Cleaning Out Your Lightroom Catalog (Part B)

Yesterday in Part A I discussed how I get rid of unwanted images in my Lightroom catalog by marking them as rejects.  Before I move on to the next topic, I wanted to thank some of my readers that suggested that the rejected files can be removed by simply marking the files as rejected and then hitting the CTRL-Backspace keys on a PC or CMD-Del on a Mac.  This will skip the part where I filtered by Rejected to display all of the rejected images and then delete them.  Of course I am too paranoid to delete my files without giving them one more look, which is why I like to show them all one last time before deleting them.

Okay, once I got rid of all those lam-o shots that were hogging up space, it was time to clean up my catalog.  So here’s the issue.  When I import images, I typically load them in two places; one copy to my computer hard drive, and another copy to my back-up drive on my network.  Lightroom then associates the file location as the computer hard drive and ignores the ones on the back-up drive.

My problem is that periodically I will go through my images on the computer and delete them from my hard drive to free up space.  I don’t want to eliminate them from my Lightroom catalog because I might want to use them later so I just drag the image files directly to the trash.  I can do this with confidence because I know that they are on my permanent back-up drive (I use a RAID server to handle all of my back-ups).

Later on, as I go through my Lightroom catalog I come across those images but I can’t use them because they don’t exist in the location where Lightroom thinks they should be.  Lightroom still displays the thumbnails but now a small question mark shows up in the top right corner.  That question mark means that, although Lightroom is still maintaining the data from any changes I might have made for that file, it can no longer do any processing or output. (Remember, Lightroom doesn’t make any changes to your image file, it just stores those desired changes in a database so you see what the processing would look like when you output the image.)

Photo Missing

There will also be a question mark next to the folder name in the Folders Panel.

Missing Folder

To re-associate my image with all of the Lightroom data I simply click on the question mark in the corner of the thumbnail and Lightroom pops up a dialog box asking me if I want to locate my image.

Locate File 1

The great thing about backing up during the import process is that all of the images on the back-up drive will have the same file name and use the same file folder structure as the images that were imported to the computer.  This makes finding them on the back-up a whole lot easier.  I simply press the Locate button in the dialog box and the navigate to the proper folder and file on my back-up drive.  When I find the correct file, I click on it and then click on the Select button.

But wait, there’s more…  If I want to locate all of the images that were imported during the same session I just click the little check box at the bottom of the dialog box labeled “Find nearby missing photos”.  Now, when I press the select button, Lightroom will not only re-associate the one image that I was looking for but will do the same for all of the images from that folder.

Locate File

That’s really all there is to it.  Now I can go back to those images in Lightroom and make changes to them in the Develop module, print them, or export them to Photoshop or as a file for emailing.  Best of all, I now have more room on my computer hard drive for my next import session.


  1. Fear not the Ctrl+Backspace shortcut. It really only saves you needing to filter on Reject, pressing Ctrl+A then the Delete key. When you hit it it gets you to the point that the rejects for the folder/collection/filter bar settings you’re currently in are filtered and selected… it still gives you the “Delete from catalog or from disk?” confirmation before anything is completely gone.

    On the subject of deleting/re-associating with back ups: Using your workflow, what advantage do you have by keeping an import session on your main hard drive if in the future you’ll be deleting those and possibly re-associating with your RAID backup? Why not skip the “back up” and just import the photos direct to your RAID? You’ll save the time associated with copying the photos over to the back up and whatever time spent connecting photos in the future when you want to do more work to them.

    I’m not nearly so fancy… everything gets dumped to a 1TB drive, worked on/deleted as required then periodically synchronized with a second 1TB drive for backup.

  2. The reason I don’t just import directly to my back-up RAID is that it is a network drive so the interaction with Lightroom for pulling up full-res views and such is not nearly as fast as if I have the images on my computer hard drive. It’s not necessarily slow but since it is a wireless network it’s not nearly as fast as working them from my computer hard drive. Also, while I am actively working my files I have the benefit of taking my images with me outside of my local network (I do almost all of my work on my laptop). By the way, I’m glad to see that you are using more than one drive to archive your images. I know more than one person who used a single drive, only to have it fail and lose their stuff. Photographers that are paranoid about their back-ups seem to have less drive crashes. Go figure.

  3. How about Part C for us Lightroom novices (just got it through the Photowalk discount)? How do you delete the catalog with the question mark from the C drive association after you have uploaded the Lightroom fixed photos to your photo hosting site and the backup to the external hard drive? Thank you.

  4. i know this is an old post. but was wondering how to get rid of all the empty files with the ?’s marks.


  1. Alltop says:

    Cleaning Out Your Lightroom Catalog (Part B)

  2. […] 1 votes vote Cleaning Out Your Lightroom Catalog (Part B) Yesterday in Part A I discussed how I get rid of unwanted images in my Lightroom catalog by […]

  3. Alltop Photography says:

    Cleaning Out Your Lightroom Catalog (Part B)

  4. RT @CelticCamera Cleaning Out Your Lightroom Catalog (Part A): (Part B): by @PhotoWalkPro

  5. DPLife says:

    "Cleaning Out Your Lightroom Catalog (Part B)": LM

  6. sean808080 says:

    Really learning to like #Lightroom over #iPhoto. It’s like having a smart dog instead of a dim one.

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