#Lightroom – Keeping your Lightroom Catalog up to date

One of the major benefits of Lightroom is that it does not lock you into any kind of proprietary database format, also, Lightroom will enable you to grow the number of pictures/videos that you store in any catalog to hundreds of thousands. It will also allow you to use as many external hard drives that you need within a single Catalog. Lightroom is an extremely powerful archive, search/retrieval and editing program. Of course there are a few things that you need to know to make it really work for you.

One of the most common problems I hear about is that Lightroom has lost photographs and is now showing a question mark on the thumbnail image. Fortunately the Lightroom Product Management team have already put a solution in place to help you with this and keep your Lightroom catalog up to date. The most likely cause of this problem is that something happened to the images, folders or hard drives outside of the Lightroom environment. Lightroom is a viewer of images and is only able to work properly once it know about your images and where they are, if you change anything outside of it, then you must tell Lightroom what you have done.

The following examples will cover a range of why Lightroom is not able to see the images or video and explain how to fix it.

N.B I am using Lightroom 5 for this blog post. There is a difference between Lightroom 5 and previous version of Lightroom for when files cannot be found. In Lightroom 5 the thumbnails in the film strip at the bottom of the screen or in the grid view of the library are displayed using an exclamation mark “!” and in previous versions of Lightroom they are question marks “?”.

Let me quickly explain the problem with an example.

I have just imported 12 photographs that I took at the weekend. The photos exist on my external hard drive (called G-Drive Mini (highlighted Red)) and reside in the folder “Pictures”. The drive is online and is represented with the green icon against the drive name (inside the area marked in Red). The thumbnails are in the Yellow and Blue areas and are available for edit (no exclamation marks or question marks).


In this case everything is ok and we are able to edit the photos either in the Library module with the Quick Develop or in the full Develop module.

Between the image above and one the below, something has changes and you can clearly see the question marks “?” in the folder area of Lightroom (Red) as well as the exclamation marks “!” in the areas marked Yellow and Blue.

We do have some visual information that leads us to what the problem is. If we look at the status of the external drive, we can see it is grey (next to the external drive name “G-Drive mini” (Red)), which means that it is not available…phew..

To fix this, just re-connect the drive and the pictures will then be available, the exclamation marks/question marks will disappear and the photographs will be available for editing.


In the next scenario the exclamation marks (in Lightroom 5, Previous version of Lightroom will show question marks), inform that Lightroom is unable to find the original picture. If an initial check is performed, we can see that the drive is available, a green light is showing next to the external drive (Red).

What can cause this to happen ?

There are normally a couple of reasons that Lightroom is unable to find the original images :-

  • The images have been deleted from the disk directly using Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac) .
  • The images have been moved into a different place and no longer exist where they were.


The actual reason why the images cannot be found is that they have been moved on the disk, but have not let Lightroom know where they have moved to.

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 11.10.39

So how do we fix this issue!

One option is to tell Lightroom to update the Pictures folder and make sure what it is showing is the same as what is on the physical disk, to do this, right click on the “Pictures” folder in Lightroom and choose “Synchronize folder” (always make sure the external drive is turned on). Synchronize folder will check the contents of the Lightroom Catalog with the actual contents of the disk and tell you what needs to happen next.

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Lightroom will take a couple of minutes or longer (depending on how many pictures there are, as well as the speed of your disks and the connection type), eventually, the following screen will be displayed.

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 11.17.49

This tells us that for Lightroom to correctly represent the images in the folder, it needs to remove the 5 pictures that have moved manually. Clicking Synchronize at this point will remove the missing pictures from the Catalog.

But what about the pictures that have moved, how does Lightroom know about these?

There are at least two ways to tell Lightroom about the new folder, but both ways will use the Import facility in Lightroom. Lightroom’s power comes from the ability to provide a sophisticated search across your images by indexing them into the Lightroom database. To do this Lightroom needs to understand the basic information about the images / videos (if you have any), as well as any keywords that may exist as for the image. The Import mechanism is the way in Lightroom to tell the search engine about the images and where they are.

