Recovering Accidentally Removed Folder


Today’s Question: While replacing a crashed computer I somehow managed to delete an image folder from the catalog. The image files are OK except that along with the images the folder now contains .xmp files (that’s what leads me to believe the images were once in the catalog). Will anything bad happen if I just reimport the folder?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Nothing bad will happen by importing those photos into Lightroom Classic, though some metadata may be lost in the process depending on your workflow.

More Detail: You can remove an entire folder from Lightroom Classic by right-clicking on the folder and choosing “Remove” from the popup menu. If the folder you remove contains photos, the folder and photos will remain on the hard drive, but those photos and their metadata will be removed from the Lightroom Classic catalog. Note, by the way, if the folder is completely empty and you choose the Remove command the folder will be deleted from the hard drive.

The presence of XMP sidecar files suggests you had enabled the option to automatically save metadata updates to XMP, which is a setting found on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog. If that was the case, standard metadata such as star ratings and keywords would be preserved along with the photos. That, in turn, means that when you import the folder full of images back into your Lightroom Classic catalog, the saved metadata will be imported along with the images.

Interestingly, even though the adjustment settings in the Develop module could certainly be considered metadata that is specific to Lightroom Classic, those details are preserved along with the source image file when you enable the option to automatically write metadata to XMP.

However, there are some features specific to the Lightroom Classic catalog that are not preserved in metadata when you save metadata to the images rather than only having that metadata in the catalog. For example, pick and reject flags, virtual copies, and collections require the Lightroom Classic catalog. Therefore, if you import these photos again and you had taken advantage of these features for those images, that information won’t be recovered.

Regardless, you can safely import the entire folder into your catalog. Be sure to use the “Add” option at the top-center of the import dialog to add the images from their current location rather than copying them to another location. Also make sure the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” checkbox in the File Handling section of the right panel in the Import dialog is turned off, just in case the same images are in the catalog based on copies being stored in a different folder. I also suggest making sure the Metadata popup in the Apply During Import section of the right panel in the Import dialog is set to “None”, so that you don’t change any of the existing metadata for the photos during the import process.

Note, by the way, that if it was important to recover the metadata that is specific to Lightroom Classic for these photos, you could go through a more involved process of recovering a backup copy of your Lightroom Classic catalog from before the folder had been removed. You could then use the “Export as Catalog” command to export a copy of that catalog with only the applicable folder of photos, and then import that catalog to the master catalog using the “Import from Another Catalog” command.