Images Appear Fine, Then Suddenly Corrupted in Lightroom

Have you ever imported images into Adobe Lightroom and they looked fine for a split second, then after just a moment suddenly they started to corrupt?  Or maybe you looked carefully at your images on the back of the camera where the looked fine, and they even looked fine in File Explorer or Finder, but then when you open them in Photoshop or ACR, suddenly they didn’t look fine anymore.

In a nutshell, have you ever seen images go from this:

Image courtesy of and copyright 2015 Jennifer Graham
Image courtesy of and copyright 2015 Jennifer Graham

to this:
150206_Careyes_031-17

It can be a terrifying experience, especially when clients are depending on your images.  I’ve put a YouTube video together demonstrating the problem, explaining a few possible causes, and how you (might) be able to recover.

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23 thoughts on “Images Appear Fine, Then Suddenly Corrupted in Lightroom”

  1. This use to happened to me in the past and it turned out to be a bad memory stick in my computer. I tested each one with windows memory test (pre-boot test) and one of four was bad. The manufacturer replaced it under warranty and I changed it out. I’ve never had this issue again since swapping out the bad memory stick. So test your memory if you can’t solve the problem.

  2. I am pretty certain my problem has nothing to do with a bad card reader. It has just occurred since installing Windows 10 on my computer. As I was reviewing my images in Lightroom, I found that about 15 are corrupted and most were imported quite some time ago. I have now installed a newer graphics card in hopes of solving the problem. My computer is old 2006, so the graphics card did not meet the current LR requirements. Since I don’t understand how the images were suddely corrupted, I am very nervous that I may lose more images. I’m especially concerned about those that I can’t afford to lose. One interesting fact was that one of those corrupted images, I was able to access within my master files that LR uses and I brought it into Photoshop and it did not come up as corrupted. That is very puzzling to me. What could be happening here?

    1. Hi Arlene. If indeed the files were not corrupted while importing (and just “hiding” so to speak,) then your most likely culprit is a failing hard drive.

      Win10 doesn’t touch the files (it just lets LR run.) Your video card doesn’t touch the master files, it just has image data handed to it by the application so it can speed things up.

      Here’s a test you can run. Do the images in question only appear corrupted when looking at them in the Library module? Or do they also appear corrupted when looking at them in the Develop module. The Develop module is the only module in all of LR that actually shows you the contents of the RAW files. The Library module only shows you previews that have been rendered from the original file, but it does not show the original file itself. If the images look fine in Develop, then the master files are not corrupt, but rather the preview files LR is working with.

      There was a bug in early LR6 that was fixed very quickly, but it would cause corruption of the preview files. (Again, no reason to panic, it only affected the previews – not the originals.) Are you keeping LR patched and up to date with the latest dot releases?

      If the images appear corrupt in Develop, and you’re 100% sure they were not corrupt previously, then I urge you to back up to another HDD as quickly as possible. (You should be doing this anyway, but now’s a good time to have a few additional backups.) Have a tech-savvy friend take a look at the drive and run some tests to determine it’s health.

  3. Hi. TY for the video. My issue appears to be different. I have imported files, edited them, made jpgs out of them. Moved on with my life. returned weeks later to find the files corrupted. If you have any insight into why that is happening please let me know. I have been googling for months – people tend to blame card readers, but that dos not seem to be the only issue. while I have found others posting about this problem – no one has solved it, and light room support seems to want to pretend it’s not happening. 🙁

    1. It may be an indicator that your drive is failing. If you know how to use drive scanning tools to check its health, do that. If you don’t, I recommend just buying a new drive and replacing it. Drives are cheap.

  4. My problem appears to be the same but I am not sure since I can’t get your video to load. Is it still online or just the screenshot?

  5. Having the same problem Gavin. It appears to be LR related. I recently went on vacation and shot about 3,000 images that were reviewed and imported into Lightroom.

    Tonight I was culling this down. This is my 3rd or 4th pass, I assure you the images were all just fine during the rounds I reviewed them before.

    I noticed an image I had just zoomed into was now showing the smart preview very similar to what you have shown above. I know for absolute certain it was not like that, but I then deleted it. A few dozen images later another one!

