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////It’s Time for Some Fall Cleaning — 9 Ways to Reduce Lightroom Clutter

It’s Time for Some Fall Cleaning — 9 Ways to Reduce Lightroom Clutter

Since I am sure that you’ll be busy cleaning your closets in the Spring(!), I thought that the beginning of Fall would be a good time for you to get rid of your Lightroom clutter.     Here are some essential  Lightroom clean-up tasks:

1.  Delete most of your Lightroom catalog backups.

If you back up your catalog as often as I do mine, this will save you many gigabytes of hard drive space.  Next time you do a backup, in the backup prompt dialog box note where the backups are being stored. Outside of Lightroom, using Windows Explorer or Finder, go to this folder and delete most of the date folders. I like to keep a few spread out in time — a day ago, a week ago, a month ago, three months ago. The rest can go. If you are not backing up your catalog and your images, read this post on backing up everything.  Here also is a post that lists other ways to reclaim hard drive space from Lightroom.

A word of caution first:  some users accidentally end up using one of their backup catalogs as their main catalog — make sure you haven’t done this before you delete the backups: go to Edit (Lightroom on a Mac)>Catalog Settings.  This shows you where your main catalog is.  If it is in a date folder, be sure not to delete this one!

2.  Resolve all those question marks you have on photos and folders.

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. (Note that in Lightroom 5, folders still have question marks on them, but photos have small exclamation marks “!”.)

3.  Delete collections that you no longer need.

Right-click on the collection name and choose Delete.  This will not delete the photos from your hard drive or remove them from Lightroom — trust me!

4. Delete develop presets you don’t use.

All those free presets sounded great, but if you’re not using ones you downloaded or ones you have created, right-click and Delete.  You can also use the method I explain in #8 to delete many at once.  (Deleting Lightroom’s default presets is much more complicated — you have to get into the source code, and they will still come back next time you do an update.)

5. Delete print, slideshow and web templates.

Right-click and Delete.

6. Delete unused keywords (I’ll have more on cleaning up duplicate keywords in a future post).

Right-click and Delete individual ones in the Keyword List panel, or go to Metadata>Purge Unused Keywords to remove all keywords that haven’t been associated with any images.  (Thanks, Mike P., for this second way.)

7. Delete file renaming custom presets.

In the drop down in the file naming section of the Import dialog, choose Edit…  Then choose your preset from the top drop down.  Finally, from the same top drop down, choose Delete Preset…

8.  Delete watermarks and other presets.

For watermarks, and other presets you can’t figure out how to delete otherwise, go to Edit (Lightroom on a Mac)>Preferences, click on the Preset tab, and click on the Show button.  This will open a Windows Explorer or Finder window, with either your preset folder or your catalog folder highlighted.  Open it, open your Lightroom Settings folder, and go into any of the preset/template folders and delete as needed.   You will have to restart Lightroom to see the changes take effect. If you accidentally delete Lightroom’s official presets, back in the Preferences dialog click on the Restore Presets buttons.

9. Delete all those photos that you know you don’t want or need.

This of course is the most obvious clean-up task, but the hardest for some of us to do.  Nevertheless, it will certainly save you the most hard drive space. When you delete, choose Delete from Disk, and not Remove. (Remove takes them out of Lightroom, but leaves them on your hard drive.)

Related Content:

More Fall Cleaning: Eliminating Lightroom Keyword Duplicates and Misspellings

Help! My Photos Are Completely Unorganized and Lightroom is a Mess!  How Can I Just Start All Over?

Back to Blog Home for More Articles
2017-07-09T12:19:13+00:00September 28th, 2011|40 Comments


  1. Mike Nelson Pedde September 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Great list, Laura!

    For #4 (Develop presets), you can delete them one at a time in Lightroom, but if you have a lot to delete you can right-click on a preset and select Show in Explorer/Show in Finder. This will take you to where all of your Develop presets are stored and you can batch delete them from there. You’ll have to restart Lightroom for the changes to take effect. If you know what you’re doing you can do the same for templates, etc.

