iPhoto displays exclamation mark instead of photo

May 10, 2008 at 7:58 pm | Posted in Mac OS X | 43 Comments
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Has iPhoto ever surprised you by displaying a giant exclamation mark instead of your photo? I had this experience after importing and cropping several photos today. The thumbnails appeared just fine, but when I double-clicked on one of the cropped photos I got a giant exclamation mark where my photo should have been!

I first tried rebuilding the iPhoto database (see iPhoto 4 or later: Rebuilding the iPhoto Library), but that didn’t help. Then I came across this document on Apple Support: iPhoto 6: Image appears when browsing but is blank or exclamation mark when editing. Apparently, the exclamation mark indicates that iPhoto is unable to find the file for the photo. My splitting, merging, and renaming of events (perhaps because at one point I had two events with the same name?) must have caused iPhoto to lose track of the cropped images.

Fortunately, selecting the photos’ thumbnails and then choosing “Revert to Original” from the “Photos” menu restored the photos. I then just had to re-crop them.



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  1. Thanks.
    I had the same issue. ‘Revert to Original’ did the trick. It was having the iPhoto exclamation mark issue with all the photos in one event that were in a vertical (portrait) orientation… photos freshly downloaded from my camera. Strange. Others downloaded at the same time, but in different events, were ok.


    • hi im having this problem with multiple files since i have used find duplicate files on my iphoto library, basically i had many duplicates and FDF did a good job of finding them and removing them, unfortunately it has left me with lots of thumbnails that show the dreaded ! mark when i try and actually show the picture full screen. I could use revert to original but it may be a task i had to pass onto my children given i have over 2000 missing pictures. Is there not a way of asking iphoto to intelligently fix the links as I know where all of the original files are I just dont want to reinstate all of the duplicates ?

    • Hey,
      “revert to original’ didnt work for me. Is there any way else i could get rid of it?

  2. Awesome! I was a little worried when I started seeing this mysterious exclamation point, but ‘Revert to Original’ fixed it. Thanks!

  3. Hey,

    I have the exact same problem only I cannot use the Revert to Original as it’s not highlighted. Any suggestions?

    Any help would be great appreciated!!

    • Did you ever get an answer to your question? My revert to original is not highlighted either.

      • Mines the same!!! :[

  4. Thanks. This worked great. I appreciate you letting others know how to relieve the panic .!

    • I’m having the same problem and the Revert to Original command is grayed out. Any Ideas?

      • did you find an answer, if the revert to original is grayed out?… apple sucks for getting answers???

    • Please let me know if you sorted this problem. Lots of my photos cannot be seen in “full screen”. iPhoto just shows either a black screen or the “something is seriously wrong” exclamation mark.


  5. I had renamed some image files… but I think I didn’t use the iPhoto interface. I think I renamed them directly in their folders, via the Finder. That caused broken “links” to the full size photos. I renamed the files back to their original file names (in their folders via the Mac’s Finder interface again, not iPhoto). Then iPhoto was able to show the full pics again, not the exclamation point.

    One way to access the folders where the original files are, is to right-click on the thumbnail of a photo and choose “Show File.” Be careful what you do then… renaming, rearranging, etc.
    — Ed

  6. AWESOME!!, quick fix for something that i thought was impossible to retrieve!! thank you….

  7. I’m having the same problem with pictures that I’m scanning in. Some seem to go through fine but others come up with the “!”. I’m importing them all the same way so I can’t imagine what’s causing it. I tried “reverting to original” but it doesn’t work. So I tried “show original file” and it’s empty. Could it be that I’m somehow deleting “masters”? I’m VERY new to MAC and not technical at all so if you have any ideas (that can be explained simply) I’d be very grateful! Thank you!

