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When you import images into the Lightroom Catalog, Lightroom keeps track of where those images live — in what folder, on what hard drive.  This shows in the Folders panel in the Library Module.

Imagine moving the car while your family or friends are  inside the convenience store.  (I confess to having done this once !)  When they walk out, you can imagine that they will be confused, since they weren’t around to see it happen.  It is the same with Lightroom:  if you  move your files and folders while Lightroom isn’t looking, it loses track of them and gets confused. It communicates this problem to you by displaying question marks on your folders, and question marks (Lightroom 4 or earlier) or exclamation points (Lightroom 5) on your individual photo thumbnails.   If you use Mac Finder,  Windows Explorer or any other utility to move, rename or delete your files or folders, Lightroom can’t see that you have moved, renamed or deleted them.

The solution is simple:  do any moving, renaming or deleting of files and folders within Lightroom.  In the Folders panel you can click on a folder and drag it inside of another folder, on any hard drive that Lightroom is aware of.    This physically moves your folders and images just like using Finder or Explorer would, but Lightroom is able to keep up with you.  If you want to move selected images from one folder to another, click on the folder they currently are in so that they show up in Grid (thumbnail) view.    Click on the thumbnail and drag the image to another folder in the Folders panel.  To rename a folder, right-click on it and choose Rename.

If  you do get a question mark on a folder, right-click (ctl-click on a one button Mac mouse) on it and choose “Find Missing Folder”.  Unfortunately this doesn’t mean that Lightroom will find your missing folder — it means that you can find it, and click on it to show Lightroom where it now lives.  Once you do this,  the question mark will go away.   If you get a question mark (or exclamation point in Lightroom 5) on an individual image, click on the question mark / exclamation point next to the thumbnail, and choose “Locate Missing File”.   Point to the file in its new location.  If you in fact deleted the file outside of Lightroom, then in Lightroom right-click on the image and choose Remove, to remove it from Lightroom’s catalog.

At least Lightroom doesn’t get angry, like friends or family sometimes do!

Related Post: Reorganizing Your Folders and Photos Using Lightroom’s Folders Panel

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  22 Responses to “Why Do I Have Question Marks on My Folders and Images in Lightroom?”

  1. this is a great entry with a great analogy of the family and the car… ha, funny. in the past i have confused the lightroom plenty and i have seen those question marks all right. no more of that, i hope.

  2. [...] tips there that our readers may be interested. From the Crop Tool and Color to Virtual Copies and question marks, Laura is busy answering questions submitted by her [...]

  3. [...] 6.  Use Lightroom to move, rename and delete files and folders, not  Finder on the Mac or Windows Explorer/My Computer on the PC.   Otherwise Lightroom will become  upset with you and put question marks all over everything, and as in a typical relationship, you will then become even more upset back at Lightroom.  Here’s my post on avoiding and fixing this. [...]

  4. [...] Here is a blog post on why you have question marks and how to resolve them.  To find all photos with question marks, you can go to Library>Find Missing Photos.  If you then want to go to the folder one lives in, right-click in the photo and choose Go to Folder in Library. [...]

  5. I tried this and it still didn’t remove the question mark. I didn’t delete any pictures from my Mac so I don’t know how it lost connection. Then when I try to locate….it isn’t doing it. Is now a good time to panic?

    • I am not clear whether you are dealing with a photo, or a folder of photos, Tricia, but if you can see it on your hard drive there is no need to panic. Even if you didn’t delete the pic(s), you must have moved them or renamed them using Finder instead of Lightroom, so Lightroom has lost the connection. If it is an individual photo that you are trying to locate, you need to find that exact photo in the dialog that pops up when you click on the question mark and choose Locate Missing Photo. Same if you are right-clicking on a folder and choosing Find Missing Folder — you need to click on that exact folder out on your hard drive.

  6. Hello. I’m new at Lightroom 3. I really appreciate your blog! Thank you for all the great info.

    • Thanks for leaving a note, Elisa! I am happy to hear that you are enjoying it … please tell your photo friends and colleagues!

  7. Thanks for this article and others about the ? on pictures. I am stuck after the points that you describe. I have ?’s on 400+ pictures in a folder. I organize by the month, there are about 1200 in the folder total. When I click to locate it and choose the original picture to link it to, I get this message:
    “The file “_______________” is associated with another photo in the catalog. Each file can only be associated with one photo.”
    In addition, the photos with the ?’s are duplicates that show up in lightroom, but not in the original folder. They are ones that I have edited though.
    What can I do from this point? I’ve searched and searched online and cannot find an answer.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Alicia, you have duplicates in your catalog — perhaps in a different folder. With this message you should get an option to show the duplicate. Once you are convinced that a duplicate is there (no question mark on the other copy), then right-click and remove the one with the question mark.

      • I was going to do that until I realized that the ones with ?’s are the ones that I have edited. Didn’t want to lose that work if possible. I’m thinking I’ll have to remove the one without the ? and then link up each one. Not sure which would be faster (re-editing) unless you have another suggestion. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer. Really have found your site helpful.

        • Alicia, I believe that is your only option. Hopefully once you re=link one, it will automatically re-link others, if they are in the same folder.

  8. How would I relocate an entire folder in lightroom rather than trying to find each file individually? I’ve tried right clicking on the folder itself in lightroom but there is no relocating option…

    • Sammy, if there is no Find Missing Folder option, and no question mark on the folder, than LR hasn’t lost the connection to the folder itself. You will have to relocate the photos. Once you relocate one, if the others are in the same location, LR usually resolves all of them.

  9. So this means I have lost my pixs?

    • Not necessarily, Karen. It means that your photos are no longer where Lightroom is looking for them. If you moved them, using Mac Finder or Windows Explorer/My Computer, then you need to tell Lightroom where they are, by going through this Find Missing Folder/Photos process.

  10. Hi Laura!
    Thank you bunches for this information…I did just this and had question marks all over my images in the entire folder. I was able to retrieve some through trial and error but then stumbled upon your article and shoooosh….all was well:)
    Thank you for making it simple.

  11. hi,
    i have got the issue on windows folder, can you help me to fix this issue.

  12. I use View Nx 2 to quick organize my photos and Lightroom 4 for editing. I had some great pics that I dragged onto a folder on my desktop so I could post them on Facebook. When I was done, I dragged them back into View NX and now they are completely gone from my hard drive, Lightroom and View Nx. I can’t figure out what happened to them. I have done this before without any troubles. They are not in my trash files either. I am not very computer savvy, so I imagine I did something wrong. They are still on Facebook, so I wonder if I can somehow get them back onto my computer?

    • I don’t use View NX, so I can’t comment on what may have happened, Krista. You could right-click on the photos on Facebook and choose Save Image As, to save these low-res versions.

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