    The images are screwed up in library mode and develop mode. If I pull the source RAW from my drive it’s fine in all my other programs. It’s isolated in Lightroom and I’m certain Lightroom is at fault. Likely a catalog corruption.

    I’ll post later if i find that rebuilding the catalog had any impact.

    1. Hi gwhelan. Sorry you’re having trouble. Before I dive into a few options, please confirm that you have Lightroom updated to the very latest version, so you have any bugs squashed.

      The catalog does not store image data – only data about what images you have, where they’re located, processing adjustments, star ratings, colors, keywords, and the like.

      You said the files are fine in other programs. Can you be specific? For example if you’re looking at them in Finder/Explorer (Mac/Win) or in PhotoMechanic, then you’re not actually looking at the RAW data – just a JPEG preview that the camera created, and hid inside the RAW file. This won’t tell you accurately whether the file is corrupt or not.

      You may have tried this already, but open one of the corrupt files in Photoshop using ACR (Adobe Camera RAW.) If the same image opens fine in PS, then indeed something very fishy is going on.

      Report back here with your findings.

  6. I’m seeing this issue as well, only in Preview mode. I’ve never seen this before the most recent upgrade to Lightroom CC. The “corruption” doesn’t show up in the Develop module, nor does it show up if I export the “corrupt” files. The raw files look fine when I open them in PS using ACR. I’m suspicious something happened with this most recent Lightroom update.

  7. I had a similar problem. No matter of clearing Preview caches through Lightroom worked. I ultimately closed down Lightroom, located the catalog directory, and removed (moved aside) the catalog file ending in “Previews.lrdata”. Once I did this, it took longer to load up previews the first time, but they all looked correct again. My original Preview cache file was about 14G.

  8. I’ve had this issue and I’m sure it has nothing to do with the reader. I’ve re-down loaded the images onto a different computer with the same card and care reader and experienced no problems at all.

  9. Had this problem and it was a card reader issue, it appears. However, I imported 3 cards in a row, and the middle one was the only problematic one, which I thought strange. I tried re-importing and the corruption showed up on other photos, not the same ones, so I’m still pretty certain its the card reader and I’ll scrap it. My old card reader imported them fine after that (whew!).

    Should I be worried about my card as well? I’m going to have a hard time trusting it again even it it wasn’t the culprit..

  10. I’ve been dealing with this same issue for months, and have been worried that my cameras are starting to fail. What confuses me most is that it happens with two different cameras, on multiple memory cards, using two different computers, and different card readers (I’ve gone through three card readers now). Perhaps I have a too strong a magnetic field in my body 😉 What also confuses me is that sometimes it takes 10 minutes working in Lightroom with the corrupt file visible (and looking totally normal), before it all of a sudden goes corrupt. I suppose it’s still possible it’s just bad luck with card readers? (And on that note, I often have card readers just randomly eject on me without me touching them – across two different computers so I doubt it’s the USB ports – any recommendations for reliable card readers?). Thanks so much for posting this.

    1. There’s some common denominator somewhere, Michelle. I use Transcend TS-RDF8K readers and have had good luck with them, though I’m not suggesting they’re somehow better than everything else. Given that your readers tend to disconnect, there’s something flaky somewhere. A cable, a bad USB port… something. Good luck!

  11. I have this issue on an old workstation. It’s corrupting raw images when copying to an external hard drive when through USB. I’ve isolated it to something internal in the computer.

  12. Hey, thanks for the video, altough my experience is a bit different.
    I had a photoshoot, placed the photos in my hard drive. I made some post-processing in Lightroom, no issues. After that, I had already a bunch of other photoshoots, and only today, 6 months later, I’m finding some of the photos are corrupted with the exclamation mark in Lightroom. Only one of these photos has the color stripes along with the warning, but every other files seem ok (apart from the exclamation mark). Some of these images, I had already processed, and tell you, they weren’t damaged. Now, Lightroom doesn’t even allow me to make adjustments. Camera is a Sony A77II. Now I need help on getting my hands on some software that gives me the option to recover these files. I believe its hard-drive related, because these same photos never had the corrupt exclamation marks before.. Thanks for reading!

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