How to delete photos from Lightroom SAFELY (step-by-step guide)

Are you sure that you’re deleting photos from Lightroom the right way? If you don’t understand the Lightroom catalog and how it works as a database for storing photos to edit, you might think you’ve deleted photos, but you haven’t.

Plus, there are two ways to delete photos in Lightroom:

  1. Delete photos from your Lightroom catalog (but leave them on the computer)
  2. Delete photos from your Lightroom catalog and your computer

And to complicate things a little bit further if you’re new to editing in Lightroom, deleting photos from a folder vs deleting photos from a collection is also different.

I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, here’s a very quick explanation of how Lightroom works.

How to delete photos from Lightroom

How the Lightroom catalog works

Adobe Lightroom stores your photos in a catalog, which is a database that contains a record of all your imported photographs. The catalog doesn’t contain the actual image files, but rather information about them, such as metadata and any edits you’ve made.

This is why Lightroom editing is non-destructive, unlike Photoshop. I’ve written a full article on setting up a Lightroom catalog, so I’ll just briefly mention how it works.

  • Lightroom catalog – acts as an index with references to your original files.
  • Original files – are your actual photographs, either RAW or JPEG, stored on your hard drive or other storage devices. Lightroom does not alter these.
  • Image previews – when you import photos to Lightroom, you import the unprocessed image from your camera as data. Lightroom shows this as an image preview. When you edit the photos, you see a preview of what the image will look like when you export it.

Your Lightroom catalog lets you quickly locate, tag, and edit photos without having to hunt through folders on your computer.

Deleting photos from Lightroom

Nobody likes every single photo they take, so once you’ve imported photos to Lightroom and selected your keepers to edit, you’re going to want to get rid of the photos that didn’t make the cut. This whole process is known as culling photos.

Read my article on Lightroom culling to find the system that’ll work best for you – Lightroom offers so many options for everyone.

Now for the nitty gritty of deleting photos from Lightroom…

Remove photos from Lightroom folder

Delete photos from a folder

To access Lightroom folders you need to go to the Library module (Click E for loupe view or G for grid view). Folders aren’t accessible in the Develop module. Then, to delete a photo:

  • Select the unwanted image in the film strip or in grid view
  • Right click your mouse and scroll down the drop down menu to “Remove Photo”
  • A dialog box will open with the option to “Remove from Lightroom” or “Delete from Disk”

Remove from Lightroom dialog box

  • If you select “Remove from Lightroom” the image will be deleted from your Lightroom catalog, but will still be on your computer in the same folder that you imported it to
  • If you select Delete from Disk the image will be removed from your Lightroom catalog and your computer to the trash
  • Or you can click “Cancel” if you change your mind

Alternatively you can use the backspace key (Mac) or Delete key (PC) to open the delete dialog box, instead of using the mouse.

Lightroom delete photos from collection

Delete photos from a collection

You can access photos in collections in either the Library module or the Develop module. To delete a photo from a Lightroom collection:

  • Select the unwanted image in the film strip or in grid view
  • Right click your mouse and scroll down the drop down menu to “Remove from Collection”
  • Once you click it, your photo will be deleted from the collection.
  • However, it will still be in the Lightroom catalog in the folder that you imported it to and on your computer
  • If you didn’t mean to delete it, simply click Cmd Z (Mac) or Ctrl Z (PC) to undo the last action and restore the photo to the collection

Deleting photos from LR collections

If the photo is in a collection set, not just a collection, you’ll get a warning dialog box telling you that you can’t delete from a collection set.

No biggie. All you have to do is go to the collection that the photo is in (ie the collection inside the collection set) and delete it there.

Lightroom deleting photos tutorial

This photo is in the three collections listed

If you can’t remember which collection the photo is in, the easiest way to find the collection is to right click on the photo and select “Find collection” from the drop down menu. Then click on the relevant collection.

I do this often as I have several collections in collection sets. Don’t glaze over. We’re nearly there!

Final step – right click on the photo and delete it by selecting “Remove from Collection”!

Further reading: How to use Lightroom collections vs folders for a faster workflow

Lightroom delete photos from collection

Batch delete multiple photos

For batch deleting photos, in either the Library module or the Develop module, you have several ways to select multiple images in Lightroom, here are two:

  • Press and hold shift, click the first photo and then the last photo to select a batch of photos side by side
  • Or press Cmd (Mac) Ctrl (PC) and click individual photos to select many at once

Once you’ve selected the photos, deleting multiple photos works the same way as with individual photos in a folder or collection.

How to recover deleted photos

How you recover photos depends on how you deleted them and whether they were in a folder or collection.

Recover photos deleted from a Lightroom folder

If you’ve deleted photos from a folder and the computer, but haven’t emptied your system’s recycle bin or trash, you can still recover them…

Restore photos to LR from trash

1. Photos deleted from Lightroom catalog and computer

  • Right click on the deleted photo or photos and select “Put back” from the drop down menu. The photos will be moved to the folder that you originally imported them to on your computer
  • You’ll then need to add the photos to your Lightroom catalog again from the folder on your computer

Add to import photos to LR

2. Photos deleted from Lightroom catalog only

Photos removed from the catalog but not deleted from the disk, can be re-imported into Lightroom

  • In the Library module, click the import button
  • Select the photos to add back to your Lightroom catalog
  • Make sure to select the Add option in the import window (not Copy as DNG, Copy or Move)

Recover photos deleted from a Lightroom collection

For photos removed from a collection, but not the folder, navigate to the folder in your Lightroom catalog…

  • Select the photo/s you want to put back into the collection
  • Then click and drag them to the relevant collection. They won’t move from the folder, but will be added to the collection.

This is a really good time to talk about staying organized in Lightroom!

Managing Lightroom storage

If you’re anything like me, when editing photos in collections you happily create a gajillion virtual copies while testing out different edits (or when I’m creating presets).

As you now know, deleting from a collection doesn’t remove photos from the folder or catalog. So, you should occasionally go through your folders and remove unwanted virtual copies from folders.

Maintaining a streamlined Lightroom catalog makes managing a large catalog of photos less overwhelming and helps speed up your editing workflow.

Optimize workflow with keyboard shortcuts

Speaking of workflow, Lightroom shortcuts are essential in Lightroom editing. Here’s a quick recap of the shortcuts used in this Lightroom tutorial:

  • E – Library module loupe view
  • G – Library module grid view
  • D – Develop module
  • Cmd Z or Ctrl Z – Undo
  • Delete or Backspace – Delete photos (no, really!)

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