Finding missing or moved photos
Question - My thumbnails have a ?
on the top right corner – what does this mean and how do I remove it?
Short Answer - The ? badge is used to identify a
photo that Adobe Lightroom can no longer access; probably because
it has been moved using one of the operating system tools such as
drag/drop or possibly the Move command. This may be have been a
deliberate action (i.e. moving photos off-line) or accidental.
So, what's the long answer and how do I find these
photos and folders?
reasons, not least of which is the fact that Adobe Lightroom can be really
slow when moving folders, many users find that it is best done outside of
Lightroom using the tools provided by the operating system (e.g. Move
and Copy). In doing this they will almost always cause Lightroom
to loose track of the moved folders and photos within them (denoted by ?
badge on thumbnail or folder - see figure 1 below).
Figure 1 - Library Module
Clicking the ?
badge on a photo will open a small
navigational dialog (Figure 2). This dialog will provide
information as to where the photo was originally located along with an
option to find (Locate) it again. Clicking on the Locate button
opens a operating system type window from which you can navigate your way to where the
photo is now located. Typically, when all of the missing photos are
located in the same folder you need only locate the one you were
searching for and the rest
will be automatically found. Unfortunately, the same is very often not
case when the missing photos are spread around multiple folders. It's
therefore much easier to locate the missing folders and reconnect them
Figure 2 - Missing Photo Location
actually it's a warning - on the Mac platform you need to be
when using the Move command. I make this point because some users
utilise a keyboard modifier when dragging their folders (i.e. Cmd+drag
folder) rather than a standard Move or Copy operation.
Using the Cmd modifier does move the photos, but it also deletes the
originals. Now, what happens if the moved photos got corrupted during the
process of reconnecting missing folders or subfolders is fairly easy, albeit not that
easily discovered. In figure 3 below you will see a close-up view of the
Folder panel with one subfolder showing the tell-tale sign that it's been
relocated in a way that Lightroom can no longer find it.
Figure 3 - Folder panel indicating missing folder
In figure 4 below I've shown
how the same approach outlined above can be used to reconnect to all
missing folders and subfolders. This is achieved by highlighting the top
level folder rather than an each individual subfolder.
Figure 4 - Folder indicating all folders
and subfolders are missing
The first step in finding the missing folder
and photos contained within it is to open
the Folder "context" menu: Ctrl+click on folder (Mac) or
right mouse button click on folder (Windows). The context menu shown in
figure 5 below will appear - choose Find Missing Folder...
2: Mac users with a multi-button mouse can
use the right button method instead of the Ctrl key
Figure 5 - Folder panel Context menu
open a Finder window (Mac) or Explorer (Windows). You will
need to use the Finder or Explorer to locate the missing folder. In
Figure 6 below I show how I've navigated to the new folder location using
the the Mac Finder. Once the missing folder is located you will need to
select it then click on the Choose button.
Figure 6 - Mac Finder window
Having clicked on the Choose button Lightroom will close
the Finder/Explorer window and return you to the Folder panel. If all has
gone well (i.e. you selected the correct folder and the files within it
were not renamed in the interim) the ? badge denoting a missing
folder will have disappeared. Figure 7 below shows that Lightroom is now
reconnected to the folder. Once the missing folder has been reconnected the
? badge will be removed from the photos.
Figure 7 - Missing folder reconnected
Updating Folder Location
Up to this point I've demonstrated how you can find and
reconnect a missing folder, but there is an alternative, and in my view
much safer approach.
3: Earlier I mentioned that some users, primarily Mac, move folders
around using the Cmd+drag keyboard modifier. They do so because once the
move process is completed the original folder and its contents are
deleted - it's quick, it's easy, and to be blunt it's foolish! It's
foolish because, as mentioned earlier, they have no idea whether the
photos actually transferred without being corrupted. Moving large numbers of photos on
USB drives is particularly susceptible to corruption on all but the most
recent Mac computers.
4: Whether using Mac or Windows I recommend that you do not move
files/folders from within Lightroom. This is contrary to advice you'll
read in the Help documents or given by many Lightroom experts. So, why do
I contradict conventional wisdom? Well, for as long as Lightroom has been
around I've noticed way too many users reporting on various forums that
they've lost files (sometimes entire folders or even their complete
collection of images) after using Lightroom's drag and drop feature for
moving files/folders. The problem usually manifests itself after
Lightroom crashes during such a move operation. It does because Lightroom
automatically deletes files/folders after completing the move the files.
Unfortunately, they will not be in the Trash, so your worst nightmare
becomes a reality.
approach that I recommend is to reorganise your folders into their new
locations using the tools provided by the operating system. You will now have the original and a copy; the copy
being the version that you want to link with Lightroom. Once the folders
are all organised you can relaunch Lightroom. Notice that none of
the folders or photos have ? badge. This tells you that Lightroom still
knows where all of your photos are located (i.e. it's still linked to the
original files/folders). Next, open the folder
context menu (figure 8 below). You'll see that the menu has a lot more options than the
version shown at Step 1 above. Choose Update Folder Location...
A Finder (Mac) or Explorer (Windows) window will open (see figure 6 above).
Figure 8 - Update Folder Location...
Now, follow Step 2 above to connect Lightroom with
the folders in their new locations. Only delete the old versions when
you're absolutely sure that Lightroom is connected to the correct
described above for moving and updating a folder location is the method
you should employ when deliberately moving photos off-line. Typically,
this may be because the photos are seldom accessed, they're spread over
multiple disk drives or the user will be working away from their desktop
computer. Each of these is a specific use case which I won't go into
here, but they all have one thing in common -when the disk drives are
disconnected Lightroom display the ? badge on folder name. Figure 9 below shows
an example from my catalog where the
Landscape and Nature Tiff Files folder and its contents have been
moved to an external LaCie disk drive, which is shown in its off-line
state. Accessing the off-line photos is fairly straight forward in that
Lightroom will automatically find them when the disk drive is
Figure 9 - Off-line