How to use a NAS drive or personal cloud with Lightroom
Using a personal cloud or network attached storage (NAS) system is a common way for photographers to have access to large drives for reasonably secure backup. But what’s the most efficient way to use a NAS with Lightroom, the de facto standard professional cataloguing system for photographers?
You could simply use your personal cloud or NAS as the place where Lightroom stores its catalog and your images. However, even on a fast network, you’re going to get some latency when compared to a locally-connected drive. If you’re away from your broadband, this will be doubly-true. Try opening a huge RAW file and you’ll see how the setup is less than ideal.
However, there’s a good halfway house which combines speedy local storage with the advantages of using a NAS. it does, though, take a little setting up.
Speedy local plus networked backup
The answer is to combine a fast local drive with a NAS personal cloud system, giving you the advantages of both. The first step is the easiest: set up Lightroom to store its catalog and files on an external USB 3 or Thunderbolt drive.
Next, you’ll need to use a piece of software to copy your Lightroom catalog and images to the NAS drive. The best option I’ve found for this is to use Goodsync, which is available for Windows and Mac, and happily worked with an external attached drive on a schedule. Depending on how your Lightroom is set up, you may need to set up two jobs in Goodsync – one to copy over the Lightroom catalog file and another to copy over your image library.
Going beyond just backup
So far, what you have is a very good and simple backup system, but you can push your Lightroom NAS system further if you’re brave enough.
Remember that your NAS is now effectively a clone of your Lightroom setup. It’s got your catalog and your images, so in theory you should be able to use it with Lightroom if, say, you have lost or simply unplugged that local external drive.
In reality, things are a little bit more complex. Yes, you can just unplug the drive and use Lightroom’s “Update folder location” feature to tell it to access the images from the NAS. However, when you reconnect your external drive, you’re pretty likely to lose all the changes you’ve made, including any new images you’ve added to the catalog.
But there’s a way around this. Remember that Lightroom is non-destructive to your image files. When it makes edits, it actually stores the edits in the catalogue rather than changing the original file. As your “working” catalog file is on your local machine, you’re going to be fine. When the external drive is reconnected, Lightroom just applies the same edit to the local file, rather than the one stored on the NAS.
Some actions, though, are best avoided. “Edit in Photoshop” will create files on the NAS, which potentially you’ll lose later. “Save metadata to files” is similarly dangerous. And of course adding files directly the to NAS drive will also mess things up.
Why not use use Goodsync to sync back any changes to your external drive’s library? In theory, you can do this. In practice, it robs you of having a static backup which you know is good. If something becomes corrupted on your NAS drive, the danger is that you’ll sync those changes back to your working drive, leaving you in a mess of lost photos.
This editorially-independent article was produced with the support of Western Digital.