Lightroom Classic: Had to replace hard drive, can't find catalog/back-ups

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Very Frustrated with ADOBE!. I have been using ADOBE for years and specifically Lightroom classic. After every session I would back everything up with the LR saying it was backed up and synched properly. I also watched and followed all of the video tutorials and ADOBE's website on how to import, orginize save photos etc. Unfortunally, I discovered that after I had to replace my hard drive, every photo since 2017 was never backed up or synched. (Thankfully I have back ups of the photos I exported to an external hard drive. I spent four days with multiple tech support people with the last round lasting literally 21 hours. (Multiple tech people - some were nice, some were quite rude. None were able to help.) When I pay for ADOBE I expect to be told the truth about their product. I however, have lost 20,000 photographs in the LR program that I can never edit again! I am highly frustrated!!
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Cindi Fulton

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Posted 11 months ago

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Andrew Rodney

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LR saying would back everything up with the LR saying it was backed up and synched properly"


LR doesn't back close to everything, assuming it does was your first mistake. It only backs up the catalog, not your images. 
You however say you backup your photo's to an external HD so what's the problem? Did you back them up or not? 
Bottom line: backup any and all data you can't afford to lose, back up to multiple destinations (rotate the drives, backup to the cloud for off site back up etc). 
(Edited)
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Max Johnson, Champion

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That's awful! It's true that Lightroom only backs up the "Catalog" which is the database of edits and metadata, but not the original photo files. I'm not sure how they could do better to convey that, but what do you mean by "sync"? The cloud sync?

A quick look at Adobe's tutorial for the Lightroom Mobile sync definitely make no mention of what level of sync is being used, but it definitely does not support full RAW file sync.
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Cindi Fulton

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When I first contacted tech. support the person I was working with kept talking about the photos needing to be synched.   I told them that I backed up the system every time I finished working with Lightroom.  Yes.  I backed up the photos I wanted to keep.  What is frustrating is when I contacted tech. support after lighroom saying there was nothing in the catalog I was sent on so many wild goose chases only to be told that all of my photos are missing because they didn't sync to the cloud.  I am repeating what I was told.  I am not a computer expert and never claimed to be.
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Cindi Fulton

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The problem is that now I can't put my photos back on lightroom which means I can no longer edit any of the photos. 
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Max Johnson, Champion

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You do have the originals, but in a different location? Or you only have the final edits that were exported?
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Andrew Rodney

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What do you mean you can't 'put the photo's back on LR"? 
Do you have the photo's or not? If you do, you can re-import them to the backed up catalog or a new one. 
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Laura Shoe, Champion

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I'm very sorry to hear that you lost so many photos, Cindi - I can imagine how painful that must be. Unfortunately yours is a not-uncommon misperception: as Andrew says, the backup prompt that comes up when you close LR backs up only your catalog - as the dialog states:


Unfortunately that is easy to miss. In my training I emphasize this point and I discuss what you need to do to ensure that everything is backed up - your entire photo library, which includes catalog and photos.

One reason Adobe has introduced the new cloud-based Lightroom application is painful misunderstandings such as this with Classic. The new app does file management for you, including backups (which is not to say you shouldn't also do local backups of your photos if you were using this app.) That said, the newer app isn't for everyone, as it's missing lots of features that Classic has.
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Carlos Cardona

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It’s not a “painful misunderstanding”, it’s a “not understanding what a path means”. Teach the Path! The Way of the Image!”
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Carlos Cardona

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The only reason that your photos show as missing, is because the path to those photos has changed when you changed hard drives. (Or you changed the hard drive name). The path has to remain exactly the same, so that lightroom can find them, because it memorizes exactly that path. If you know WHERE the photos lived in your old hard drive (a crucial detail to know), then you can put them right back there and LR will find them (after a relaunch of LR). CAN YOU DO THAT?

I have all my photos on an external drive (RAID actually) named “Data”, and if I wanted to upgrade that, I would HAVE to rename the new one Data, or Lightroom would be helpless. You see?
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Carlos Cardona

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Don’t get suckered into paying more for Adobe’s cloud storage! Know the path to your photos! Best to keep them all in one location going forward, but restore your old ones to the right path first!
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Simon Chen, Principal Computer Scientist

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Hi Cindi,

Do you still have the original photos backup somewhere? If that is the case, then there is still chance to reconnect your backup originals to your catalog.

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Edmund Gall

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Cindi, I'm a fellow user (not affiliated with Adobe), but I'm sorry you're going through this stress. However, If I read your comments above correctly so far, then I think you haven't lost anything and we might be able to help.

First, we need to be sure we're using the same terms the same way. Some of what you said sounds conflicting, so let me take them step by step, state what I thought you said, and respond based on my interpretation. Please clarify my errors.