    For #6, in the Library module click Metadata/Purge Unused Keywords to remove all keywords that haven’t been associated with any images.

    For #9, I’d start by clicking on your top-most pictures folder(s) in the Library module (you can Ctrl-click or Shift-click if there’s more than one), selecting Photo/ Stacking/ Expand All Stacks (if you use stacks), and then use an Attribute filter to show only rejected images. This will show you all of the images you’ve marked as rejects but haven’t deleted. Click on Photo/ Delete Rejected Images and as Laura said, delete them from the drive rather than simply removing them from the catalogue.


    P.S. For an automated way to keep your Lightroom backups in order: This is for Windows machines, but there may well be a similar way to do it on a Mac.

    • Laura Shoe September 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm - Reply

      Thanks for reading it and helping me to make it better, Mike! I didn’t know about the Purge Unused Keywords tip, and had forgotten to mention restarting Lightroom… I have updated the post.

  2. Mike Nelson Pedde September 29, 2011 at 9:06 am - Reply

    Laura: You’re most welcome! I’ve found the Lightroom community to be very supportive of each other. Just to clarify, if you delete a preset, etc. from within Lightroom no restart is required, but if you add or delete presets, templates, etc. from outside of Lightroom you need to restart Lightroom in order for it to recognize the changes.


    P.S. One other (#10?) cleanup item might be to remove any plugins you’ve installed but aren’t using.

  3. […] my first Lightroom Fall Cleaning Post, one of my 9 suggested tasks was deleting unused keywords.  In this post I will explain how to […]

  4. jonathan Ross October 24, 2011 at 10:36 am - Reply

    Great Photo for the article, where did you purchase it or did you create it yourself. Love it!

    • Laura Shoe October 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm - Reply

      iStockphoto, Jonathan. I wasn’t up for showing my own closet!

  5. James October 24, 2011 at 11:10 am - Reply

    These are some great tips & very easy to follow. Some things here I must do.

    However, big problem with #9 you have to careful deleting images! As I don’t want to loose anything I back up my entire hardrive with lightroom catalogue back ups to a time machine. This way I can recover anything I’ve deleted. On top of that, you can have a library folder synced to a secondary external hardrive. So I move most images across to this once I’ve backed them up via time machine & to disk.

    Only then is it safe to delete without worrying too much. This is my system for proffesional work & have to bear in mind that everyone has their own digital work flow.

    As for the rest, great way of disc saving. But remember backups are there for a reason & hardrives are fairly cheap

  6. John King October 25, 2011 at 6:57 am - Reply

    Excellent article Laura! I deleted some unused and little-used keywords before i finished reading this.

    Deleting old photos is necessary but often difficult to do as you note. If complete backups (including catalog) are done regularly it’s a little easier to clean up the working drive.

    I always mark every photo that has any remote chance of being used with at least one star. This makes it easier to find the old and unloved images during cleanup. In Grid View just go to the top level folder for that time period and sort by rating. Everything without a star is grouped there for you to keep or reject with an X.

    Then you can do a bulk delete using the CTL + Backspace (Windows) command. The photos marked for deletion will be shown in Grid View before you confirm deletion or removal.

  7. Marie Glynn October 31, 2011 at 9:59 am - Reply

    Thanks for posting this. I came here because a link was posted on the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Facebook page. I am glad to learn of you and your work and will be following you!

    • Laura Shoe October 31, 2011 at 10:53 am - Reply

      Welcome, Marie! Tell your photo friends, and look for my Facebook page: Laura Shoe Digital Workshops for Photographers.