    • here’s another twist (read “challenge”) re this problem:
      i recently bought a 17″ and for traveling a 13″ macbook pro. when i put the card from my casio digital camera into the 17″, pix happily import into iphoto no problem.
      but now that i’ve just started traveling and when i try the same with the 13″, the thumbnails show up but only as small versions. when i slide the size slider at the bottom right, once i move beyond about 15% magnification the thumbnail pix disappear to be replaced by a broken-line yellow frame with nothing inside.
      and like the other folks, if i double-click on the thumbnails when they are small, i get the exclamation mark. also, when i try to email any of these, the pix don’t export to the body of the email the way.
      (however, the 13″ exepriences none of these problems re photos i previously imported into iphoto on my 17″ or previous macs.)
      is there a setting in the 13″ i need to check/change re new photos i’m importing from my camera? appreciate any suggestions…thanks.

  8. Thank you so much for this. It has worked with the bulk of my portrait orinetated photos. Saved me tears of frustration.

  9. Nice one! This really helped me out.


  10. I uploaded an album to Mobileme from my Macbook with no problem but when I try and open this same Mobileme Gallery from my iMac I get blank thumbnails and when selected give me the dreaded exclamation point. Each blank thumbnail window has a “pending” tag at the bottom but this has been going on for two days. I’ve logged out of my account on both computers and back on as suggested in something else I read suggested but to no avail?????

    • I’m having the same exact problem

  11. Thanks. This helped, although some would not let me “revert”. I discovered that the ones that were replaced by the exclamation point were ones I had put on Snapfish. I think that process messed with the pictures.

  12. Hey, there.

    I’m suffering from a similar issue, but there’s really no explanation, and so far, I’ve been unable to fix it.

    I didn’t do ANYTHING to my iPhoto library, all of a sudden images just started turning to yukky grey exclamation marks.

    I’ve tried deleting and re-importing, but it’s not working. I’ve tried holding option + command down on open and rebuilding, but it’s not doing jack. I’m using iPhoto 7. WTF could be going on, and how the heck can I recover my photos in iPhoto? Zomg.


  13. I am having some of the same issues as others. My specifics: I got a new ibook (Sept 2010) and transferred my iphoto library to it. The thumbnails are fine, but when I double click most of them show the dreaded exclamation mark. Also, I can’t export. However, some of the photos open fine – and this seems quite arbitrary. As much as I tried I can’t find any reason why most of the photos are no longer opening, though a small percentage will. Some of the ones that are still opening were cropped, etc. – some not. Ditto for the ones that don’t open – some are originals (not cropped, etc) some not. I can find no reason why some are ok – but most are not. I have lost over 3/4 of my photo library – including most of this year’s photos (none of which had yet been printed or shared w/ family, etc). Very very very frustrating!!! I tried all of the suggestions as above. Revert to original sometimes is active, sometimes not – but even when active, clicking it has no impact on the photo. Any help would be much appreciated.

  14. with apple tech help and resetting the sign-in/setup parameters, i was able to fix this. afraid i’m not tech enough to explain all the steps we took.

  15. Having the big, black, bitmappy, exclamation point issue as well. I’ve done the “rebuild” and “revert to original” attempts to fix the issue. At this point, any image that was rotated or had red-eye reduction applied will open properly, minus the edits. Images that were not edited/altered will only display the exclamation point. Has anyone, anywhere found a solution to this problem? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  16. I too can’t view files that I’ve cropped today, but can view the rest of my files just fine. I’ve also switched cameras as of today (d50 to d90) and wondering if this is part of the problem? Going to try the above fixes and see if anything works!

  17. I’ve just struggled with this for quite a while. Horizontal pics gave an !, vertical pics were fine. When iphote imports it puts all photos into an “original” folder. If any modifications are performed (in my case, iphote automatically rotated some of my photos to be vertical), then the modified version goes into a separate “modified” folder.

    Turns out my wife renamed the the original folder through the Finder Viewer when she was doing a manual backup. By doing so, iPhoto could no longer find the file to zoom on it, upload it to flickr, email, or sync to iPod. Once I fixed the name, it worked like a charm.

    In short, try “show file” and if it doesn’t take you to the file, then this is probably your problem.

