Missing files in lightroom – why it is vital you have a sound backup strategy

Boring post alert!

Boring post but with a serious message to be fair. One that will hopefully give you something to think about, in particular how you look after your data. Serious digital photography requires serious digital data management.

So what happened?

Yesterday morning I was working, editing a recent architectural photography shoot. So this is actual paying work for a client. Not me playing around in Lightroom editing some landscape photography from years ago. Real work.

I was moving the images I needed to edit into a separate folder. This is how I work. I import the images into Lightroom, then add them to a client folder. I then auto-stack by time, then select the images to edit.

The chosen images are marked as picks in Lightroom – little white flags. I then create a new folder and put the files in there. I don’t bother with collections at this stage as they do not pick up the complete stack. This works for me even if others might say differently.

I had the files in the folder, but when I tried to move them Lightroom told me that some of the files were missing.


I can see them on my screen. So where were they? What had I done?

Well the answer is I don’t know, and I couldn’t find them even though I could see them.

Not good news. Especially the way my commercial architectural photography workflow is set up, including how I shoot the images with the intention of processing in a certain way.

I shoot with specific techniques knowing what I am going to do in Lightroom and Photoshop. 

So what to do? 

This is why having a sound backup strategy is so essential. We invest all that time and money on gear, and time on taking the images, so shouldn’t we also invest time and money in protecting our images? 

Thankfully I do have a sound backup strategy. The first line of defence is a separate copy of the files which I imported into Lightroom, which are on a separate external hard drive.

This is going to sound more complicated than it is, and it took me a while to work it out, but this is what I do.

I import the images into Lightroom. The Lightroom catalogue is on my laptop hard drive. The actual images I import are physically saved to a separate external hard drive (refer to Februarys posts for more on this tale of woe). I build Smart Previews in Lightroom CC, within the Lightroom catalogue on my laptop hard drive.

And I make a duplicate of the imported files on a separate hard drive.

I also back up my catalogue onto a separate hard drive.

So basically, cutting a long story short, I have everything in two separate places.

There is a bit of housekeeping that goes along with this arrangement, but it works for me.

I hope this makes sense?

So when the files were missing fixing this was easy.

All I did was reimport the images from the duplicate import folder. Everything was there and imported fine and I was quickly able to get back to work.

What I have yet to work out is what actually went wrong! 

I have not had this problem before. I have recently moved all my files onto an external hard drive but this should work fine.

I have to say that these days Lightroom can be more unpredictable than it was, before the Creative Cloud. 

And strangely when I reimported the full set of images (rather than pick the 10 missing ones out of 200) it did not pick up the fact that some of the files were already there (even with the do not import duplicates selected). 

Strange and something I will have to check out once I am over this huge amount of architectural photography work I am currently working through

So, to reinforce the key point of this post.


And make sure that it works for you now and going forwards. You have a lot to lose – don’t forget that!

Thanks for reading this post and please come back tomorrow for a nice picture and no waffle from me at



Rick McEvoy

I am Rick McEvoy, an architectural and construction photographer living and working in the South of England. I create high quality architectural photography and construction photography imagery of the built environment for architects and commercial clients. I do not photograph weddings, families, small people or pets - anything that is alive, moves or might not do as I ask!! I am also the creator of the Photography Explained Podcast, available on all major podcast providers. I have a blog on my website where I write about my work and photography stuff. Rick McEvoy ABIPP, MCIOB

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