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Importing Images to Lightroom

Lightroom is a powerful piece of kit but it is useless unless you know how to import images into your catalogues. So in the tutorial I will go through the methods of importing existing images and importing new images from you camera and/or memory cards (although Lightroom now imports video we will only refer to photographs in the tutorial; please assume the instructions apply to video equally).

If you have older versions of Lightroom you can convert their catalogues to Lightroom 3 . Lightroom gives you the option to do this when you start the application for the first time. For the purposes of this tutorial we will skip that part and concentrate on the main import dialogue screen.

Compact View

expanded view

New to LR3 is the choice of two import dialogue boxes, a compact version and an expanded one. I almost always use the expanded version of the dialogue and this tutorial will be based in there too. The compact offers the same import options as the bigger dialogue but it is a little cramped and the bigger one is easier to navigate and to see what you are doing.


But before we leap into the import dialogue we need to look at some import preferences. These preferences are found in the “general” section of the main preference dialogue. There are three options to play with.

1. Show import dialogue when memory card is detected.

As soon as you plug a memory card into a memory card reader Lightroom will automatically open the import dialogue. I have this checked. However, if you are importing using any of the other Import options you have to go to the menu (File> Import Photos) or use the keyboard shortcut shift-command I (Mac) or shift-control I (PC) to implement an import.

2. Ignore camera-generated folder names when naming folders

Having this selected means you add your own folder names when importing by default. I do not have this selected as you can set folder names in the import dialogue ad hoc.

3. Treat JPEG files next to RAW files as separate images

If you shoot JPEG & RAW simultaneously this option separates the two files rather than keeping them together. I don’t shoot in this way so leave it unchecked

Back to the import dialogue box and we now need to look at the options available to us.

In the middle of the upper part of the dialogue are the import options and these are, going from right to left, Add, Move, Copy, Copy as DNG. We will discuss this option in more detail later.

Moving in a clockwise direction we come to an arrow and a harddrive icon. If using the Add function this item is fixed, however if you are using any of the other functions you can select the image path (the image path is the where th eimages are coming from and where they are going to) by pressing either the arrow or the up-down arrow by the harddrive name. At the other end of this bar is a similar option for setting the origin of the files to be imported

Under the image path options we come to several options that will vary according to which import mode selected. In Add the options are minimal and in the others there are further options.

From the top the first set of options appear under the File Handling category:

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Render Previews: options are for Minimal, Embedded and Sidecar, Standard, 1:1. This controls how Lightroom creates image previews as it imports images. I tend to leave this set to minimal to reduce import times and let Lightroom create bigger previews as needed.

Don’t import Suspected Duplicates: by selecting the checkbox it does exactly as it says and suspected duplicates are greyed out in the image window to the left.

Make Second Copy To: this option allows you to set a second destination for the imported files. This very useful if you are using a laptop and what to import to an external harddrive as well as the internal one. It is also good for making backups internally. Please note if you are using the Copy as DNG option the duplicate files will remain in their native RAW format.

The next section is File Renaming

Select the Rename checkbox to let you know select from a plethora of renaming option in the Template dropdown menu.

And down, again, to Apply During Import

Develop Settings: This dropdown menu allows you to select from the Develop Presets that are found and created in the Develop Module. Most of these presets are unsuitable for imports however you can create your own presets in that module that are tailored to your needs. I have a preset up that applies less contrast than my camera default import. You can even create custom camera calibrations in the Develop Module and apply them to an import if you wish.

Metadata: This dropdown is where you set the IPTC metadata that will be embedded in you image file. The dropdown has a New option where you can create your own metadata template and where you can apply existing templates. There is no reason not to do this so please do.

Keywords: I know they are boring and a chore to do but even a the most basic, generic keywords here can help you sort images later. As the same keywords are applied to all the images on import it is actually best not to get too specific with the keywords. Lightroom is not only a powerful developmental and output tool but it is also a very clever image library and by keywording you images you can unleash the power of that part of the program (I will be demonstrating this in my next tutorial on catalogs).

Finally in this side of the dialogue we get to Destination

The plus sign next to the destination title allows you create a new folder and has two viewing options: All Folders which show all folders on your harddrives and Affected folders only which will only show the folder you are addings location.

Into Subfolder: Select this checkbox and Lightroom will put the imported images into a folder inside your chosen folder.

Organize: Options are By date where images are put into separate folders they were shot on or Into one folder where all the imported images go into a single folder with no differentiation for date taken.

Date format: Select you favourite date format flavour

Under these options you can select your harddrive and select the image path if not already using a path selected in the To option above this column.

In the very bottom right we have the Cancel and Import buttons which are self-explanatory.

Staying at the very bottom of the dialogue we move along to the right where we find the Import Presets options. If you find you are using a specific set of import options regularly you can create an import preset by clicking on the dropdown menu on the right hand side of the section. This is also where you can choose from already created presets.

