If I had a dollar for every Lightroom user who doesn’t understand where Lightroom put their photos, for every user who has deleted the photos they found in Pictures because they thought Lightroom had its own copy in a database somewhere, and for every user who has question marks on their folders and “missing file” warnings in the Develop module because they thought that the only way to reorganize was to go out to Finder or Explorer, I would be retired and just writing this blog for fun. And yet it didn’t have to be this way – I think there would be far fewer tears (albeit still some) if Adobe had made one small change to default behavior in the Folders panel.
(Don’t get me wrong by the title of this post though – I love the Lightroom team and for the most part I love what they have developed for us.)
That said, who would guess that the Lightroom Folders panel that by default looks something like this:
A Sample Folders Panel with the Default Behavior
can be quickly set up to show you where your photos reside on your hard drive(s)? Who would guess from this default view that you can use the Folders panel to reorganize your files and folders (on your hard drive) without getting the dreaded question marks and missing files warnings that plague new and experienced users? Here’s an example of a much more useful Folders panel:
A Folders Panel with the Folder Hierarchy Revealed (and Folders Renamed to Include Descriptions)
By default the Folders panel only shows you the specific folders that you imported, not where they reside on your hard drive. I consider this decision by Adobe to be one of the biggest mistakes they have made with Lightroom. Nevertheless, I haven’t convinced them to change this default behavior, so I’m writing this article to make sure you know how you can fix it. (Of course if you’ve watched my Fundamentals & Beyond video series, you already know this.)
Setting the Folders panel up to show folder locations (i.e. the folder hierarchy):
- Right-click (Ctl-click with a one-button mouse) on any folder that doesn’t appear to reside inside another and choose Show Parent Folder to reveal what folder it resides in. Right-click on this revealed folder to show its parent, and so on, until you can see exactly where all your folders reside.
- If you reveal a folder that you decide later that you don’t want to see, right-click on it again and choose Hide Parent. For example, if you reveal that Pictures lives within your name folder within Users within C:, and later decide that seeing folders up to the Pictures level is sufficient, right-click and hide C:, then hide Users, then your name folder. Note that you can’t hide a folder that has photos sitting directly in it (rather than just in subfolders) – if you don’t see a Hide option when you right-click, this is why.
- That’s it!
Now that you can see your hierarchy you can use the Folders panel to:
- Finally understand where your photos reside on your hard drive. Now that you do, be sure that your hard-drive backup program backs up this location since Lightroom does not back up your photos.
- Create subfolders. For example, to create 2016 within Pictures, right-click on Pictures and choose Create Folder Inside “Pictures”, and type 2016.
- Move folders by dragging and dropping. For example, move your 2016-05-15 folder into 2016 by dragging it and dropping it on top of 2016. This moves the folder on your hard drive, not just in Lightroom. Doing it from within Lightroom keeps Lightroom (and therefore you) happy. Doing this reorganization outside of Lightroom – out in Mac Finder / Windows Explorer (My Computer) – is what causes the question marks and missing file messages – Lightroom can’t see you do this, so it no longer knows where your files are and is pretty upset with you – this sentiment is usually mutual!
- Watch my video tutorial from an old version of my Fundamentals & Beyond series for more on how to use the Folders panel to reorganize your folders and photos.
Once your folders are all nicely organized, take the next step to making the Folders panel truly useful – click on each of your date folders, look at what photos it contains, and then rename the folder to include a description of the shoot: right-click on your folder, choose Rename, and click after the date to add the description (or delete the date if you don’t want it – just keep in mind that this will change the order that your folders appear in the list from chronological to alphabetical).
Finally let me say that I wouldn’t have the default behavior be to reveal parent folders all the way up to C: or Mac HD – it would just be to reveal the folder structure up to the folder selected in the Destination panel in the Import dialog. Most people organize by date, with Pictures selected. The Folders panel in this scenario would therefore automatically show Pictures, and the date folders within it.
PS: I’m ultimately in favor of an optional managed-database solution, where management of files would be taken out of the hands of users so that new users are better protected. In this scheme, more experienced users or computer-savvy users would continue to be able to choose the current referenced-file solution. In the meantime though, as someone who works with beginners, I do not understand the decision, stuck to for years, to hide from users where their files are and to not make clearly accessible the option to reorganize folders using the Folders panel.