Lightroom Classic: Recovering file last-modified date/time?

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Not sure if my issue is the same as others who have posted here, but I'm dealing with a large-scale nightmare relating to creation dates in my LR catalog of 20K+ images. I recently made a lot of keyword updates and saved the metadata to the files. Then I noticed that for any of my photos that didn't have embedded capture/digitized metadata, the "Metadata Date" was changed to the day I saved the keyword metadata to the files. These files now only show the new date in the metadata since they lack capture dates. 

However, in Library grid view, the thumbnails still display the correct creation dates even though in the metadata panel all date fields are empty except for Metadata Date. So when I followed the advice of someone above to save metadata to file and then read metadata from file, I ended up wiping the correct capture date that had been displayed on the thumbnail, replacing it with the date I last edited the metadata.

If there is no way to reset the capture times to those saved in the LR catalog (i.e. the ones displayed on the thumbnails), then I'm facing hundreds of hours of manually correcting the metadata. In other words, nightmare.

I have my entire LR library synced/backed up on Dropbox. It is possible to restore a previous version from Dropbox, but this is only possible on a file-by-file basis. I'm now regretting not backing up my library to my Time Machine.Note: This conversation was created from a reply on: Lightroom: Still inconsistent capture date/time for photos and videos.
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Alison Castle

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Posted 3 years ago

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Mikkel Saatvedt Dahr

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Maybe it is obvious that this will not work, but could you restore a previous version of the catalog? Before you made the edits? 

Im horrified by the thought of your situation. Hope you encounter a fix!
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Alison Castle

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I could, but that would not solve the problem because LR wrote the metadata to the original files.
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John R. Ellis, Champion

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Alison,

Here's a detailed explanation of what happened, which might help you recover and avoid this in the future:

When you first imported a photo with no capture date in its metadata, LR shows the file's last-modified time under the thumbnail.  (The file last-modified time is set by the operating system -- Mac or Windows -- whenever any application changes the file.) It sounds like these last-modified times were meaningful to you, e.g. when a scanner or camera created that file.

When you did Metadata > Save Metadata To File, LR of necessity had to modify the file, so the operating system changed the file last-modified time to "now".   But LR continued to show the previous file last-modified time under the thumbnails, since they had already been read into the catalog.

Then when you did Metadata > Read Metadata To File, LR re-read the file from disk to get the most recent metadata from it, including the new file last-modified time that had been set when you did Save Metadata To File.

It's a most unfortunate sequence of events.  Though LR was behaving as designed, it can be very confusing when dealing with photos missing capture time in their metadata.  (And that confusion gets worse by long-standing bugs that may have been fixed in LR 7.1.)

I strongly recommend that people who are dealing with images missing capture date (e.g. scans) not rely on the file last-modified and file last-created dates.  Though in years past Mac software tried to maintain last-created dates, these days too many apps don't follow that convention and it's way too easy to accidentally overwrite the dates (as you discovered).

Instead, you can select such pics and do Metadata > Edit Capture Time and immediately do Change All. This will set the capture date of all the selected pics to the date that was shown under their thumbnails. And those dates will now show as Capture Date/Time in the Metadata panel and will be written back to the files in their metadata when you Metadata > Save Metadata To File.  (And I highly recommend you back up everything before you try any batch procedure of which you're uncertain.)
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John R. Ellis, Champion

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To build on Mikkel's suggestion, if you backed up to a previous version of the catalog prior to when you do Read Metadata From File, that catalog should still show the original file last-modified times under their thumbnails.  You could then use Edit Capture Time as described in my previous reply to set their Capture Date/Time from those times.   Then the LR catalog would contain your desired times in the capture-date metadata, and whenever you did Save Metadata To file, that capture date would get written to the photo files.  

But note that the file last-modified times will continue to reflect whenever they were last changed by LR.  
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Alison Castle

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Thanks for your detailed reply, John, and you have accurately described the sequence of events that led to my predicament. As for your recommendation to edit the capture time, you mean this should be done immediately after importing images without capture time in their metadata, correct? Indeed, I wish I had known about the issue and done this in the past. I just really wish LR allowed some way to "restore" the original last-modified time to the files. If this is not possible, the only alternative is to spend dozens of hours changing the creation dates of each file.... help.
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Alison Castle

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I see you posted a follow-up while I was writing a reply. That is an interesting idea and I will give it a shot to see if it works!
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Alison Castle

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All right, I opened the last backup of the catalog from before I made the metadata changes. First, LR Classic had to update the catalog file. Then, to my dismay, LR detected that the files' metadata had been changed "by another application." So when I tried to change the capture time, LR proposed the creation date from the file on the disk, which is wrong. Ugh. Is there any way to get LR to ignore metadata changes not made in the current catalog? If so, maybe it would then write the original dates to the files. 
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John R. Ellis, Champion

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Sigh, it looks LR 7.1 changed the behavior -- in the Metadata pane land in the Edit Capture Time command, it uses the current last-modified time of the file, rather than what's shown under the thumbnail.   

If you could roll back to LR 7.0.1 or LR 7.0, I think my recipe would work. But unfortunately, it doesn't look like Adobe has made these previous versions of LR 7 available for download (as they did with LR 6).

I'm out of options here, sorry.
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Alison Castle

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Well guess what? I'm still running 7.0.1 and the Edit Capture time does not actually use the thumbnail last-modified time. It uses the actual file's modified time! Should I update to 7.1 to see if there is any change? Or should I stick with 7.0.1 and accept defeat?
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John R. Ellis, Champion

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I tested 7.1 and it behaves the way you observed in 7.0.1.  So maybe this was a change since LR 6.12, not sure.   But there's not point in updating to 7.1 to address this problem, sigh.
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John R. Ellis, Champion

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Hold on, I just learned you can roll back to 7.0.  Let me do a quick test and get back.
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John R. Ellis, Champion

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Unfortunately, 7.0 behaves the same way as 7.0.1 and 7.1.  So my recipe won't work with any of those versions.  Even if the recipe works with 6.12, there's no way to open your LR 7 catalog in version 6.
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Alison Castle

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Thanks for trying. Even though I'm still out of luck, I appreciate it very much.