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:

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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31 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.

    1. That worked for me too. I renamed my Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata file to Lightroom Catalog Previews.lrdata.bak.

  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!

  13. I have had a similar problem. The files are corrupt in LR preview and develop, as well as in Finder. I have changed card reader and memory cards and still have the same issues. And I have reinstalled both LR and OS, without success. The only thing is that if I reimport the problem files form the original CF, then they are OK, suggesting the camera is not at fault. but what is most terrifying is that some files I’ve downloaded and edited previously suddenly corrupt. Based If anyone has any ideas, or has faced the same problem, please let me know.

  14. Have this issue too. Not sure if it happened when i transferred my data from an old drive to a new one, but some files are the same as the example. Good news was, I went into my time machine and found the files (back when I knew they were ok) and brought them back into lightroom and now they’re ok. I’ve never seen that happen before, that said, i’ve never copied over a hard drive and swapped them out either. lol.

    Not sure if the time machine tip will be helpful to those mac users, but it worked for me.

  15. Thanks so much, Gavin. This has saved my day!!! I shot a wedding yesterday and when importing the fourth memory card with my card reader it all slowed down massively and a lot of files where corrupted. I have just deleted those and reimported them directly through my camera and they are fine! Does this mean I need to get rid of my card reader? It is fairly new and good quality. Strange… Thanks so much again. I’ll share this on my photo community page on facebook here in the UK.

  16. I’m having the same problems with corrupted images from my 5d Mark IV. Three times I ran the recovery software provided by the card manufacturer and that worked. The most recent time this week the recovery failed three times — Lightroom said it could not see any images to import, although you could see them in the preview.

    Just for grins and giggles, I switched to Adobe Bridge. It could see all the images. I successfully opened and edited them in camera raw and then saved them as JPGs.

    So, is it Lightroom or the camera?

  17. Hi Gavin,
    I just had this issue with my last 4 sessions. My camera is new this season and is a canon mark 4. I tried buying new dm for cards and it’s 1 file per import that’s looking crazy painted pink. I’m going to look tomorrow to send if it’s corrupt in the library view. It is in develop. I did not notice it in library on import. I’m in the midst of my busy season and am paranoid that it’s a hard drive or my camera. Any direction there is greatly appreciated. How can I send you the two images – iPhone pics of them so you can see. I contacted my tech tonight to see if he can also troubleshoot this.

    Any direction for troubleshooting is greatly appreciated. I’m super anxious About this. Should i shoot jpeg with raw tomorrow and would that save the files or if it’s my hard drive no?
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Carol.

      Without actually being able to see what you’re describing, I think I’ve encountered that myself. Here’s what I’ve seen, see if this matches what you’re seeing: The image looks “constructed” fine – that is, there are no crazy blocks, artifacts, or missing chunks. However it looks like someone cranked the Magenta tint slider all the way up as far as it will go. Does that match your situation?

      If so…

      The good news is there’s nothing wrong with your files, and it is easy to correct in Lightroom as it’s merely a superficial issue. You can verify that it’s superficial by selecting one of the images and going into Develop. In Develop it will look normal. If you make a correction to the image of ANY KIND (pick any slider or tick box – it doesn’t matter) then it will force LR to re-process the thumbnail image and the image will return to normal in Library. To fix it for all your images at once, in the Library grid select all the files, then use quick develop to increase the exposure one tick, wait for LR to re-process all the thumbnail images, then reduce the exposure by one tick (effectively reverting the exposure to “no change” and let LR reprocess all the thumbnail images again. The Magenta cast will disappear.

      Further info: This is an issue that I have seen myself, and have submitted screenshots, videos, and sample files to Adobe. I haven’t figured out what triggers it yet, which is a key to getting it resolved for any software bug-smashing process, and I only see it very intermittently, so getting this resolved is slow-going for the moment, but at least there’s nothing actually wrong with the files.

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