Today’s Question: By mistake I renamed over 30,000 photos outside of Lightroom [Classic]. What is the best approach to fixing this mess?
Tim’s Quick Answer: This is likely a rather significant problem, as Lightroom Classic can’t resolve the issue with any degree of automation. While I rarely recommend this solution, it might make the most sense to synchronize the affected folders, even though that will mean losing some of the metadata information for the affected photos.
More Detail: Because Lightroom Classic uses a catalog to manage the information about your photos, it important that any tasks related to the management of your photos be initiated within Lightroom. If you rename photos (or folders) outside of Lightroom, then the affected photos will appear as “missing” within Lightroom, because they can’t be found where they are expected.
If you had simply renamed a folder, you could reconnect that folder within Lightroom and all of the photos within the folder would no longer be missing. However, if you have renamed a large number of individual photos outside of Lightroom, those photos will need to be reconnected individually.
In other words, it would require quite a bit of time and patience to reconnect all of the missing photos, because you would want to confirm that you are connecting each individual photo correctly. For example, you might browse the individual photos in Adobe Bridge, compare each photo to the preview within Lightroom Classic, and then use that information to determine how to reconnect the missing photos with the applicable source file on your hard drive.
With such a considerable amount of work to do, it may be best to essentially start over in some respects. If the 30,000 photos that are now missing represent the bulk of the photos you are managing in Lightroom Classic, it might be easiest to create a new catalog and re-import from scratch. Note that this might cause you to lose most metadata updates to your photos, unless you had enabled the option to automatically save metadata updates to the photos themselves.
If the photos are a relatively small percentage of the total being managed in your Lightroom catalog, you might instead want to synchronize the affected folders. This will cause missing photos to be removed from Lightroom, and new photos to be imported. That would resolve the larger issue here, but would also cause you to potentially lose many of the metadata updates you had applied. You can initiate this process by right-clicking on a folder and choosing “Synchronize Folder” from the popup menu. After the scan is complete in the Synchronize Folder dialog you can click the Synchronize button to have Lightroom process the folder.
Needless to say, today’s question helps demonstrate why it is so important to work within Lightroom when you want to make changes to the overall storage structure for your photos. That said, if you do have a mess in Lightroom, you can learn to get things cleaned up with my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” course available in the GreyLearning library here: