Im sure you have a decent backup strategy in place, right? Ok, so maybe not. If you haven’t, then you run the risk of losing your original files and seeing the “!” and the “file could not be found” labels.
But the question is: If the files are missing then how come I can see them?
Well, what you’re looking at are the contents of the preview file – .lrdata. The size of the previews is related to the preference set in Catalog Settings > File Handling > Preview Cache. In my case, 1440px on the long edge. However, if you have previewed the file at 100% then a full size preview will be available.
Now, how do you get them?
Go to Lightroom Help / Extract Previews and download the script. Follow the instructions on where to install the script.
When you relaunch Lightroom the script is available from the menu.
Simply select the images you wish to “recover” and invoke the script. Choose a location for the files.
The result is a set of jpg files that match the dimensions of the previews available from the .lrdata file. They are basic jpg files and will contain none of the metadata about the image and no color profile, but hey!, something is usually better than nothing, right?
None of this excuses the need for and practice of regular image and data backups but it can be useful. In fact, its actually faster than exporting a bunch of jpg should that be your goal. (the lack of profile not withstanding)