 Extended. It is an excellent program and is a powerful, amazing set of software tools.
Early yesterday morning, I was contacted by a photographer friend who was experiencing a serious problem with Adobe Lightroom 2.5. This is a successful professional photographer with a very large library of digital images. She purchased Lightroom and spent the summer creating catalogs in Lightroom to help her organize and manage this large library. To her shock and dismay, she discovered that some of her Lightroom catalogs were becoming corrupt and many of the image files in some of those catalogs were being ruined. She contacted Adobe support but the problem was threatening her entire library, her life’s work, her livelihood, her art. So as she was waiting to hear from Adobe she asked me to come over to see if I could help.
My personal background is a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Management Information Systems and 15 years of IT experience that covers everything from being a programmer/systems analyst to being an IT Director for the last nine years for a company that relies heavily on technology to operate their business. Troubleshooting problems on computers is very familiar territory. My experience has mostly been with servers and workstations running Microsoft Windows. She has a Mac with OS X but basic troubleshooting still applies.
The first thing I did was make sure she had clean, complete backups of her image files. She had been smart and had a good backup system in place. If you are reading this and you are thinking that you really need to do something about getting your files backed up, do it right away if your files are important. There are various strategies to insuring good backups for disaster recovery but this post is not about that topic.
Once I verified that her image files were clean, secure, and backed up, I began to troubleshoot the problem. The OS was current with all updates, the Adobe products were current with all updates. The hard drives were healthy and functioning properly. The problem was isolated to images that were in her Lightroom catalogs, some of which were corrupted.
After about three hours on the phone with Adobe tech support for Lightroom, we determined that Lightroom was functioning properly in that we could create new clean Lightroom catalogs. So, what’s all the fuss you ask. Adobe tech support was not able to give me any assurances that this problem would not reoccur at some point. They apologized for the problem and asked that if this happened in the future to contact them as quickly as possible.
In case you missed the last part, Adobe tech support acknowledged that this could happen again in the future and asked us to contact them as soon as possible the next time it happened. They apologized for the problem. So for the photographer, a summer’s worth of work cataloging her images was no longer safe or reliable. Whatever product she chose to use, the work would have to be redone. Adobe tech support hoped that it didn’t happen again and they were sorry.
You may use Lightroom and never have a problem. I hope that you never experience anything like I described in this post with any software. But as a digital photographer and as an IT professional, I think you should be aware of this potential problem with Lightroom, make sure you understand the risk and have good, safe backups of your important image files.
Considering the hours invested in creating her libraries and the prospect of having to redo all of that work, I can tell you that neither I nor the photographer that I was helping will trust Lightroom to handle that function for our images. The risk is simply too large.
Let me be clear that I am not accusing Adobe of any malicious intent or negligence. I am disappointed in the acknowledgement by Adobe tech support that this problem is a known issue and that at this point if it happens again they will be sorry for the trouble. If that is good enough for you, please continue to use Lightroom to catalog your images. Consider this a cautionary message of experience.