    • Jane February 7, 2012 at 2:19 am - Reply

        July 19, 2011Great qiostuen. I was so excited to use Flickr to share photos with metadata but somehow in its process, it strips it! I uploaded photos from Lightroom and the metadata shows up just fine in Flickr but on download and import into Lightroom I lost everything. Im still working on a good solution. I have several photos, lettters, etc. from as far back as the 1800s that I am working to share with family. When I find a good thing Ill be sure to share.

  8. […] It’s Time for Some Fall Cleaning: 9 Ways to Reduce Lightroom Clutter […]

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  10. Gary September 30, 2012 at 8:10 am - Reply

    In using LR 4, I have made the mistake of removing from Catalogue and not from Disk. I use an external 1.5T drive which now has over 1T used but I probably only have used 500G. My external drive doesn’t “show” files removed from Catalogue. Is there any way of getting rid of these “removed from Catalogue” from my external hard drive permanently?

    • Laura Shoe October 1, 2012 at 10:34 am - Reply

      Hi Gary, you could right-click on your folder in LR, choose Synchronize to have LR find those photos on your HD that aren’t in LR, import them, and then while Previous Import is still selected in the Catalog panel, so you are still seeing just those photos, select and delete them.

  11. erin March 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm - Reply

    my lightroom 3 catalogs were deleted, upon reopening i am able to see one’s amount of photos and the dates but the photos are blank. i found them by searching for .lrcat and my 2012 catalog was fine, but my 2011 is blank. how can i search for the photos on the hard drive?

    • Laura Shoe March 24, 2013 at 12:58 pm - Reply

      It sounds like you just need to rebuild the previews, Erin, if the thumbnails are just grey. Go to Library>Previews>Render Standard Previews.

  12. pete June 10, 2013 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    Hi Laura, just converting to LR from Aperture. Since I’ll still have Aperture (referenced photo version) on my machine and use it for a few tasks like face recognition, are there any extra tips to consider during the clean up? Great idea!

    • Laura Shoe June 10, 2013 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      Hi Pete, I’m a PC user, so I don’t have much advice here. I would suggest checking with Gene McCullagh over at, or Victoria Bampton at

  13. chris September 22, 2013 at 3:09 am - Reply

    Hi Laura just got back 4gb by deleting backups going back to LR 2.

    Many thanks

    • Laura Shoe September 23, 2013 at 7:02 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome, Chris!

  14. Adrian Tamblin April 29, 2014 at 8:06 am - Reply

    Hello Laura –

    First off thanks for the great resource and wealth of knowledge you bring to the LR community.

    When I first set up LR 5, I was in the 1 Catalogue for everything camp. Now that my business is growing and my HD space is shrinking I am looking to move to 1 catalog for each client project. I’d like to start with a clean slate in LR. As of now I have a lot of pictures on my local HD and want to clean my local HD space and keep LR running fast.

    I have all pictures from 2013 in a folder titled 2013 then sorted by date and project – If I right click on the main 2013 folder containing all pictures and choose Export this folder as a Catalog and choose to save it on my external drive – will this allow me to then delete the files out of lightroom and my local HD?

    After I verify the folder has been copied to my external drive, is it safe to then click back on the 2013 folder and choose remove? – Will doing this remove the photos off my local drive and free up the space I’m looking for? Is there a better way to accomplish what I’m looking to do?


    Adrian Tamblin

    • Laura Shoe May 26, 2014 at 11:53 am - Reply

      Hi Adrian,

      I apologize for overlooking your question. (Unfortunately these sometimes get lost amid the spam.) If you export as a catalog and you include the negative files, and then move this all to an external drive, then once you verify that all has gone well, you can delete the versions on your internal drive + remove them from your main catalog.

      I still would encourage most people to not go with one catalog per client project. This puts a brick wall between your photos, and therefore makes it very difficult to pull together, for example, all your best photos to update your portfolio with. Instead, you could keep all photos in one catalog, and have the older photos reside on an external drive – one catalog can reference photos on multiple hard drives. (In this case, do the move of photos from within Lightroom using the Folders panel.)

