Many Photoshop Lightroom beginners make their lives miserable by adding images into their Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog and then moving the real files around on their hard drive using their computer, outside of Lightroom. Moving a photograph that is in your Lightroom Catalog away from the location that your index recorded it during Import is guaranteed to cause problems because it breaks the database index to object relationship.
Moving a photo, or folder full of photographs, from one place to another without using Lightroom Classic’s Folders Panel is one of the easiest ways to upset this program. Moving files this way causes problem because Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic will no longer know where that file lives. If you move your image files and folders around outside of Lightroom, then the next time you use the program you will see the dreaded exclamation marks added to your image thumbnail in Lightroom (pictured above), and you’ll also see a question mark over the folders that have gone missing in the Folders Panel.
Your ability to use these files is crippled until the path has been re-established. Lightroom has to know where the file lives in order for the program to work. Most of Lightroom’s features are disabled if the path between the Catalog’s reference point and the actual image is broken. All of the image enhancement tools in Photoshop Lightroom’s Develop Module, for example, are disabled for “offline or missing files.”
Important Advice: Once an image has been imported into your Photoshop Lightroom Catalog, do not delete, move, or rename this file using your computer’s operating system. Moving photos around or renaming them at the operating system level, post-import, breaks the connection between the Lightroom Catalog’s reference point and the actual photo on your hard drive.
If you want to perform any of these organizational activities, learn how to do them from within the Lightroom application. Moving, renaming, or deleting images using Lightroom’s tools ensures that the relationship between your Catalog’s reference point and the real photo is never broken. Although broken paths are repairable within the Lightroom Catalog, fixing these problems requires additional work which is best avoided.