"After every session I would back everything up with the LR saying it was backed up and synched properly."
  • Do you mean you only clicked the Back up button on the Back Up Catalog popup dialog that Laura Shoe referred to above? If so, then as she said, that feature ONLY backs up the LR catalog. It DOES NOT back up any of your physical image files nor LR's Preview files. So, you need to use other software to ensure that your image files are backed up onto separate storage.
  • By sync, do you mean LR collections that you've configured to sync to your Adobe Creative Cloud storage? If so, then in LR Classic, that only uploads the Smart Previews of any synced photos: it DOES NOT upload your entire raw file. (LR CC, the fully cloud-based version, works differently: you have the option to upload your raw files to your CC storage. LR Classic doesn't do this.)

"I discovered that after I had to replace my hard drive, every photo since 2017 was never backed up or synched."
  • What made you conclude that none of your photos from 2017 onwards was backed up? This sounds to me like you only backed up the catalog, but not the physical photo files: however, this conclusion conflicts with your next quote below.
  • Syncing is a separate matter from back up. What made you conclude that your photos from 2017 onwards were not synced? Did you mean that when you replaced your hard drive and opened LR, all images from 2017 onwards had an exclamation mark next to them? Or did you mean that you logged into Lightroom for Web with your Adobe ID and couldn't see any of the images from 2017 onwards that you were sure were synced? As I said above, syncing refers to uploading certain Collections' Smart Previews and Develop (or processing) metadata from LR Classic to your cloud storage: thus the proper way to confirm something has been synced or not involves viewing the images you have stored on the cloud via your web browser (and Lightroom for Web) plus checking the Lightroom Sync tab in LR's Preferences to ensure you don't have any errors or pending uploads in the Sync Activity droplist.

"Thankfully I have back ups of the photos I exported to an external hard drive."
  • This conflicts with what you wrote above, where you said you discovered the photos were never backed up. So what did you mean? If you do have copies of the photos from 2017 onwards on an external hard drive, then you have not lost anything. Unless you meant you only have post-processed versions of those photos that were exported to an external drive (in, say, JPEG format) from LR, but don't have the original image files first imported into LR (e.g. the raw files from your cameras' SD cards): in that case, then without a separate back up of the original raw files, they're lost.
  • I'm hoping you meant that you have proper back ups of the original files on that external drive. If so, then it sounds, as Carlos Cardona said above, like you might not have restored all the files from your old disk onto the new disk in their same folder structure. If that's the case, then when you open LR and browse your images from 2017 onwards in the Folder Panel in the Library Module, you'd see exclamation marks in the upper right corner of their image thumbnails. To solve this, all you need to do is either copy the photos from the external drive to your replacement drive in the same folder structure as they were on the old disk that was replaced, or right-click on the 2017 onwards folders and choose the Update Location... option in the pop-up menu to let LR know where your photos now reside. Once that is done, all of the exclamation marks on the thumbnails should disappear, indicating that LR now knows where your images from 2017 onwards are located, and any processing metadata associated with those 20,000 photos would now be re-linked back to their original files.

Overall, this is the main assumption I've made. Your description reminds me of the initial error that many other users who transfered from other image processing software (e.g. Google Picasa, Aperture) to LR: they thought that importing images into LR meant that their physical photo files (raws, JPEGs, etc) were copied into LR's catalog, when actually LR does NOT do so. Thus, while backing up in those other programs meant your images and associated post-processing metadata were backed up in a single file (e.g. the Picasa/Aperture database) and mouse-click, in LR you can ONLY back up the LR catalog (post-processing metadata, virtual copies, collection metadata, etc.) via LR: you MUST back up your image files separately.

I moved from Aperture to LR with LR version 5, after watching nearly all the training videos from Adobe. However, I luckily also saw several hours of online training from one of Adobe's Ambassadors, Ben Willmore, via his week-long LR courses on CreativeLive: his training explains LR Classic in much more detail than Adobe's own videos & help pages. If I hadn't done so, and assumed that I could've picked up LR just by reading/watching Adobe's stuff, I might've fallen into the same trap. I'm sure there are other trainers & courses out there, but he's the main one (there are also others on CreativeLive who did the same but for LR CC, i.e. the fully cloud-based mobile version of LR).

I don't think the average user realises just how powerful LR Classic is, and how easy it is to mess things up by accident. You mentioned in one of your comments above that you're not a computer expert, but to use LR you don't have to be. However, I would strongly advise anyone who hasn't taken a proper in-depth LR training course to do so, to ensure that they understand more fully how LR works and how to configure & use it safely (rather than risk operating based on assumptions based on their experiences with other, older processing apps that they might have used).

Also, I've only been on this forum a couple months, but I'm starting to get the perception that a few of Adobe's front-line support staff might not know what they're doing or how to serve customers. My ex-auditor spidey senses are tingling (their Customer Service processes sound ripe for an independent review). However, the guys who respond here are quite good, so if anyone can help you, they can.

I've made certain assumptions while reading your comments, Cindi, that can all be wrong. Let me know where, so we can help get you sorted.

Cheers,
Ed

(Edited)