  18. Having serious problems getting my iweb site up with directory permissions denied, when I looked at the images, thumbnails ok, but over half of them have the !. Tried the fix but to no avail. Guys at mac store said !?? so where do I go from here ? If I have to build this site again I will self destruct. Can publish to folder but cyberduck won’t let me upload as permissions wrong.
    Help me someone. . . .please . . . .

  19. I have suffered with a similar issue that I have been trying to resolve for sometime. The information below may help resolve if you have an issue similar to my own.

    I have an iMac which is used by the whole family, everyone has there own profile. I wanted iPhoto’s library to be centralized rather than needing to have access to my wife’s library or my sons library etc.

    It was not until recently that my wife has started to import her own photos from her profile and it just so happens that she was the first one to import picture’s to iPhoto this year. Subsequently every photo taken this year that I have tried to imported had only been shown in iPhoto as a thumbnail and when I try to open it I was getting the exclamation mark.

    I have my iPhoto settings set to copy the original images into the iPhoto library. when new images are imported it creates a date folder under the relevant year to which it adds these files.

    It wasn’t until I successfully imported images taken last year i realized that because the ‘new’ year folder was not created by my profile, that I did not have the permissions to use it. Now the permissions have been corrected and I have read/write access to this years folder the issue is sorted.

    Hope this helps some of you

  20. I also have the problem with the exclamation mark. Is it somehow possible to keep the photos edited without the mark? i don’t want them to revert to original…
    please help! thanks..

  21. I am finding it impossible to fix and think that iPhoto is just a bit of a dodgy program and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone for this exclamation mark issue! Also when you delete photos from iPhoto, the originals still remain on your computer so you need to go through the originals and re-delete. I find it a time waster

  22. I did the revert to original and nothing happened!

  23. Where does it say Revert to Original?

  24. I have the same problem with the ! mark and now I’ve lost most of my pictures. I wish I had NEVER bought an APPLE, I will NEVER recommend an APPLE to anyone and have no other choice but to go back to using a PC since I’m not able to get any assistance from APPLE to fix this problem.
    I have wasted lots of hours searching for answers, if I try to call I’m asked to pay…..
    This is really annoying because my pictures are now lost forever! Shame on you APPLE!
    iPhoto sucks!!!

    • How do you know that the pics are lost forever? I am unable to activate the ‘revert to original’ and I have a ton of pics with the ! (?)

  25. revert to original is grayed out and I still have the !

  26. Simple solution. It worked!! Thank you

  27. I have a similar issue. Many of my event windows are blank, when i click on them , there are placeholders for all the pictures but they are blank. If i click to open the image, I get the exclamation mark. If I scroll through photo list instead of event list, i can see the picture thumbnails but as soon as I hover over them the thumbnail goes blank. Please help as this is a years worth of pics of my daughters.

    I have time machine on external drive but that doesnt seem to have helped as the ‘corruption’ of image not picked up as change to file so it just keeps most recent version.

    Please help someone….my wife is almost in tears…

  28. I experienced a similar problem. When creating a photobook some of the images changed into a big exclamation mark. I tried all the tricks and tips explained above, but none of them worked.

    After experimenting a lot I found that if there were to many pictures within the same folder I got this problem. I simply created some new folders and moved the problem pictures into these, it was no problem importing them to the library and use them in the photobook.

  29. Can someone reply on this forum how to fix the exclamation point when ‘revert to originals’ doesn’t work?

  30. I am finding this impossible to fix. I am not really technical either so wondering what chance I stand. The photos I have lost include photos of my daughter’s birth and the first 3 years of her life. Basically a lot of my photos can be seen in thumbnail view, but when I open them they are either blank or the grey exclamation mark is displayed. I have clicked on Revert to Original but that hasn’t made any difference.

    I did rename all of my events and put everything into an annual folder.

    This seems to be random though. Some photos open but unfortunately the majority do not. Is is possible to get them back?

    • I had to go down data recovery route. Are u sure hard drive not failing?

      • I don’t think it is failing? How would I know?

  31. I looked for the photo by number in files, put it in as an attachment in an e-mail to myself, and then added it back to iPhoto.

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