Every time you open a Lightroom catalog it renders previews for the images in that catalog. When you close out of Lightroom those previews are stored with the catalog data until you open it again. The actual image files, however, are never stored in the catalog. If you move, delete, or disconnect the files, Lightroom won’t be able to find them – but don’t worry, it’s easy to fix.
Even if Lightroom can’t access the original files, it will still open the catalog and show previews of the images from the last time that you accessed that catalog. For each image that is missing, the filmstrip in the Library and Develop module will display a “!” in the top left corner of the image.
If the entire image folder has been moved, look at the folders panel on the left side of the screen. The image folder will show a “?” next to the folder, indicating that it cannot be located.
Image previews in the Develop module will also have a large warning at the top of the preview notifying you of the missing file.
Locate the files
The first thing you need to know is where the files are located at now. Depending on how you set up your image library, the images may be located on the same drive and in the same directory as the catalog, or they may be in a totally different location. A common mistake, and one that I’ve made several times, is forgetting to reconnect an external hard drive.
Re-link the images
Now that you know where the new location is, click on the “!” in the top left corner of the image in the filmstrip. A window will open in the middle of the screen asking you if you would like to locate the missing file. Click on “locate” and a file browser will open so that you can navigate to the new location of the image. If multiple photos are missing and they were all moved to the same new location, Lightroom should re-link all of them.
If the entire folder was moved, you can use the folders panel to locate the images. Right click on the folder where the images used to be located to open a menu. Select “Find missing folder…” and navigate to the new location of the images. This will re-link the entire folder of images and add the new folder location to the folders panel.
That’s all there is to it! All of your images should now be re-linked to the Lightroom catalog and ready to continue working on. Please leave a comment below if this post helped you out or if you have any further questions that I might be able to help with.