How to Reconnect Missing Photos & Folders in Lightroom

Why are These Question Marks & Exclamation Points Showing Up in Lightroom?

Have you ever encountered a folder of photos in Lightroom that has a question mark by it? Or a photo thumbnail that has an exclamation mark?

How to Fix Missing or Offline Photos in Lightroom | Pretty Presets Lightroom Tutorial

If you're seeing these symbols on your folders or photos, they've somehow been disconnected from Lightroom.  How can this happen?  There are several reasons, but first you need to understand how Lightroom interacts with your files. 

Understanding the Lightroom Catalog

How to Fix Missing or Offline Photos in Lightroom | Pretty Presets Lightroom Tutorial

Your Lightroom Catalog is having a relationship with your photos. Your photos aren't stored in Lightroom. But it does keep tabs on them and it does keep track of the adjustments you make to them. All this information is soted in your Lightroom Catalog.

How Do Folders & Photos Get Disconnected from Lightroom?

  • When you move your folders or photos while you are not in Lightroom
  • When you rename a folder while you are not in Lightroom
  • The hard drive where you store those folders or photos is turned off

If you do any of these things, Lightroom will lose track of your photos. It will put up those little "question mark" icons (or "exclamation point" icons next to photo thumbnails) to let you know that the relationship is in a broken state. It does not necessarily mean that the photos have been deleted or are permanently gone (although they could be - if you actually deleted the files).

How to Reconnect Missing Folders & Photos

How to Fix Missing or Offline Photos in Lightroom | Pretty Presets Lightroom Tutorial

To fix the missing or offline photos, you just have to reunite Lightroom with your images. There are two ways you can do this.

One option is to simply move the folder (or photo) back to where it was originally and Lightroom expects it to be.  The folders will be automatically detected and everything will be back to normal

The other solution is to reconnect the folders in their new location to the Lightroom Catalog. To do this, right-click on the Lightroom folder with the question mark and choose "Find Missing Folder..." This will open up a window that will allow you to manually navigate to where the files are now located. If the folder has just been renamed, it will rename the folder in Lightroom and the relationship will now be fixed!

If your folder was disconnected because your external hard drive was turned off, just turn it back on. Lightroom will now detect these files and the question marks will disappear.  It's as simple as that!

Fixing Deleted Photos

You can't bring back a photo that was actually deleted from your computer.  But you may have deleted a photo "outside of Lightroom" in which case a thumbnail of the image remains in Lightroom with a question mark next to it, because the Lightroom catalog doesn't actually know you deleted it.  To correct this, simply select the thumbnail and press Delete. Choose Remove when prompted and the thumbnail will be removed from your catalog.

How to Prevent Disconnecting Lightroom from Your Photos

How to Fix Missing or Offline Photos in Lightroom | Pretty Presets Lightroom Tutorial

If you want to save yourself a lot of time and frustration going forward, make sure you handle all your moving, renaming and deleting from within Lightroom. Renaming a file is as easy as right-clicking and choosing "Rename." Moving a folder is as easy as dragging and dropping.

If this seems too hard to remember to do - just know that you will sometimes have to fix these broken relationships. And now that you know how to do it, you will be able to fix it.

Do you have any questions or comments about reconnecting missing folders or photos in Lightroom? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And please share our tutorial using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

If you're more of a visual learner, check out our short video tutorial below.

Reconnecting Missing Photos in Lightroom -Video Tutorial