Good organization is key to keeping your photos in order and online in Lightroom Classic. If you are new to Lightroom, I highly recommend reading my How to Properly Set up a Lightroom Catalog article which will help prevent missing photos in the first place. If you have already lost some of your photos, continue reading to learn how to find and reconnect missing photos in Lightroom Classic. Keep in mind that every situation is unique and some problems may not be able to be solved without losing some edits. Before you attempt to reconnect your photos it is a good idea to make a backup of your Lightroom Catalog as well as all of the photos and folders that it is referencing.
How to Tell when a Photo or Folder is Missing or Disconnected
If a photo becomes disconnected from the Lightroom catalog an exclamation point will display in the upper right hand corner of the image thumbnail. If a folder becomes disconnected you will see a question mark icon on top of the folder and it will become dark gray. Lightroom also allows you to search for missing photos. To search for missing photos navigate to the top menu and click Library > Find All Missing Photos. This is the easiest way to know if you have any missing photos in your catalog.
Why photos Become Disconnect or go Missing in Lightroom Classic
Before you learn how to reconnect missing images, it is important to understand why they become disconnected in the first place. Applications like the Photos App on a mac store all of your photos in a single folder and nests them within the application itself. Adobe Lightroom does not nest your photos into a single folder which means a single Lightroom catalog can reference images and videos from various folders and even multiple hard drives. This allows photographers to create very flexible workflows but it also creates a good opportunity to lose your images if you are not organized or do not understand how Lightroom handles files.
One reason your photos go missing is because the external hard drive that Lightroom is referencing is not connected to your computer. The easiest way to check if you have a missing hard drive is to look at the “Folders Tab” in the “Library Module”. When you expand the Folders Tab you will see a list of all of the hard drives that Lightroom is referencing. If there are any drives that are not connected they will be grayed out. A missing drive is the best case scenario for reconnecting missing photos since all you have to do is reconnect that drive to your computer and all of the images will automatically come back online.
Another reason that photos and folders become disconnected in LR is because they were moved or renamed outside of the Lightroom application. You should only rename and move images within Lightroom. When you move a photo or folder via the Macintosh Finder or Microsoft Explorer, Lightroom will not know what happened or how to reference the media which is why you will then see exclamation points and question marks in Lightroom.
How to find and Reconnect Missing Folders in Lightroom Classic
If you see a question mark on top of a folder in Lightroom, that means that the folder has been moved or renamed outside of Lightroom and the application no longer knows how to find it. If you simply moved the folder, all you have to do is move the folder back to where Lightroom is looking for it on the hard drive. If you do not know where you moved the folder to, you will need to do a search for the folder name in the Finder (Mac) or Explorer (pc) then move the folder with all of its contents back to where Lightroom is looking for it.
NOTE: Reconnecting a missing folder will also reconnect any missing media that has been disconnected due to the folder being moved or renamed. Because of this, it is best to reconnect folders before trying to reconnect any individual photos or other types of media.
If you do not know where Lightroom is trying to reference the missing folder the best solution will be to tell Lightroom where the folder’s new location is. In this scenario, do a search for the folder in Finder / Explorer. Once you know where the folder is located make a note of the folder path. Example: User > Photos > Yellowstone. After you have noted where the folder is, navigate back to the missing folder in LR and control click (mac) or right click (pc) and choose “Find Missing Folder” In the dialog box navigate to the new location of the folder that you took a note of in the previous steps and hit the “Choose” button in the bottom right corner.
Reconnecting Folders that were renamed outside of Lightroom
If you renamed a folder and you know what the folder was renamed to you can simply change the name of the folder back to the name that LR is referencing. If you renamed and moved the folder then the best way to reconnect the folder will be to use the same method mentioned in the previous paragraph. If you do not know where the folder is or what you renamed it to, the best way to find it will be to navigate to the missing folder in Lightroom and make a note of the file name of the one of the photos that is located within it.
The filename will be listed in a few different places depending on your LR options. It will always be listed in the Meta tab on the right hand side of the Library Module. The filename of a selected image will also be listed in the black bar at the top of the filmstrip in the Library and Develop Modules. Lastly, the file name can be found in the upper right hand corner of a thumbnail when in the Grid View.
