How To Find Missing Photos in Lightroom

by Dec 12, 2023Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How To Find Missing Photos in Lightroom

In this article, we look at how to find missing photos in Lightroom. We also look at why photos can go missing to help you avoid this problem in the future. Remember, the best way to deal with missing photos is to avoid creating the problem in the first place. With that in mind, let’s look at this first.

Why Do Photos Go Missing in Lightroom?

The reason photos can go missing in Lightroom is connected with the Lightroom database. This is more commonly known as the Lightroom Catalog. Its purpose is to track all your work in Lightroom, including the photo files you import.

A common mistake new Lightroom users make is to think that Lightroom stores a copy of the photos they import. This isn’t the case. Instead, Lightroom stores a link to imported photos. Along with this link, it also stores the preview of the image file. This preview often tricks people into believing Lightroom imported their photo, so they delete the original image file. Please don’t make this mistake.

However, the problem of missing Lightroom photos isn’t only caused by deleting the original image file. It can also occur when the link to an imported image file is broken.  This happens if we rename or move the photo outside of Lightroom. For example, using the File Manager on a Windows PC or the Finder app on a Mac.  Because this happens outside of Lightroom, Lightroom can’t update its Catalog with the change, so the image file link breaks.

To avoid missing photos in Lightroom, you need to use Lightroom to rename and move any image files once imported.

Now we understand what can cause missing photos in Lightroom, let’s look at how to fix the problem.

Step 1: Finding Missing Lightroom Photos

Let’s start by finding all the missing photos in our Lightroom Catalog. Once we know which photos are missing, we can locate and fix the broken Links.

To search for missing photos, use the Lightroom Library menu at the top of the screen. Click the “Find all missing files…” option in the “Library” menu. Lightroom will then scan its entire Catalog, looking for broken links to photos. The results are then displayed as a grid of thumbnails in the Catalog panel. You can see an example in the following screenshot.

Missing Lightroom image files found after scanning the Lightroom Catalog

The missing files identified during the scan are listed under the Catalog section or panel on the left side of the interface. When we click this, the identified files are displayed as a grid of thumbnails. Please remember that these thumbnails are only previews stored in the Lightroom Catalog. They are not the actual photos.

If we look closer at one of the photo previews, we can see a small icon in the top right corner. You can see an example in the screenshot below.

Icon indicating this is a missing image file in Lightroom

You may also see this icon displayed for any thumbnail in your Lightroom library if Lightroom has determined that the original file is missing. Rather than waiting for Lightroom to detect individual files where there is a problem, the scan did this for the entire Catalog. It’s something you should do periodically to minimise problems.

Now, let’s look at how to fix the missing Lightroom photos.

Step 2: Finding the Missing Photos

The next step in the process is to find missing photo files on our computer’s drive. Before we can fix missing links in the Lightroom Catalog, we need to know where the original photo files are held. The only way to do this is by searching the computer’s hard drive using your PC File Manager or Finder application on a Mac.

I’m using a Mac, so I’ll show you how to do this using the Finder application. The process will be very similar if you’re using a Windows PC, as the File Explorer and the Finder application have similar features.

Using the finder application on Mac to search for missing files

As you can see in the screenshot above, the Finder app on the Mac allows you to browse through the folders on your computer to find the missing photos. The Finder app also has a useful Search feature at the top right of the dialog, as does the Windows File Explorer. You can use this to enter part of the name you are searching for.

To find the file name for the missing photos, use the information in the Lightroom Library, as indicated in the next screenshot.

The name of the missing file in the Lightroom Library

You can configure Lightroom to display the file name above thumbnails. If not, select the thumbnail and check its Metadata in the side panel on the right of the interface.

Having found the missing file or files, you must reset the entry or entries in the Lightroom Catalog to point to it/them. How best to do this depends on what’s missing: individual images or entire folders. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Step 3: How To Reset a Missing Image File

The link to a missing image file in Lightroom can be reset from the Library grid view. With the thumbnail for the missing image visible in the grid, click the small icon to the top right, which indicates the file is missing. You can see this indicated in the following screenshot.

Resetting the location of a missing image file

When you click the icon, Lightroom displays a small dialog. The dialog tells you the previous location of the file, as stored in the Lightroom Catalog. You can then click the “Locate” button to open a browser window.

Use the browser window to navigate to the new location of the missing file and select it. Lightroom will then update the Catalog to fix the broken link.

Setting The Location for a Missing Folder

Use the following method if an entire folder of photos is missing from Lightroom. Providing the files in the folder haven’t been renamed, you should only need to reset the folder location to fix the missing photos. You can also use this method to update the location of a folder at any time. For example, if the disk where you hold your image files isn’t available, you want to use a different drive.

Find the missing folder in the Lightroom Library module Folder list. Then, using your mouse, right-click on the folder name in the list. This displays a popup menu, as shown in the following screenshot.

Updating a folder location in Lightroom

After right-clicking the folder you want to update, click the “Update Folder Location” item in the popup menu. This will display a browser window, which you can use to navigate to the new folder location. After selecting the new folder location in the browser, Lightroom will update the links to the folder and missing photos in the Lightroom Catalog.

As mentioned at the start of this article, it’s best to avoid creating missing photos that you need to repair. This means that once photos have been imported to Lightroom, you should only rename or move them using the Lightroom tools. Lightroom will then take care of the necessary updates to its Catalog.

See my book “The Easy Way To An Organised Photo Library” to learn more about managing your Lightroom photos.

More Lightroom Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Lightroom Tutorials page.

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