How to Move Photos and Folders in Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
How to Move Photos and Folders in Lightroom Classic

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Using Lightroom Classic is much easier if your photo files are organized properly. But if they’re not, it’s easy to fix as you can move photos to a better location in Lightroom Classic.

There are two basic scenarios for moving folders and photos. The best way to move them depends on which applies to you.

1. You’re moving folders or photos to a new location on the same hard drive. For example, if you’re reorganizing your photos into a better folder structure.

2. You’re moving folders or photos to a new location on a different hard drive. For example, moving photos from your computer’s internal hard drive to an external drive to save space.

Tip: Read this tutorial to learn how to set up a folder structure for your photos that makes it easy to move, copy and organize your entire photo collection – How to Organize Photos For Lightroom Classic

How to move photos in Lightroom Classic

There are two ways to move your photos.

Method 1: Use the Folders panel in Lightroom Classic. This is best for moving folders or photos to a new location on the same hard drive.

Method 2: Copy (not move) photos in Finder (Mac) or Windows Explorer (PC). This is the best way to put photos or folders on a new hard drive.

Important note: Before using either method make sure your photos are backed up in case anything goes wrong.

Method 1: Use the Folders Panel to move photos in Lightroom Classic

This method works best for small moves on the same hard drive, such as moving one folder at a time. If you want to move a folder containing a large number of subfolders, use the second method.

1. Go to the Folders panel in the Library module. It helps if you’re in Grid View (press ‘G’ on the keyboard if you’re not) so you can see thumbnails of the photos in selected folders.

Folders Panel Lightroom Classic

Any hard drives containing photos imported into your Lightroom Catalog and connected to your computer are indicated with a green rectangle (marked with red arrows in the above screenshot). In my case that includes my computer’s internal hard drive plus two external drives.

Any hard drives containing photos imported into your Lightroom Catalog and not connected to your computer are grayed out. As you can see I have several of those. These are are mainly unimportant photos, such as JPEGs I’ve created to illustrate an article.

When I say unimportant, I mean that they are not part of my personal photo collection. They’ve been moved from one hard drive to another for some reason and I’m not bothered if they show up as missing.

2. Click the + icon in the top-right corner (marked with a green arrow above) and select Add Folder from the menu. Navigate to your new external hard drive and create a folder to contain your photos. Name it something like “Raw” or “Photos”.

New Folder window Lightroom Classic

The new folder appears in the Folders panel, grayed out to show it’s empty. I created a test folder called Photos as a demo for this tutorial.

New folder in Lightroom Classic

3. Make sure the folder hierarchy is clear before you start moving folders around. For example, you should be able to see that the folder “2020” is a subfolder saved in another folder called “Photos”. If you can’t, right-click the 2020 folder and choose Show Parent Folder from the menu.

4. Now you can drag and drop folders into the new folder you just created. Click on a folder you want to move to your external drive and drag it to your new folder.

A few things to note:

  • When you move a folder, Lightroom Classic also moves any subfolders inside it.
  • You can move photos as well as folders into your new folder. But it’s best to move folders as subfolders (based on date) are the best way to keep your photos organized.
  • Wait until Lightroom Classic has moved the contents of one folder before clicking and dragging another. You don’t want to have multiple operations on the go as there’s more chance of something going wrong. It may take a while to move a folder if it contains lots of photos, so be patient.
  • Don’t cancel the move part way through once it’s started. It’s rare, but it may cause problems.
  • You can rename folders before or after moving them by right-clicking and choosing Rename from the menu.
  • A folder may contain photos that you haven’t imported into Lightroom. You can double-check by right-clicking the folder in the Folders panel and choosing Synchronize Folder. The Synchronize Folder window appears, telling you if there are any new photos and giving you the option to import them into your Catalog.
Synchronize Folder window in Lightroom Classic

Method 2: Use Finder (Mac) or Windows Explorer (PC) to copy photos

If you want to move folders or photos from one hard drive to another it’s best to copy them, not move them. When you move photos your computer copies them to the new location then deletes the original file. You don’t want to delete any files until you’ve verified that they’ve copied properly.

This method is best if your photos are organized in an hierarchical folder system (see our tutorial linked above if your photo’s aren’t so organized).

1. Copy the top folder in your hierarchy (the one that contains all the others) from the hard drive it’s saved on to your new hard drive. This could take a few hours if you have lots of photos so be patient.

Tip: If you’re unsure where a folder is saved on your computer’s internal hard drive then Lightroom Classic can tell you. Right-click on the folder name in the Folders panel and select Show in Finder (Mac) or Show in Windows Explorer (PC). Your computer opens a new window with the folder inside it.