After noting the filename, do a search in the Finder / Explorer for that filename. Once you find the file, make a note of the folder name and folder path that leads to it. Lastly, you will need to go back to Lightroom, Control Click (mac) / Right Click (pc) on the missing folder and choose “Find Missing Folder…” Navigate to the folder location that you just noted and click “Choose” in the lower right corner of the dialog box.
How to find and Reconnect Missing Photos in Lightroom Classic
If you have only moved the images outside of Lightroom then you’re still in decent shape. If you have renamed the photos, you will most likely lose any edits that you have done to your RAW files unless you know what you renamed the photos to or have converted them to DNG files.
Just like reconnecting a missing folder, the easiest way to reconnect a missing photo is to place it in the destination that LR is looking for it on the hard drive. When you do this the image will automatically go back online assuming it has not been renamed as well.
What if you do not know what folder the missing photo is supposed to be in though? When you click on a missing photo’s exclamation point icon, a small dialog box will pop up and show you the folder path of where LR thinks the photo should be. It’s a good idea to write that path down for your reference. If you do not know where you moved the photo to outside of LR you will need to do a search for the filename using the Finder / Explorer. Once you find out the new location you can either drag the photo back to where LR is trying to reference it from or you can reconnect it at its current location.
To reconnect a missing photo at its current location, click the exclamation point icon on the image thumbnail in Lightroom, then choose “Locate”. Navigate to the folder path that image is currently in and click on the image file name, then choose “Select”. Doing this will update the folder path that Lightroom is referencing and cause the photo to go back online.
How to reconnect a missing image that has been renamed outside of Lightroom
Reconnecting media that is offline due to file renaming is straightforward if you know what you renamed the media to. Like the other examples in this article, you can either change the filename back to the original name that Lightroom is referencing or you can click on the Exclamation Point icon. After clicking on the Exclamation icon follow these steps. 1. choose “Locate” 2. In the dialog box, navigate to the folder where the renamed photo or video is. 3.Click on the renamed media’s file name. 4. Choose “Select” 5. LR will notify you that the filename is different from the file that is being referenced. It will then ask you if you are sure if the file is correct. If you are sure, hit confirm. If you are not sure, hit cancel.
What to do if you do not know what you renamed your missing LR photos too.
Now let’s examine the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is that you renamed a bunch of photos outside of LR and you have no idea what you renamed them too. This is a bit of a problem and unfortunately you will lose any edit that you performed to the RAW files. The good news is that you will still have your RAW files and you can reprocess them.
The easiest way to fix this problem is to synchronize the folder that Lightroom is referencing. For example, Let’s imagine that you have a folder called Landscape Photography that LR is referencing. All of your photos have become disconnected in LR because you renamed every single image using the Finder or Explorer and you have no idea what old file names match the new file names. This would be a good time to synchronize the folder. Keep in mind that you will lose any RAW file edits since LR is not reconnecting the photos. It is simply scanning your hard drive to see if there are any inconsistencies between what LR is referencing and what is actually in your hard drive’s folder.
NOTE: Missing RAW files will lose edits if they are still in the camera’s native format (CR3, NEF, ARW, ect…) because the edits are not stored within the files themselves. If you have converted your RAW files to Adobe's RAW DNG file then you are in luck because DNG files save the edited image information and image within the same file. If you use DNG files you don't need to worry about losing any edits when synchronizing folders with missing photos.
How to synchronize a LR folder with a folder on your hard drive
Synchronizing a folder in Lightroom is relatively simple and a good skill to know how to do. To synchronize a LR folder, Control Click (mac) or Right Click (pc) on the folder containing the missing photos. Choose “Syncronize Folder” from the drop down menu. In the dialog box, make sure that “Import New Photos” is checked. I also like to check “Show Import Dialog” which will show you what photos are about to be added to your catalog before you actually import them. Once you hit “Import” the photos will show up in the previous import section of the Catalog Tab. To go back to the original folder, simply Control Click (mac) or “Right Click (pc) on any of the image thumbnails in the previous import section and choose “Go to Folder in Library ''.
If you store all of your photos under a single parent folder it is possible to synchronize your entire LR Catalog at one time. Keep in mind that If you have many folders and photos, this process could take some time.