Lightroom Catalog Troubleshooting

I’ve been using Adobe Lightroom since version 2 and I’ve had it crash on me maybe a hundred times over the years. Most of the time it is some kind of glitch and I pickup where I left off. On rarer occasions, Lightroom locks up while in the middle of opening a catalog. I’ve been able to troubleshoot those problems with a little bit of Google-fu. Today’s crash was the most frustrating one to date. None of the usual tricks worked and I was about to give up and pull out a backup catalog. Except that the backup catalog wouldn’t load either. Neither would the previous backup, nor the one before that.

So, obviously there is a whole lot wrong. Here’s how I ultimately fixed it.

1. Delete the Preferences file (*.agprefs) that is stored in %APPDATA%\Roaming\Adobe\Lightroom\Preferences. You could simply rename the .agprefs file, but I’ve never come back to a corrupted one. The .agprefs file contains some Preferences info and most importantly it contains the location of the most recently used catalog. If you run Lightroom like most people, LIghtroom will open the most recent catalog you’ve previously opened. You need to get Lightroom to start in a blank state where it does not try to open a catalog automatically. Deleting the .agprefs file will do this. And don’t worry, a fresh and clean .agprefs file will be created once you’ve gotten Lightroom working again.

2. Delete the ***Previews.lrdata folder and find a backup catalog to restore. I use Crashplan as my general safety net that saves my bacon when a hard drive crashes (and that’s happened once already). But I find that Crashplan is not always the easiest to use when I just want to restore a single file or folder. So, I store my catalog file in my Dropbox folder, as do the current batch of photos I’m working on. When Lightroom craps out, I restore a previous version of the catalog file thru Dropbox’s version history. Usually the version from the day before the crash is good enough. Hopefully, you have some sort of continuous backup solution protecting your catalog and photos too. If I had to rely on Lightroom’s built-in weekly backup feature, I’d be screwed. Deleting the Previews.lrdata folder was the key to recovering from my latest Lightroom mess. And I suppose it would be a best practice to delete those preview files anyway since eliminating the previews makes a catalog load faster. The previews will be regenerated after the catalog has been restored.

3. Launch Lightroom. It should prompt you for a catalog to load.

Lightroom prompts you to select a catalog after you've deleted the Preferences file
Lightroom prompts you to select a catalog after you’ve deleted the Preferences file

4. Select the backup catalog and verify its integrity.

Lightroom catalog selection
Make sure the integrity check option is on.

5. Lightroom should now open the catalog without any problems, assuming that the catalog passes the integrity check.

Here’s the setting under Edit –> Preferences where you can make Lightroom open without loading the most recent catalog.

Lightroom configuration that allows you to pick which catalog to open on each launch of Lightroom
Lightroom configuration that allows you to pick which catalog to open on each launch of Lightroom

Oh, and one more thing you might want to consider. If you save your RAW images in DNG format, you can save your Lightroom edits and tagging directly in the DNG file. The function is under Metadata –> Update DNG Preview & Metadata. This way, even if the catalog file is totally unrecoverable, you can still salvage all of your editing and metadata. You can simply import the photos into a new catalog and pickup where you left off from there.

Save edits and metadata directly to the DNG file
Save edits and metadata directly to the DNG file