How to Find Missing Photos in Lightroom

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How to Find Missing Photos in Lightroom

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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Phil Steele. One question that comes up all the time for my Lightroom students is: how do you find missing photos or missing folders in Lightroom? Maybe you got the question mark icon on a folder that indicates that it's missing, or maybe you've got the exclamation mark on a photo, or maybe you got this written warning that your photo is offline or missing. In this video we're going to look at what causes this problem in the first place so you can avoid it in the future, and then we'll look at how you can get Lightroom to automatically re-find and re-connect to your missing photos.

The question of missing photos probably comes up more often than any other Lightroom question that I get. Even though I cover this in my complete Lightroom course, there are over 30 videos in that course and people don't know exactly which video to look in for the answer, so I thought it would be worth making a free in-depth video just on this topic. Let's look at how you got into this trouble in the first place. Usually what happened is you either moved or renamed some photos behind Lightroom's back. What I mean by that is, after you've imported a set of photos into Lightroom you should only move or rename those photos from within Lightroom. You should not go out and use your computer's file system to move or rename the photos because then Lightroom won't be able to find them anymore. It doesn't know that you're doing this behind its back so it gets confused. If you want to move photos you should just do it here in the left panel of Lightroom. For example, I'm going to take this photo of a boat and I'm going to drag it to a different folder. I'm going to drag it to this folder called 'apartments.' It probably doesn't belong there but just to illustrate. When I release you can see Lightroom warns me. It says 'You're moving a file on the disk.' It's letting me know this is not just some virtual move inside of Lightroom, I'm actually moving the file out there on my computer's hard disk from one folder to another. If I say 'Move' then it does it. You can see it disappeared from here if I look at the 'apartments' folder there it is. I don't really want it there so I'm going to move it back by dragging it. I'm going to drag it back to the 'boats' folder and I'm going to say 'Yep, move it,' and there it is it's back.

Likewise, if you want to move an entire folder of photos you can do that from within Lightroom too. For example, let's say the 'boats' folder didn't really belong in October where it is maybe it belonged in September. I'm going to click on the folder and I'm going to drag it up to my September folder and I'm just going to release it there. You can see once again Lightroom is warning me, 'You're moving files on the disk.' This is a real move out there on your computer's filesystem. It wants to confirm that that's what I want to do. I'll say, 'Yep! Move it,' and you can see now the entire 'boats' folder is now in my September instead of my October folder. Once again, as before since I don't really want it there. I'm going to move it back by clicking on it and I'm going to drag it back to October, put it there, I'm going to say 'Yes' and now it's back where it started.

Similarly, if I wanted to rename a photo or a series of photos, if I went out and did that in my computer's filesystem then Lightroom would get confused. But if I do it within Lightroom then Lightroom knows the change took place. Let's say I wanted to rename this photo with a boat. I have the photo selected, I can go to the Library menu and pick 'Rename Photo' and then I just type the new name in right here. If I had selected a whole series of photos, I could use this custom file naming template and rename all of them all, at once in one operation. As long as you do these things from within Lightroom than it doesn't get confused.

But let's see what would happen if I did these operations using my computer's file system instead. For example I'm going to drag the folder called 'boats' from 'October' over into 'September' using my computer's file system. Now let's go see what this looks like in Lightroom. We can see the folder here in the left panel of Lightroom has the question mark because Lightroom can't find the folder anymore. You can see each individual photo in here has the exclamation mark indicating that the photo is missing. If I wanted to use the photo, for example to export it, I would get a warning that I'm unable to because the source file is offline or missing. So, how do you get out of this position? How do you repair things when Lightroom has lost track of your photos?

Fortunately, Lightroom is designed to help you easily re-find and reconnect to your missing photos or folders. Let's take the example of a folder. First, if I right-click here on the folder that has the question mark on it you see on the right-click menu and item called 'Find Missing Folder.' This brings up my computer's file system and all I have to do is go find the folder the Lightroom is lost track of - I know it's in here - select that folder, and when I choose it we can come back to Lightroom and we can see now Lightroom has recovered it. It's got in its proper place, and the photos no longer have the missing exclamation mark, the folder no longer has the question mark and everything is good and ready to go.

Now, let's see instead of a whole folder what if I was just trying to locate a missing photo? To get back to a condition where I have something missing, I'm going to use my computer's file system to move this folder called 'boats' back into 'October' where it really belongs in the first place. We can see here in Lightroom that my folder called 'boats' once again has the question mark on it and all of the individual photos have the exclamation mark because they're missing. To find a missing photo all I have to do is click on the little exclamation mark and when I do Lightroom gives me the opportunity to locate the missing photo. I'm going to click on 'Locate' and it brings up my computer file system to find the photo. Here's the really cool part: you see this check box here that says 'Find nearby missing photos?' Well frequently if you have one missing photo, you might have a lot of missing photos so this tells Lightroom to go ahead and search in the vicinity and see if it can match up and find any other missing photos in this area. Let me go to the folder, find photo that it wants, and I'll pick 'Select' so now Lightroom is saying there are no photos in the selected folder because the folder I have selected is the bad folder, the one in the wrong location, but if I look down in the right location, I'll click on that folder. We can see there the photos are and what Lightroom did, it didn't just find the photo that I selected, it found all the other missing ones in that area because I had that little checkbox marked that said 'Find nearby missing photos.' So it took care of all of them at once. That's pretty clever! Now, this old folder that's sitting here empty now all I have to do is right-click on that and I'll just say 'Remove.'

Alright, that's it! If you'd like to learn more about Lightroom I have an entire online course called Lightroom Made Easy! which you can find at my website at I hope you found this helpful and I look forward to talking to you again soon.