  15. guido October 23, 2014 at 11:42 am - Reply

    Hi Laura, super tutorial,……..Like always(-:
    One problem I could not solve however.
    lets say my hierarchy is mammals>Mammals>canin>Canines>Wolf. Now I would like to remove mammals and keep Mammals. If I try to delete mammals it will prompt that all subsequent keywords will also be deleted. I managed to get the bad keyword off all the pics but how do i get rid of the keyword without rewriting the whole hierarchy.
    PLEEEEEASE help, I can’t be the only moron who does first something stupid and THAN reads your tutorials ((-:
    Txs a mill for all your help !

    • Laura Shoe October 31, 2014 at 4:51 pm - Reply

      Hi Guido,

      Drag Mammals up out of mammals – you’ll let go when it shows that it is in between other keywords rather than within one.

  16. Ray October 24, 2014 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Hi Laura – I would be soooo grateful if you could point me in the right direction. I use LR4 and I’m a wedding photographer. For whatever reason my work flow involves uploading files into LR4 – I carry out adjustments corrections etc and save the results to a separate file on my desktop. After carrying out each correction adjustment etc I ‘reset’ the image in LR4 back to its original state. When I have carried out all of my corrections adjustments etc. I create a wedding file for that couple and transfer the original RAW files and my LR4 adjusted files to an external hard drive. I no longer need any of these in LR4 – if for some reason I had to create a jpg again from an original image I would just reload it and go through the adjustment process again but to be honest Laura that very rarely happens.

    So my issue is that LR4 shows that I have 76,000 images on my desktop – they all have question marks next to them because they are no longer on my desktop – as I say they have been moved to my external drive. So LR4 is slowing down to a crawl and I’m sure it is because I have so many of these unwanted images sitting on the system – can you help with what do I need to do – (simple language please – not very technical). I think I only need the wedding that I am currently working with – I think I can delete all other files from previous weddings – is this possible? If this is right is there an easy way to delete all of these files. As part of my work flow should I be deleting these images/files after each weddings – I currently do that with all of my personal presets (as I usually create about 150 per wedding?).

    Sorry for the long post – it would be so helpful to sort this out. Thanks Ray

    • Laura Shoe October 31, 2014 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      Hi Ray,

      I’m afraid I am confused by your workflow, so I can’t tell whether it is safe for you to right-click and remove those folders with question marks. What do you mean when you say you “save the results to a separate file”, and why do you reset the images in LR back to their original state?

      • Ray November 2, 2014 at 5:37 am - Reply

        Hi Laura – I have made one attempt to reply from my ipad but I don’t think it has worked – so I’ll try again. Thanks for your reply – I’ll try and explain a little better. My workflow involves downloading my images from camera to my desktop – I create a number of folders such as ‘Bridal Preparation’ etc and place the relevant original images in their folder. I process each folder through Lightroom and after each images is processed I save it to a new folder which I call ‘Bridal Preparation After Lightroom’ etc. So I now have two folders for Bridal Preparation one containing the original images the other containing the the same images after having been processed through Lightroom.

        For whatever reason After I have processed an image in Lightroom I always reset the image back to it’s original state – I have no idea why I do this now – I have just been doing it the same way like this for years – I think I originally reset them because I thought if I didn’t I could access the file in it’s original form – but that doesn’t seem right now that I’m writing it down.

        So having processed all images through Lightroom I then transfer all images to my external hard drive. I hardly ever have to refer back to the original files and if I do I can upload the originals that I have either burnt to disk or saved on my external hard drive. Any images left on Lightroom now seem redundant and are taking up space – I would like to remove them and any associated images that may be placed elsewhere on my mac and taking up space. Phew – sorry again for the long post.

        • Laura Shoe November 3, 2014 at 10:43 am - Reply

          Hi Ray, I assume when you say that you save your edited files you mean you export copies.

