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////Why Do I Have Question Marks on My Folders and Images in Lightroom?

Why Do I Have Question Marks on My Folders and Images in Lightroom?

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

2017-07-09T15:08:40-07:00 April 1st, 2009|35 Comments


  1. anita April 1, 2009 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    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. Digital Daily Dose | | Written by Scott Rouse June 8, 2009 at 11:18 pm - Reply

    […] 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. Tricia Hall November 25, 2011 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    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?

    • Laura Shoe November 25, 2011 at 7:04 pm - Reply

      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. Elisa January 14, 2012 at 7:35 am - Reply

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

    • Laura Shoe January 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm - Reply

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

  7. Alicia February 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    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!

    • Laura Shoe February 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      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.

      • Alicia February 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm - Reply

        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.

        • Laura Shoe February 4, 2012 at 9:12 am - Reply

          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. Sammy February 15, 2012 at 5:48 am - Reply

    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…

    • Laura Shoe February 15, 2012 at 8:12 am - Reply

      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. karen rubin December 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    So this means I have lost my pixs?

    • Laura Shoe December 13, 2012 at 11:39 am - Reply

      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. Pooja January 7, 2013 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    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.

    • Laura Shoe January 8, 2013 at 11:46 am - Reply

      You’re welcome, Pooja!

  11. sathieshsql April 3, 2013 at 2:56 am - Reply

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

    • Laura Shoe April 8, 2013 at 2:27 pm - Reply

      I am not sure what you mean, sathieshsql.

  12. Gospelflier September 19, 2013 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    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?

    • Laura Shoe September 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      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.

  13. Kamij August 25, 2014 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    So, I have done the worst of my biggest nightmares….I deleted a whole folder full of my images off my hard drive to make room for more images. My back up catelogue gives the file not found even tho I’m staring at the photo…your previous answers have worked for those who haven’t actually deleted their images off the hard drive…is there some miracle that would allow me to perhaps create a new image from the back ups? I’m so lost and in tears for days….any help would be amazing

  14. Harry February 17, 2015 at 10:23 am - Reply

    All of my LR folders and pictures suddenly have the dreaded “?” mark. All 13,000. When I try the usual “find folder” every photo in that folder disappears. I am afraid to try this again in fear that I will lose them all. Can you tell me what is going on here and how to fix?


    • Laura Shoe April 15, 2015 at 3:33 pm - Reply

      Hi Harry,

      I apologize for the delay. The Find Folder dialog will work. The reason you don’t see every photo in this dialog is that it is just showing you folders rather than photos.

  15. Terry December 6, 2015 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    I just upgraded Lr 5 to 6 , I had the dreaded no entry point found until I installed the first update that showed up, then it would open, but the develop module was in a negative. How do I change to a positive. Exporting works as I tried one photo, but it’s pretty difficult working from a neg. It also takes forever to change modules.
    Any ideas how I can change this?

    • Laura Shoe December 10, 2015 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      You should be able to reset your photo, Terry, with the Reset button in the bottom right in Develop. Then I’d suggest posting on the Adobe Lightroom forum or, as it sounds like you have some sort of bug.

      • Terry December 16, 2015 at 8:58 am - Reply

        Thanks for your reply Laura. Actually I fixed the problem by the good ol’ trial & error method. I turned off Graphics Processor found under Edit-Preferences-Performance and the neg. turned to a pos. and everything worked. May have been a compatibility issue with Win 7. I have processed approx. 200 photos since then. Lr 6 seems work faster than Lr 5. My only disappointment with Lr 6 is no dehaze tool, which I thought I was getting.
        My own fault though, not enough research.


  16. kris kelley April 18, 2016 at 9:40 pm - Reply

    I had all my lightroom folders on an external drive. I tried to back them up on a 2nd external drive. Now it appears that no folders exist on the original drive and the files all have ? on the new external drive. I am very concerned and confused. I would appreciate your help

    • Laura Shoe April 20, 2016 at 9:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Kris,

      I’m not how you tried to back up the files. If you dragged them using Lightroom’s Folders panel, that moved them rather than copied them. You need to use a separate backup program to backup your hard drive to another, or manually copy them using Mac Finder or Windows Explorer. You most likely have question marks on the new drive because after you moved the files there, you then went out to Mac Finder or Windows Explorer and moved them again. Use the technique in this post to tell Lightroom where they now are (the master versions, not backups).

  17. Clff Hosking August 5, 2016 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Hi Laura
    I really appreciate the amount of work you put in to your videos and replies. My problem is that I was using 2 identical External Hard Drives with one being a backup (virtually a duplicate) in terms of file structure of the other. The drives have different (but similar) names. The original drive that I had done many hours of work keywording and organising into folders, crashed. All the work had been done in Lightroom (and Photoshop linked) I have been very careful not to do anything to files, folders etc, outside of Lightroom taking note of all the warnings from you (and others).

    My lrcat is on my computer (Macbook Air). About to back-up as the Back-up was on the drive that crashed.

    I assumed that it would just be a matter of plugging in the identical-file-structure back up disk and with a few clicks on some question marks, magic would happen and all would be linked up into my catalogue with all keywords, changes to images, and all that work I had done, faithfully restored.
    Not so!
    Only a very few of the folders appeared in the catalogue and when I clicked on only one or two opened with a few images (instead of hundreds) – the original catalogue had approximately 170000 images. When I clicked on one of the few images in a folder that showed and asked Lr to find its location – no problem and all the other images in the folder appeared in the Catalogue Area but still no keywords etc. and no sign of other nearby folders.

    I am loathe to reimport as I assume that I would then have to re-do all my previous work on the images (keywording, modifying etc) Any suggestions as to where I have gone wrong and what I can do to recover?

    • Laura Shoe September 10, 2016 at 10:08 am - Reply

      Sorry I didn’t get to this sooner, Cliff. I’m afraid that this is more than I can handle here. If you haven’t already resolved this, I’d suggest posting on (Or if you have my Lightroom CC/6 and 5: The Fundamentals & Beyond video series you can post in our private Facebook group – use the Contact tab on my website to request the invitation.)

      • Cliff Hosking September 11, 2016 at 2:49 am - Reply

        Thanks for getting back yo me. Strangely the EHD (which I dropped on a hard floor and it sprung a bit apart) didn’t start after about 10 attempts at the time. However I inadvertantly tried to start it a few weeks later and lo and behold it started and all intact. I now have direct copies of my images and catalog on my hard disc and on one of the EHDs and I continuously check that recovery is always possible should something go wrong.
        Thanks again for your contributions and contacting me

  18. Carlos Armas January 12, 2017 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    I should have read this link before I uninstalled Lightroom 6 and in the process of downloading it again and then install it … you can give birth to an baby elephant while you wait for that to happen.

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