Missing Photo Mystery

by Tim Grey | April 3, 2012

© Tim GreyOne of the things I enjoy about publishing my daily Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter is that it often leads to something of a conversation among different readers. One question and it’s answer will trigger a question from another reader, and sometimes that question in turn leads to another question. Such was the case with a recent series of emails on the subject of photos that go missing in Adobe Lightroom. A question on the subject led one reader to pose a very simple question: “Can you explain why a photo goes missing in Lightroom?”

Missing photo

This is a very simple question, at least in concept, and for most situations the answer is quite simple as well. Photos generally go missing in Lightroom because the user did something to those photos (renamed the photos, renamed the folder, moved the photos, etc.) outside of Lightroom.

The file named IMG_2962.CR2 is offline or missing.

Here’s how I explained the most likely causes of images suddenly going missing in Lightroom:

First, if you rename an individual photo or a folder containing photos outside of Lightroom, then those photos can no longer be found where Lightroom expects to find them. Either the folder name has changed, or the filename has changed, and in either case Lightroom isn’t able to locate the image based on where the catalog indicates it should be.

The other possibility is that removable media has been removed. That could be that your photos are stored on an external hard drive, for example, and that drive has been disconnected from the computer. Or you could be managing images on DVDs or other removable media, and the disc is not in the drive.

If you’ve renamed the folder or an individual photo outside of Lightroom, the first step is to remind yourself that you should never rename files or folders outside of Lightroom if those files or folders are being managed by Lightroom. Then you can reconnect the folder (or individual photos) by right-clicking on the folder that is missing (indicated by a question mark icon) and choosing Find Missing Folder from the popup menu, or by clicking on the question mark icon associated with a specific image and clicking Locate in the dialog that appears. You can then navigate to the location for the folder or photos so Lightroom will know where to find them.

IMG_2962.CR2 could not be used because the original file could not be found. Would you like to locate it?

Locate IMG_2962.CR2 window

Of course, if the issue is simply that a removable drive is disconnected, all you need to do is reconnect that drive (or insert the media) and the images will be located again.

Of course, in theory (and sometimes in reality) a photo going missing in Lightroom is not the fault of the photographer. I explained this issue in my answer as follows:

Theoretically an image file could become corrupted or you could experience some other cause of loss or damage for photos or folders. But in almost all cases I’ve seen, the cause of missing photos is the photographer renaming files or folders outside of Lightroom.

It seems to me that many (perhaps most?) photographers got their start with image management by using browser software such as Adobe Bridge. With these tools you’re simply pointing a browser to a particular folder, and then viewing the images contained within that folder. With a database (or catalog) driven application such as Lightroom, things are a little bit different. You must start by pointing the software to the location where photos are located that you want managed by the software. From that point forward, any file management tasks should be performed within that software.

This change in the approach taken by certain software applications obviously requires photographers to think a little differently about how they work with their images, and how to deal with tasks they didn’t really have to give much thought to in the past. In short, if you’re using a tool such as Lightroom that utilizes a database for tracking your images, it is critically important that you perform all your work with your photos within the context of that software application.

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About the Author

Tim Grey is an educator in digital photography and imaging, offering clear guidance on complex subjects through his writing and speaking.

Tim has written more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has published dozens of video training courses, has had hundreds of articles published in magazines such as Digital Photo Pro and Outdoor Photographer, among others. For more than a dozen years he has been publishing the daily Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, answering questions from photographers, and produces the related Ask Tim Grey Podcast. He also publishes the monthly Pixology electronic magazine, and publishes video training courses through Tim teaches through workshops, seminars, and appearances at major events around the country and around the world.

Tim can be reached via email at

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