          Keep in mind that Lightroom doesn’t own your photos (or copies of them). It just refers to them on your hard drive. When you move them to your external drive using a tool other than Lightroom, you break Lightroom’s link to them – thus the question marks. You can remove these folders from Lightroom if you want, but you would lose any work that you have done on them, since this lives in the Lightroom catalog. That said, if you don’t care about this work because you have exported copies with the work and don’t care if you have to redo the work occassionally, go ahead. Alternatively you can right-click on these folders, select Find Missing Folder, and direct Lightroom to where they now are on your external drive, and Lightroom will reestablish a connection to them.

          Do contact me if you want to do a private session to develop a more effective workflow. Sessions aren’t cheap, but I think it would pay off for you.

  17. Tina November 12, 2014 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    I have Lr5 and attempted to delete some older backups. There were a lot! When I opened Lr after attempting to delete them, there were NO pictures in my Lr. I had a momentary panic attack. I went back to the place where the back up folder is and all the back ups that I thought I deleted…were there again. So, I clicked on the most recent back up, opened up Lr again and the pictures reappeared but NOW Lr is opening the pictures slowly. Is this normal? Did I do something wrong? I’m afraid to try it again. Has this happened to anyone else when deleting Lr back ups?

    • Laura Shoe November 20, 2014 at 10:07 am - Reply

      Hi Tina,

      It sounds like you were using a catalog in your backup folder as your main catalog. This isn’t uncommon, and happens when you go into you Backups folder and accidentally double click on a catalog file and launch Lightroom with it. If you are using a catalog in the Backups folder (this article explains how to find out), close Lightroom, move and rename the .lrcat and Previews files, then double-click on the .lrcat file to launch it. As far as opening the pictures slowly, next time you back up, check the box to optimize the catalog.

  18. Bob Donnelly November 10, 2015 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I have read your suggestions but did not see an answer to a specific problem I am having in Lightroom.
    I want to clear my desktop of some photos but I know if I drag them to the trash in my iMac it will break the connection and the next time I try to work with them in Lightroom it will tell me the file does not exist.
    How do I move the desktop images to a folder or collection and remove them from desktop at the same time?

  19. Tina B. December 22, 2015 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    I have a question about deleting MANY backups. I did that tonight….deleted SEVERAL very old back ups but when I went to click on my Lr desktop short cut (to open lightroom), I got an error message. I wish I can remember what it said but it would not open. So, in a panic, I went to my recycle folder and restored the ones I deleted and then Lr opened just fine. Any ideas what happened and how to delete old back ups with out it affecting me opening Lr?

    • Laura Shoe December 23, 2015 at 1:44 pm - Reply

      You were using a catalog backup as your master catalog, Tina. Go to Lightroom (Mac) or Edit (PC) > Catalog Settings. On the General tab it shows you what catalog file (.lrcat) you are using and where it’s located. Close Lightroom and go rename it (and its Previews file), and move it to a better location, then double-click on it to open Lightroom with it.

      In the future, stay out of the individual date folders within your Backups folder, so that you don’t accidentally launch Lightroom from a backup.

  20. Scott November 3, 2016 at 8:36 am - Reply

    Excellent List Laura – this has helped me shake off some dead weight! Also the mention ‘Find lost images’ function was really useful. Many thanks!

    • Laura Shoe November 3, 2016 at 1:34 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome, Scott!

  21. Kjell Carlsson November 27, 2016 at 8:12 am - Reply

    Thanks for great advice Laura!

    Tried to reclaim HD space by moving files from my internal HDD (Mac Book Pro) and internal SSD drive (have two) to a new external drive. Problem: My new WD Thunderbolt Duo did show up under Volumes (automatically) without me trying to create a new folder (from within LR). When adding folders (with + sign) the folder shows up in the new drive but the drive does not show up with the green light. When trying to drag & drop folders from internal drives to WD Duo-drive LR did not accept this.

    Thankful for any advice on this!
    Best rgds Kjell Carlsson

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