As much as I try to keep my workflow minimal and simplistic, sometimes there are other pieces of software that I’d like to use that don’t seamlessly integrate with Lightroom. When you use a third party program to edit a picture outside of Lightroom’s knowledge (i.e. when Lightroom is closed), Lightroom doesn’t have a chance to update the changes to the photo. Maybe you created an edit, maybe you created a couple different versions, maybe you even deleted them or moved them. Synchronizing folders helps you use Lightroom to track all those changes and versions that have been made outside of Lightroom.

Synchronizing also helps out with organization– especially if you’ve done an overhaul of the locations and file structure of where your pictures are stored. I’ve recently initiated a clean up and consolidation of all my photos and all my hard drives into one Lightroom Catalog. While I was doing so, I ended up removing loads of duplicates– some of which were tracked in Lightroom as well, many of them weren’t though. After removing the duplicates, I wanted Lightroom to update what changes have been made– what files when where, what files were removed and so forth. I’ve done this a few times in the years, so I figured others may also benefit from this.

To get started, you’ll want to have Lightroom opened up and the Library module selected. If you solely use Lightroom to organize your pictures like I do, you’ll notice a million folders in the picture below. That’s the folder structure of how my pictures are stored on my hard drive. Go ahead and find the folder you want to synchronize, right click on a mouse or two finger click on a newer trackpad and select Synchronize folder.

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Afterward, Lightroom will pop up a little message showing you an explanation of what synchronizing does, followed by a few check boxes. I’m going to leave all these check boxes on. If there were photos that have been removed from the folder outside of Lightroom, the third option would be selectable. This example doesn’t have any pictures that have been removed.

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I’ve chosen to “Show import dialog before importing”, which brings up the familiar screen we would normally see when you plug in a memory card– except with a major difference. After selecting the boxes, click the blue Synchronize button to bring up the import screen. That major difference is when Lightroom synchronizes, Lightroom only adds the photos into the catalog, leaving the original photo where it is on the hard drive. You can see that that’s the case at the middle top of the import dialog screen shown below.

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A few things to notice and a couple things to take note of. On the top left of the import dialog screen, the source, in this case, a folder, is displayed. This is always good practice to notice, so you don’t find yourself confused with other folders. On the right sidebar, I selected ‘Don’t Import Selected Duplicates’ in this case. Normally this functions well, although I had a encountered a bug in my recent overhaul where the dialogs would say I’d have ~400 pictures to add, but they wouldn’t add or show up in my catalog unless I had this box unchecked– so keep that in mind if things aren’t going you way. Click import, and you’re done!