  • You could perform the Synchronize action on each folder that exists in Lightroom and make sure that they match what is actually on the disk.
  • You could also use the “Import” button in the Library module and import them into Lightroom using the “Add” import mode.
  • Or you can use a combination of both

To use a combination of both.

Typically pictures are stored in folders within a parent level folder on the disk, in this example it is called “LR Sync” (it will most likely be something different on your system, maybe “Pictures”). Whichever you use, it is referred to as the root or parent folder.

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We need to make the “LR Sync” folder in Lightroom match what is on the physical drive. To do this we can right click this folder and “Synchronize” it.

In this case, we now can see that we are going to remove 5 images, and import 5 images.

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 11.29.56

Notice that the “Show import dialog before importing” option is turned off, this assumes that the pictures have moved and you would like to bring the pictures into Lightroom, also that keywords have most likely been applied. If this is the case, then it’s safe to click the “Synchronize” button and import them into Lightroom. The important thing to remember is that Lightroom will not move the pictures, it will just re-link them for editing.

Obviously there may be occasions that the pictures or content may not have already been imported. In my workflow, i tend to copy the files manually to the disk/external drive outside of Lightroom, then i will synchronise the folder at this point. In this case I will need to turn on the “Show import dialog before importing” as i will want to apply additional keywords on the import.

You can see once the Synchronise folder has been clicked on the LR Sync folder, Lightroom correctly identifies the new folder, removes the images from the original folder, and re-linked the images to the new folder.

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What if you cannot find your images, what can you do next?

The two typical reasons that Lightroom is not able to find images, is that they have been deleted outside of it and Lightroom hasn’t been updated, or the images have been moved from their original location. But what if the images are still not available and you are sure that they exist.

  • Lightroom by default will not bring in duplicate files, it may be that have you used multiple camera bodies and there is a clash of file names (duplicate file names) causing Lightroom to think that the image is a duplicate of an existing image that already exists in the catalog?

In the following example you can see that inside Pictures 3 there is a duplicate file of the same image that already exists in pictures 2

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You may or may not want to import this image in Lightroom as it would cause confusion (however, it may be that you need a duplicate file to additional processing, if this is the case, then i would recommend that you rename the file), but you will need to make a decision on the import dialog about what to do if Lightroom encounters a duplicate file.

Once you click on the synchronise button (making sure that you show the import dialog screen) or using the “Import” button on the Library module, you will need to check the configuration of the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” option (Yellow). When this is turned on duplicate files won’t be imported, you can of course turn this off and import them if required. In this example the duplicate file is not selected for import (Red). This option is designed to keep your Catalog clean.


Other scenarios!

There are of course other scenarios, what if you have your camera configured to store RAW as well as JPG files?

By default Lightroom will recognise just the RAW files. In the following scenario Pictures 3 has both a RAW file and a JPG file.

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 11.56.21

If we synchronise the LR Sync file now, you will see that Lightroom only recognise a single file,

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exploring this further, we see that it is a RAW file and not the JPG, even though the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” is turned off.

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Lightroom has a configuration within the general Preferences panel to keep the RAW files and JPG files separate, when this is turned off only the RAW file is imported.


When turned on the import dialog will show both files

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If the files are still not showing inside Lightroom, then what i suggest you do is to write down the name of the file that you see inside Lightroom and then go to either Finder on the Mac or Explorer in Windows, and manually find the file and import the picture from this place or to move it to a better place for Lightroom to see it.

If you are still not able to see it in Lightroom, did you delete it ? If so, you may want to look at your backups….


One Response to #Lightroom – Keeping your Lightroom Catalog up to date

  1. Myron Kuziak says:

    I searched you comment or blog article on dealing with files in Lightroom. Unfortunately, you did not deal with my issue. That is: I made the error of creating two catalogs when I updated to LR5 from 4.x. The 2 catalogs are slightly different and slightly different yet again from the LR4 catalog that I brought ‘into’ LR5. I have over 5 thousand images in each of these catalogs. I would like to compare the two LR5 catalogs and decide which one to delete without losing what I have done in developing some images that are in one and not the other. I don’t know which one to delete. Is there any way to view the contents of the catalogs by date and filename so as to make that comparison?