Today’s Question: Recently I noticed the dreaded exclamation point appeared in Lightroom Classic on some treasured images. All I could find on my main drive and on my 1st backup were the XMP files. But after a bit of deep breathing, I found the RAW originals on my trusted 2nd backup drive–but only the RAW (CR2) files, no XMPs. Now need to reimport the RAW files into Lightroom Classic. Is it possible to reimport the RAW files so that they pair up with the XMP files and I can keep my ratings and edits?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can put the raw captures and the XMP files in the same folder, and then import the photos from that folder. As long as metadata updates were saved to the XMP files, upon import you would have all of your photos and most of the updates you had previously applied to those photos. However, in this case a better approach would be to simply copy the backup copies of your raw captures into the folder where they belong, so they are no longer missing in the context of your Lightroom Classic catalog.
More Detail: One of the reasons I highly recommend enabling the option to “Automatically write changes into XMP” in the Catalog Settings dialog in Lightroom Classic is that it ensures that most of the updates you apply in Lightroom Classic are saved to the source images, in addition to having those updates in the catalog. In the case of proprietary raw captures, the metadata updates are saved to XMP sidecar files that are co-located with the raw capture, with the same base filename and an “xmp” filename extension.
If your Lightroom Catalog became corrupted, for example, you could simply create a new catalog and import all of your source photos into the new catalog. Most of the metadata, which would have been written to XMP sidecar files for raw captures or to the source image file in the case of other supported file formats, would then be imported along with your photos into the new catalog.
However, some key features are not included in the metadata for XMP sidecar files. For example, Pick and Reject flags would not be included, nor would any collections those photos had been added to. The History in the Develop module would be empty for those images, and no virtual copies would be retained.
So, it is preferable to locate missing photos within Lightroom Classic rather than re-importing the raw captures, even if you have the XMP files that contain most of the metadata for the photos.
In this case, since the original raw captures have been located, they can simply be copied to the applicable folder. As long as the filenames are the same, that will cause the photos to no longer be missing. And the advantage of this approach is that you won’t lose any of the information about those photos from your Lightroom Classic catalog.