Today’s Question: About a week ago I happened to notice that the folders and subfolders I see in the Lightroom Library view are not matched by what I see in the Finder view of my folders and subfolders on the drive where they are stored. That is, folders and subfolders (as well as some photos) that I have moved and deleted within the Lightroom Library module are still appearing in their previous locations in the Finder view of my external drive. In addition, in the Import dialog in Lightroom, the folder hierarchy matches the one I see in the Finder, not the one in the Lightroom Library module. Am I seeing normal Library behavior?
Tim’s Quick Answer: This does sound like perfectly normal behavior in Lightroom. The key is to understand how Lightroom handles the removal of photos and folders within your Lightroom catalog, and to recognize that Lightroom’s behavior varies based on the circumstances.
More Detail: In this case, it sounds like the primary source of confusion relates to removing versus deleting folder and photos.
When you choose to remove one or more photos from your Lightroom catalog, you have the option of removing or deleting the photos. In other words, you can remove the photos from the Lightroom catalog but keep them on your hard drive, or you can actually delete the photos from your hard drive (removing them from your catalog at the same time). This option is available in the confirmation dialog that is presented when you choose the Remove Photos command.
My personal view is that if you are going to remove photos from your Lightroom catalog, you should probably delete them from the hard drive at the same time. After all, if you are using Lightroom to manage your photos, the only way you’re likely going to discover those photos is within Lightroom.
Note that if right-click on a folder that contains photos and choose the Remove command, the folder and photos within that folder will be removed from your Lightroom catalog, but neither the folder nor the photos will actually be deleted from your hard drive.
If, on the other hand, you delete all of the photos within a folder and then choose the Remove command for that folder, the folder will be removed from your Lightroom catalog and deleted from your hard drive.
In other words, there is a bit of variability in terms of the behavior of the options for removing photos and folders within Lightroom. It is possible to delete folder and photos from within Lightroom, but it is also possible to remove photos and folders from your catalog while leaving the actual files and folders in place on your hard drive.
If the folders on your hard drive that are not reflected in Lightroom are indeed empty or contain photos you don’t want to keep, you can delete those folders and photos. If, on the other hand, you want those images included in your Lightroom catalog, you can use the Import feature with the Add option to add those existing folders and photos back to your catalog.
As for the Import feature, that will reflect the actual contents of whatever storage device (such as a hard drive) you browse within Import. The Library module in Lightroom only presents folders and photos that are actually being managed by Lightroom. Any folders or photos that were “left behind” based on the use of the Remove command will still be visible in the Import dialog just as they are visible within your operating system.