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Please note, Import Presets are different from Develop Settings presets. Develop presets will only affect how the image looks after import. Import presets control all the settings made in the Import dialogue, which can include a Develop preset.

Moving further to the left we come to a piece of information which informs you of the number of photos to be imported and the total size of the import in MB.

Finally on the bottom row is a button with a triangle in it. This allows you to switch between expanded and compact versions of the dialogue.

The Right hand menu section contains the Source options. These include all local and attached harddrives and any attached devices such as an iPad or iPhone.

The harddrive folders are where you will find images you wish to add to your catalogue via the Move or Add options but which have already been imported onto your computer. Images on devices can be added via Copy or Copy as DNG as applicable. If you are importing from a memory card this section has an added checkbox which, if checked will eject a memory card after import.

Finally in our guided tour we get to the image panel in the centre of the dialogue

The top most bar in the illustration above is only visible when importing from a memory card or device.

All Photos when selected will show all images on a memory card. If you have Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates checked in the File Handling box any duplicates will be greyed out.

New Photos will show all the new photographs and no suspected duplicates.

Destination Folder shows the photographs grouped as per the folders they will be imported into. This is useful if you have photographs from different dates on your memory card and wish to only import specific dates.

Directly under the uppermost bar is a second bar stating the view shown currently and the number of photographs shown there. By the view title (on the left) there is a checkbox, which will remove the files from import if unselected. This is more useful when Destination Folder is selected and files can be deselected from different dates. Imports from different dates can also be excluded from import in the Destination panel where folders to be imported are shown and have checkboxes to allow them to be deselected from import.

In the middle of the panel are the images to be imported. These are viewed as either thumbnails or as individual images. When in the grid view images can be individually selected or deselected by a checkbox. When in single image view the checkbox is below the image as well as zoom slider. The view is controlled by the icons in the bottom bar of the image panel, which is where we will head now

On the left of the bar we have the grid or single image selection buttons. Next to them we have Check All and Uncheck All buttons which will select or unsleect all images to be imported. Next along is the Sort options, which control what order the images are shown in, and finally a slider for the thumbnail size. Please note these controls are only available in grid view.

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Finally, we get to the actual import options, which is what we are here for. So, from the right we have:

Add
This option will add photographs to your catalogue from images already in your computer and are selected from the left hand Ssource panel. The images are left where they are and will appear in the catalogue at their current location. Develop settings can be applied along with metadata and keywords.

Move
Operates in the same was Add but you can move the location of the added images via the destination panel.

Copy
This is for importing images from memory card or devices. Files can either be in JPEG or RAW (or video formats). How the files are handled and where they are imported to are controlled via the tools already described. RAW files stay in their native format.

Copy as DNG
This final import method is specific to RAW files and offers you the chance to convert your RAW files from their native format to DNG (Digital Negative) format while importing (native format files can converted to DNG once they are in the library too).
You may be wondering why we need a second RAW import method and the answer is due to the way the resulting files are handled, the way the XMP data is stored (the XMP data is the information that Lightroom creates when you develop your images), the propriety nature of your RAW files and file size.

The debate whether to convert to DNG or not is nearly as contentious as MAC vs. PC or Nikon vs. Canon but, at the risk of being shouted down by the opposing camps, I will outline the general reasons why you may want to consider converting.

Handling and XMP files. With proprietary RAW files (RAW files that come straight out of the camera such as Nikon’s NEF files) the XMP data is stored in a sidecar file that is separate, but “attached” to the image file. This separation could result in the files being orphaned and there is a possibility that the sidecar files are incompatible with other applications. With DNG files the sidecar data is embedded in the RAW file making loss of the XMP data unlikely and compatibility is potentially increased.

Canon and Nikon etc. file formats are proprietary and are supported by those companies. If in the future Nikon et.al. cease to support those file formats images could become obsolete and unreadable. DNG although owned by Adobe is not subject to copyright restrictions and they encourage other companies to develop and use it (Click Here for more information) . You may think it is unlikely that your files will always be supported but bear in mind Kodak has already ceased to support some of its early file formats.

Finally the real advantage of DNG files is that they can be 10-20% smaller than their original files.

That brings to an end my guide to the import functions in Lightroom. I apologise for its length but although the dialogue looks simple there is rather a lot going on there.

I’ll be back later in the Lightroom series to talk about collections, which will, hopefully, be a briefer subject.

About Richard Hales (35 Articles)
Richard’s first foray into was photography was as an apprentice photographer for Oxford University over 20 years ago. From there Richard went on to study photography at University somehow gaining a BA & MA, he still is rather confused how he managed to do this. After University and an unfinished (and un-started) PhD Richard “retired” from photography for a few years to pursue a career in wine and, oddly, scrap metal before returning to photography and setting up a wedding and portrait photography business in Worcestershire. As well as running his photography business Richard is currently working on a bread & jam making book. He is the average height for a Nut.

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