Today’s Question: In going through a number of my photos [in Adobe Lightroom] I came across the fact that I was missing many. All that appears for them is a blank space where the photo should be and an explanation mark in the upper right corner of the thumbnail. No photo! What does this mean?
Tim’s Quick Answer: The exclamation point badge at the top-right corner of the thumbnail indicates that Lightroom is not able to locate the image based on the expected folder location and filename. There are several reasons a thumbnail might have been missing at some point, and now Lightroom is unable to generate a preview because the source image is missing.
More Detail: What all of this really comes down to is a very common mistake photographers make when it comes to using Adobe Lightroom in their image-management workflow. Put very simply, many photographers forget that once you are using Lightroom to manage your photos, it is critical that all tasks related to your photos be initiated within Lightroom.
For example, let’s assume you would like to rename one of the folders containing photos that are being managed in Lightroom. If you rename the folder within Lightroom (by simply right-clicking on the folder and choosing the “Rename” option), you will be renaming the folder within the Lightroom catalog and also renaming the actual folder on the hard drive where your photos are stored.
If, on the other hand, you were to go out to the operating system and rename the folder there, every single photo within that folder would suddenly appear as “missing” within your Lightroom catalog.
You can correct this type of problem by either reconnecting missing folders or locating missing individual images. But needless to say this has the potential to be a painstaking and frustrating process. In short, you need to let Lightroom know where the missing folder is located, or where each missing image can be found.
To reconnect a missing folder you can right-click on the folder name in the Folders section of the left panel in the Library module and choose “Find Missing Folder”. Then navigate to and select the appropriate folder so Lightroom knows the updated name or location. To locate individual photos, click on the exclamation point badge and choose the option to locate the photo, then navigate to that actual photo and select it.
Of course, in this case the task is significantly complicated by the fact that no preview is available. You may need to work outside of Lightroom to locate the source folders and photos, and perform a detailed review to determine which folders and photos align with the expected structure in Lightroom.
More details on cleaning up a messy catalog in Lightroom can be found in my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” course, which is part of the “Mastering Lightroom” bundle available through my GreyLearning website here: