Cleaning Up Your Missing Lightroom Files and Folders
December 17, 2013
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Because Lightroom points to files that exist outside of the catalog, it’s possible to move folders and files around outside of Lightroom, which leaves Lightroom not knowing where the files are. When that happens, Lightroom places a ? on missing folders, and a ! on missing images.

Lightroom Fanatic - Missing Folder

Lightroom Fanatic – Missing Folder

Lightroom Fanatic - Missing Image

Lightroom Fanatic – Missing Image

My workflow involves a lot of moving files around outside of Lightroom. I rely on the XMP sidecar files and move my finished project folders that contain the originals and XMP to my external hard drive. Once I move those folders, my working Lightroom catalog needs to get cleaned up.

Finding Out What Is Missing

Lightroom provides a convenient way to find all of your missing photos by navigating to Library > Find All Missing Photos.

Lightroom Fanatic - Final All Missing Photos

Lightroom Fanatic – Final All Missing Photos

Lightroom will scan your catalog and look for any images in the catalog for which it can’t find the corresponding image file. It will put all the missing photos in a collection labeled Missing Photographs.

Lightroom Fanatic - Missing Photographs Collection

Lightroom Fanatic – Missing Photographs Collection

If you select that collection, you will see all of the missing images.

Lightroom Fanatic - Missing Photographs Collection

Lightroom Fanatic – Missing Photographs Collection

Now that we know what is missing, it’s time to figure out what to do with them!

Find Missing Folders

If you’ve moved or renamed a folder and want to leave it in the catalog, you most likely want to tell Lightroom the new location or name of the folder. To do that, right-click on the missing folder and select Find Missing Folder

Lightroom Fanatic - Find Missing Folder

Lightroom Fanatic – Find Missing Folder

You will be prompted to find the file and click Choose when you have it selected. Once you do, Lightroom will update its pointer to the new location and the ? will go away.

Finding Missing Images

If you click on the ! on a missing image, Lightroom will tell you that it can’t find an image file and ask if you want to locate it.

Lightroom Fanatic - Find Missing Image

Lightroom Fanatic – Find Missing Image

Click Locate and navigate to where the file is and click Select.

Before you do, though, there is a neat option at the bottom of the file finder dialog labeled Find nearby missing photos. If you select that option and have other missing files in the same folder as the image you are locating, Lightroom will check to see if it can also resolve the pointers for those other missing images, too.

Lightroom Fanatic - Find nearby missing photos

Lightroom Fanatic – Find nearby missing photos

Removing Missing Folder Or Photo

If you’ve completely removed the images or folders, you can also just remove the pointers to them from the catalog.

To remove images, select them and click Delete. Lightroom will prompt you to remove the photos, and it will tell you that it can’t delete the originals because it doesn’t know where they are. Click Remove to delete the photos from the catalog.

Lightroom Fanatic - Remove Missing Photos

Lightroom Fanatic – Remove Missing Photos

If you want to remove a missing folder, right-click on the folder and click Remove…

Lightroom Fanatic - Remove Missing Folder

Lightroom Fanatic – Remove Missing Folder

Lightroom will give you the standard dialog for removing a folder, but since the folder and file are already missing, you’re just cleaning up the catalog.

Lightroom Fanatic - Remove Folder

Lightroom Fanatic – Remove Folder

Cleanup By Synchronizing

You can also identify and clean up your missing files and folders by synchronizing your folders. To start, right-click on a folder and click Synchronize.

Lightroom Fanatic - Synchronize Folder

Lightroom Fanatic – Synchronize Folder

The Synchronize dialog will scan for missing photos and allow you to automatically remove them when you click Synchronize. If you want to see what images are missing, you can also create the Missing Photographs collection by clicking the Show Missing Photos.

What About Previews?

Under the hood, Lightroom has it’s own algorithm for how and when it will remove previews from the preview file. For deleted images, anecdotal evidence suggests that Lightroom will remove the preview data “occasionally” and usually when Lightroom starts. That said, if you find that your preview file is getting unusually large, it might be time to purge your cache and start over.

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