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The biggest problem is that loss of the folder tree. The methods to relink photos described in Axel's answer assume that the folder tree is kind of intact. The methods are still valid if it's not, but it becomes a daunting task to relink the photos, because you can't do it at the folder level. What kind of folder tree did you have? Is there any way to restore it manually before you try to relink the catalog with the photos?
It's a helpful start Axel. Thanks. But Johan is correct in the next post. It's the mass of photos that is the problem.
You might be better importing the photos at their current location and reorganising in Lightroom, I know its a pain. Other option is to go to a backup you may have, I don't suppose you have that original folder hierarchy backed up anywhere? Apple Time Capsule/Machine?
You are correct.
I've set up the entire folder tree again just using windows explorer. The Light Room Catalogue now recognises all the folders - all the "?" are gone.
However, of course these are now just empty folders.
The Catalogue tells me which photos should be in the folders. It's finding them among the thousands now completely rearranged that's the problem.
I'm wondering... if
a. I make a copy of all the photos and put them all in one folder.
b. I then rename one sub folder in the Catalogue with the same name as the folder with all the photos. (copy also the place in the tree)
c. Would the LR catalogue then find the photos that should be in that catalogue folder and link them?
d. Could I then move them together into a new folder labelled correctly?
(If that makes sense!)
AFAIK, you can't rename a missing folder in Lightroom. These are real folders (altough in the catalog they are database records). That means that Lightroom will not offer you the option to rename them as long as the link to the original folder is broken.
Simply starting again (as suggested by others) is not an appealing option, because that means you'll lose all your edits and metadata. What you could do is this (make a catalog backup first!): Place all photos in a single folder. Use the method described by Victoria to connect one of the missing folders in Lightroom to that single folder with all the images. Then use the same method to connect the next missing folder to it as well. You will get an error saying that the folder already exists and the option to merge them. Click the 'Merge' button. Repeat this for all your missing folders. That is probably the fastest way to reconnect all your images. You won't have any folder tree left, but that is something you can solve later from within Lightroom.
You might be better importing the photos at their current location and reorganising in Lightroom,
Importing isn't a good idea. In this case you'll loose all development settings for the appropriate pictures that you have don't.
The better way in this case is to do an relink.