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Adobe Lightroom Tips for Beginners: The Island of Lost Files

Seán Duggan is a fine art photographer, author, educator, and an Adobe Certified Photoshop Expert with extensive experience in both the traditional and digital darkroom. His Lightroom Viewfinder series provides photographers with the tools they need to effectively use Lightroom for organization, editing, and printing. 

The Island of Lost Files

by Seán Duggan

In this episode I pay a visit to the Island of Lost Files to address one of the most common questions from new Lightroom users: “Why are some of my files missing in Lightroom, and how do I get them back?” I explain the reasons why Lightroom sometimes loses track of images, as well as show you how to track down those missing files (even if you have no idea where they are). I also make some organizational and workflow recommendations that will help prevent files from getting lost in the future.

Update Regarding the Lightroom 5 Public Beta:

The Island of Lost Files video featured in this post covers Lightroom 4.x. On April 15 2013, Adobe announced a free public beta of Lightroom 5. The new version offers several very cool new features and improvements. One of these improvements is Smart Previews. A Smart Preview is a lossy DNG file that enables you to apply Develop module adjustments to your images even if the drive where they are stored is not currently connected to your computer. Smart Previews can be created as you import new files, or after-the-fact on a per image basis.

All of the techniques for finding lost files that are covered in this video still apply with the Lightroom 5 public beta. The main difference is that instead of seeing a question mark on an image thumbnail, if a Smart Preview exists, you will now see a black rectangle, indicating the original image is offline. Clicking on this rectangle will bring up the same dialogs shown in the video that enable you to begin a search for the actual file (see below).

If no Smart Preview exists for a file and the original cannot be located, the icon in the upper right corner of a thumbnail will be a small exclamation mark (see below). You can click on this to initiate a search for the missing file. Of course, this is still beta software, so these icons, as well as some functionality, could change by the time the product finally ships. And remember that if you do want to give the Lightroom 5 Beta a try, don’t use it with your main catalog of images. Copy some images to another folder to use as a separate set of files for taking this new version for a test drive.


Seán Duggan is the co-author of Photoshop Masking & Composting, Real World Digital Photography, and The Creative Digital Darkroom. He is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and leads workshops all around the world. See all of Duggan’s Lightroom tips below:

Lightroom Keywording Tips
• Adding Value to Your Image Archive with Keywords
Adobe Lightroom Tips for Beginners: Merging a Travel Catalog with your Main Catalog
Adobe Lightroom Tips for Beginners: The Island of Lost Files
The Lightroom-Photoshop Connection: Sending JPEG Files Back and Forth
The Lightroom-Photoshop Connection: Sending RAW Files Back and Forth

Tags: , , Last modified: May 22, 2020