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Lightroom Lost My Photos

So it finally happened. You opened Lightroom and were greeted by the infamous Exclamation Mark of Death or the “The file could not be found” message on your image. It’s happened to everyone including me. I know you’re yelling and screaming at Lightroom to please give you you’re photos back, but Lightroom didn’t really lose them, it just doesn’t know where they are.

So where the heck are my photos?

dave-doeppel-lightroom-missing-filePINUnless you have actually deleted them, and then emptied your Trash or Recycle Bin, they still exist. It’s just a matter of where. For many photographers, this is a side effect of “cleaning up” your hard drives or making more space by moving your image files to an external drive. In reality, by “cleaning up” you have damaged Lightroom’s ability to find your images.

If you have deleted your images and emptied the Trash then you are at the mercy of your backups. You ARE doing regular backups right? Right? I won’t stray from the subject at hand but as a professional Boudoir Photographer, regular backups of your images are an absolute must. Yes they are painful but following a proper image management workflow will guarantee you never lose an important client image. I’ll expand on this in upcoming articles.

But my images are in Lightroom, right?

Wrong. Lightroom consists of a file called a Catalog. The Lightroom Catalog consists of data. Lots and lots of data. Everything that it needs to know about your images. It keeps track of the adjustments you make in the Develop Module, the Keywords and other Metadata you add in the Library module, and most importantly, the physical location on your Hard Drive. So really Lightroom is just a database.

That makes it sound scary and intimidating so Adobe calls it a catalog. This image shows the default location for the Lightroom Catalog file on a Mac. For Windows the location is C:\Users\[user name]\Pictures\Lightroom\Lightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat (Note: You may see this listed as “My Pictures” on certain versions of Windows but this is the underlying file location in Windows Vista, 7 and 8)

Note: This folder in this image contains a catalog for Lightroom 4 and Lightroom 5. Yes you can have multiple catalogs, they just cannot be open at the same time. That helps right? No? OK we’ll proceed with how to fix this problem and keep it from happening.


So how do I fix it?

Lightroom is pretty good about fixing itself, with a little help from you. Here are the steps needed to get Lightroom back into shape:

  1. Copy the file name from the Library module Metadata Paneldave-doeppel-lightroom-metadata-file-namePIN
  2. Use Spotlight on a Mac or Search in Windows Explorer (you may find multiple images with the same name, find the correct one, not necessarily the first one)
  3. Make a note of the location
  4. In Lightroom, click on the Exclamation Mark on the missing image you just located
  5. Click the Locate button
  6. Browse to the location you found in step 2.
  7. If you have moved lots of files, check the box at the bottom that says “Find nearby missing photos”
  8. Click on the Image you are looking for (make sure the image name matches the one you clicked on in Lightroom)
  9. Click Select

That’s it?

That’s it. Lightroom should now know the location of your images and the exclamation marks have disappeared. If you had multiple images moved and you used the “Find nearby missing photos” in Step 7, then Lightroom should have found all of your missing files on just the one Locate step.

dave-doeppel-lightroom-find-missing-folderPINIf you’ve moved lots of folders of images you may have to do this more than once. If you moved entire folders, you may see a small ? in the Folders area of the Library Module. If you see that, simply Right Click the folder and select Find Missing Folder. Browse to the new location and Lightroom will update itself with the new location.

In the next article I’ll show you how to clean up a messy Lightroom catalog and move images around without breaking Lightroom.

Dave Doeppel

Dave is the owner of LA Pinups, specializing in Pinup and Boudoir Portraits in Los Angeles. He has always been a fan of Pinup and Burlesque. He is also an Adobe Certified Expert in Lightroom 4/5 and Photoshop CC and loves teaching photographers how to manage their images efficiently from ingesting through export.

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