2. Go to the top folder on your internal hard drive (the one you just copied) in Finder or Windows Explorer, right-click and select Rename. Add an exclamation mark in front of the folder name, so that “Folder name” becomes “! Folder name”.

Now Lightroom Classic doesn’t know where to find your folder. You’ll see a question mark in the Folders panel (see below) to indicate this.

Folders Panel Lightroom Classic

3. In the Folders panel right-click on the missing folder name and choose Find Missing Folder from the panel. Navigate to your external hard drive and select the folder. Lightroom Classic relinks the folder and all the photos and folders inside it and the question mark disappears.

4. Verify your photos have copied correctly by looking at them in Grid View and looking for any images with a question mark. If you don’t see any, then everything worked as it should. If you do see a question mark, then double-check that particular image copied correctly.

Once you’re confident that all your photos copied correctly you’re free to delete the original folder (the one on your internal drive). But please make sure your photos are properly backed before you do this, just in case you make a mistake. You can refer to our photo backup tutorial again if you need to.

Moving / copying disorganized folders

If your folders are somewhat disorganized (i.e. they aren’t saved in a hierarchical folder structure) then you may still prefer to use your computer’s operating system to move folders. It’s also the best method for large moves (i.e. moving several folders at one time).

If you’re moving photos or folders to a new location on the same hard drive use Finder (Mac) or Windows Explorer (PC). Remember that when you move a folder, any subfolders also get moved.

After you move a folder, go find that folder in the Lightroom Classic’s Folders panel. You’ll see a question mark icon indicating that Lightroom Classic doesn’t know where the folder is. Right-click and choose Find Missing Folder. Navigate to its new location and select it.

If you moved a folder containing subfolders, relink the top folder. Lightroom Classic automatically relinks any subfolders it contains.

If you’re copying folders to a different hard drive, use the renaming technique (step 2. above) to relink your photos.

It’s more work, but it’s worth the effort once your folders are properly organized.

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Jan Kusiak June 17, 2020 - 3:58 am

Hi Andrew, I’m on the latest version of Macos 10.15.5 and LR Classic 9.2.1

When I try to rename a folder in LR, I get the message “The folder 2020 could not be renamed or moved”. This happens on all folders.

I can go into Finder and rename the folder no problem – whether LR is open or not.

What I’d really like to do is be able to change the folder names so that they’re displayed (in Library view) from latest to oldest. I can change the view option in Finder but this seems to have no effect in LR. It’s as if when LR first opened the parent folder (which I’d brought across from Windows 7) it read the folder list then sticks to it whatever I try to change.

Any thought?

Best Regards….Jan

Andrew S. Gibson June 18, 2020 - 8:26 am

Hi Jan, being unable to rename in Lightroom Classic sounds like it could be a permissions issue of some sort, especially as the folder originated on a Windows computer. If that’s the case worth Googling the issue to see if you can find some specific information on the possible solutions.

But it isn’t much of a problem if you rename a folder in Finder. Just go to that folder in Lightroom Classic afterwards (you’ll see an question mark icon showing that Lightroom Classic doesn’t know where to find the folder), right-click and choose Find Missing Folder from the menu. Select the folder you’ve just renamed and Lightroom will update the Catalog.

scott June 19, 2023 - 2:50 pm

Hi Andrew, You have made a very interesting point here in the comments. Are you able to assist me with my problem?
My issue is on HDD level. My PC has named my NAS folder differently in my PC vs my MAC. Do you know of any way to get around this as the PC see’s the NAS storage name “//PhotoVault – 2022” my MAC sees it as “2022”. This is causing major issues when Im trying to work on my MAC as its saying I cant preview these files on my master Catalog due to there being an “internal path error” but all I need to do is rename the Master Catalog Hdd file “2022” To fix the issue.

Noone can help me on this!

Andrew S. Gibson June 20, 2023 - 12:15 pm

Hi Scott, what do you want do to? If you want to use the same Catalog on both Mac and PC I don’t know what the answer would be. I haven’t used NAS so I’m not familiar with it.

But if you want to update the filepaths in a Catalog on your Mac, you can do so by going to the Folders panel, right-clicking a folder on your NAS and selecting Find Missing Folder from the menu. If you have a top level folder, click on that, and Lightroom will update the locations of as many folders as it can.

If you need to use the same Catalog on both machines you can’t do that, if that’s the case then I suggest post your question on the Lightroom Queen forum. It has lots of knowledgeable users and I’m sure someone will know if it can be done:


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