If you use the Remove Photo, or Photos, option in LR and then select Delete From Disk those image files are both Removed from the LR catalog and Deleted from the drive they were on. There is no way to Delete an image from your hard drive and not remove it from the LR catalog from Inside Lightroom. You can remove it from the catalog and not delete it from the hard drive in LR but not the other way around.
So If you are seeing a question mark ( ? ) next to an image LR doesn't know where that image is. As far as LR knows that image is missing.
There is a problem with Mac computers and external drives.
1) At startup of your Mac it may take a few seconds to a minute or more for OS X to see the external drive is connected. If you start LR in that time OS X doesn't see, recognize, the external drive you will get ? marks on all the images that are stored on that drive and imported into the LR catalog.
2) OS X has a feature to put hard drives to sleep, both internal and external drives. If that happens, OS X puts your external drive to sleep, and you open LR it may take some time for the drive to be seen and for LR to connect with the images that are on that drive.
There is a setting in the OS X preferences to stop that (or at least there was back in the Mt Lion and Maverick days of OS X. I haven't used the newer OS X versions).
Thank you for your reply Just Shoot Me.
That helps me along in my understanding. I will change the setting in OS X to prevent the drives from being put to sleep.
I´m wondering if not having a thumbnail means I deleted it from LR. With so many photos taken over time, I can't know just from the photo number if it's deleted or just missing. If it is deleted, then I'd like to remove it to clean up my LR and if it's missing, I want to find it, but how can I tell the difference between Missing or Deleted photos?
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Not sure what you mean by not having a thumbnail.
No when you remove a photo from the LR catalog no box is ever displayed for that image. It is Removed from the catalog and LR loses, erases, all record of it.
Unless you mean there are boxes displayed in the Grid view that have no image in it. That happens when a file is missing and LR never created a Preview image for it or the preview image was deleted and or overwritten which LR will do depending on what your Preview options are set to.
When you say Photo number are you talking about the File Name either assigned to it by the camera when taken or the File Name given to it when imported into LR using the Rename option.
If it is the actual File Name just search your computer for that file name with the File Manager program for your OS. Finder and Spotlight for Mac or Windows/File Explorer, and the search feature included, for Windows. If the search doesn't turn up anything then the file has been deleted from the drive.
If you deleted images from your drive or moved images around on your drive/drives outside of LR then those images will have a ? mark next to them. LR uses the PATH to the images to find and display them.
So if you import images from your external drive, whatever the name of that drive is, LR is looking for that image on the PATH DriveName/FolderName/ImageFileName.
If you delete or move that image from that PATH outside of LR then LR can't find it and it will get the ? mark.
Thank you again for taking the time to help me Just Shoot Me. Have a good one.