Mysterious Duplicate Photos


Today’s Question: Somehow a group of photos landed in two very separate locations in Lightroom Classic. I went back and forth and ended up, necessarily, deleting from the disc all the duplicate files. How is this possible?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The only way to have two copies of the actual image files for photos in Lightroom Classic is to import both copies without enabling the option to not import suspected duplicates, or to export images with the “Original” option for the file format while also adding the exported photos back to the catalog. The other possibility is that the images were actually virtual copies or were referenced in a collection rather than being contained in two separate folders.

More Detail: It is obviously impossible to have two copies of the same file with the same filename in the same folder. However, it is of course possible to have two copies of the same file as long as they are in different folders or have different filenames. Lightroom Classic will certainly allow you to import more than one copy of the same photo, although there is a feature to help avoid this issue as part of the Import process.

In this context, it is most likely that either there were two copies of the same photos that got imported or the photos were imported from a media card twice with different destinations for each import. If the photos were imported more than once, having turned on the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” checkbox in the Import dialog would have helped ensure the duplicates did not get imported. Obviously it is also helpful to ensure you don’t inadvertently create more than one copy of the same photos in the first place.

It is also possible to import photos to the catalog as part of the process of exporting photos from the catalog. I don’t generally recommend taking advantage of this feature due to the potential to create confusion, but it is an option. If, for example, you exported using the “Original” option for the Image Format setting, you would be creating an exact copy of the original image. If you also turn on the “Add to This Catalog” checkbox in the Export dialog, the exported copies would be added back to the catalog, creating duplicates and potential confusion.

Before deleting duplicate images, however, it is important to ensure that they are indeed duplicates. For example, it can be confusing to find the same images more than once, such as when you create a virtual copy based on an original or when you add a photo to a collection. These “duplicates” are simply references to the original image, and do not represent duplicate image files on the hard drive.

Note, by the way, that the potential for confusion related to duplicate images in your Lightroom Classic catalog is one of the reasons I recommend importing directly from your media cards out of the camera rather than downloading first and importing later. It is also one of the reasons I recommend having the ” Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” checkbox turned on when importing new photos.