Import Module

Once you have your Lightroom catalogue set up, the next step is to import pictures into the catalogue. This lesson outlines the steps for importing images from your hard drive or from your camera.

What do you mean by 'import'?
Copy, move, add
File handling
File renaming
Apply during import

What do you mean by 'import'?

As we discussed in the first lessons, Lightroom is catalogue software, which keeps a database of the images. You cannot see or work with any photos unless they have been first imported into a Lightroom catalogue. During the import, Lightroom simply indexes the files. You are telling Lightroom, 'this is a picture I want you to pay attention to'. The programme will then examine the photo file(s) and record some information about the images. Lightroom also creates a preview for the catalogue, so that you can see and organize the photo, even if the image is offline.

In addition to indexing the files, Lightroom can also copy or move the files during the import process. This is very convenient for images that you have just shot and need to download to your computer. Figure 1 outlines how the import process works.

FIGURE 1This movie shows the difference between images that have been imported and those that have not been imported

Lightroom 3 introduced a totally new interface for importing images. In this lesson, I will look at each part of the interface, and see how it can help us to save time and make the most of our image files. The import process was part of the Sample Workflow lesson that started this course.

See the Import Process in the Sample Workflow lesson


When you import images, you have several options regarding which images are selected and where they end up. You might want to import images that are on your media card, and copy them to your hard drive at the same time. Or perhaps you want to simply add some images to the catalogue that are already on your hard drive. Here are your options:

The Source, listed on the left hand side of the window, shows where the images are coming from. If you connect a media card to the computer, Lightroom should automatically select the card as the source. You can also select images that are already on the drive by navigating to that folder on the left-hand panel. Once you select the folder, the images come up in the center of the window, and you can select all images, or just some of the photos.

Selecting Images

By default, Lightroom will want to import all supported image files when you select a folder as a source. You can decide to import everything. If you only want to import some of the images, you can select single images or groups of images and check or uncheck them. Also by default, Lightroom only wants to import images that it has not already imported (as best as it can determine). Images that are greyed-out are already in the catalogue. You can override this feature in the File Handling panel, outlined below.

FIGURE 2This movie shows how the Source selection works in Lightroom

Copy, move, add

When you import your photos and in-camera movies. you have 4 options - 2 kinds of copy, move and add.

Copy as DNG

This option copies the images from one location onto a second location, and converts the files to DNG in the process. When you choose this option, the source images remain untouched, and a new set of files in DNG format is created in the destination folder. This is useful for importing images off a media card straight into the DNG format.


This option copies the files as-is to the new location, leaving the old files untouched. This is useful for importing images off a media card when you do not have time to create DNG files, or you don't want to use DNG file format in your archive.


This option copies the files to a new location, then erases the old files. This is useful when you are adding existing files from your hard drive, and you want to gather the new archive together in one place.


This option simply indexes the files in the Lightroom catalogue, without moving or changing them in any way. This is useful when you want to bring existing images into a Lightroom catalogue for the first time.

Lightroom knows where your pictures are coming from

The options that Lightroom offers for import are dependent on where the source images are currently stored. For instance, Lightroom will not let you add images to a catalogue if they are stored on a media card. That is because the Lightroom development team wants you to first copy your images to a more permanent location.

FIGURE 3This movie shows how to use the Import process in Lightroom


The destination is the place your files will end up as part of the import process. (Of course, this is only available when you use one of the Copy or Move commands.) There are several options for the destination, including ones that can create custom folder structures.

Before you can set up your folders, however, you need to determine if you are importing the files straight into the permanent home of the images, or whether you are using a temporary works-in-progress home for the images until you are ready to put them away. In the last lesson we outlined three options for a library structure. Option 1 sent the images straight to the permanent home. Option 3 made use of a temporary 'Working' folder.  Option 2 could be configured either way. 

The 'permanent' home

Lightroom loses track of your pictures if you move them around once they have been imported. You will want set up your system in a way that takes this into account. If you do all your work at the same computer, and your image storage is always connected, then the best place to import the images is probably right into that drive. Lightroom gives you several options for creating destination folders.

Date-based folders

The most universal way to do this is to use a date-based folder system. Many people also like to use a Year/Month/Project folder arrangement for their archive structure. You might want to use Year/Month/Day if you are shooting lots of photos on a daily basis, and the photos do not fit neatly into a project structure. Figure 3 outlines how to set up Lightroom.

FIGURE 4This movie shows how to set the destination folder in the import dialogue

A temporary home

Many photographers cannot import straight into the permanent home for the images. Often this is because they work on location, and the primary image storage is not with them at the time of the shoot. Additionally,  some photographers like to do some work - such as deleting the rejects -  before putting the images in an archive. In this case we have some suggestions for a slightly different arrangement.

Set up a 'Landing Zone'

In order to keep track of works in progress, it is helpful to set up a works-in-progress folder, with a landing zone for new downloads. Due to the way many photographers work, it may be best to simply download the photos into a simple project folder, rather than a date-based folder hierarchy. This can simplify file handling for projects that take more than one day to complete. Figure 4 shows how to set up Lightroom to target the Landing Zone for your image downloads.

FIGURE 5This movie shows how to set up a works-in-progress folder as a temporary home for your imported photos

File handling

The file handling offers control over preview building, as well as backup of the images. (There is also a checkbox for overriding duplicate downloads, but most people will not ever use that.)

Preview Rendering

When Lightroom adds images to a catalogue, it needs to show what the picture looks like. The setting you make here will have a large effect on how fast Lightroom runs for certain imports. By setting the preview size and quality, you are telling Lightroom how much of the time-consuming image processing should be done now, or how much to save until a later time. Here are the options:


A minimal preview is the least amount of work Lightroom can do to get an image on the screen. Use this when you are really pressed for time to select 1 or 2 images.

Embedded and Sidecar

This is another speedy option. It tells Lightroom to use embedded previews (or previews that are in a sidecar JPEG, of you shoot raw+JPEG.) This options may display the images with much less accuracy, since the camera may have placed a preview in the file that is very different from the way Lightroom renders.


The standard preview referes to the setting you made in the Lightroom Catalogue Settings preference pane. This requires Lightroom to do a lot more image processing, but will show the colours of the image as Lightroom would render them. While the image shows with proper Lightroom color rendering, it has not been rendered at full size. So whenever you zoom in to see a full size version, Lightroom will need to make a new rendering of the image, which can make the programme feel slow.


This is the most time-consuming way to make your previews, but it may save you time in the long run. Asking for 1:1 previews tells Lightroom to build a full-size preview of the image. This takes a lot of image processing resources, and Lightroom will run slower while the previews are building.  But once the previews are done, you can look through them very quickly, even at full magnification. 1:1 previews are very useful if you want to examine photos for fine detail, such as critical focus, and if you have time for Lightroom to chug away before you need to do the examination.

FIGURE 6This movie shows how to use the File Handling options

File renaming

All image files should have unique file names to avoid accidental deletion and other confusion. Importing images is a perfect time to assign a unique file name to each image file. Lightroom offers a flexible set of options for file renaming.

Renaming template

Lightroom comes with a few options already configured in the renaming template. Once you have settled on a way to rename your files, you should create a template so that you can make this happen automatically for each import. Figure 6 walks through the renaming options, and shows how to make and save a template.

FIGURE 7 This movie outlines the features in the File Renaming panel

Apply during import

The Apply During Import panel allows you to add metadata to your images on import, as well as some Develop settings. Both of these can be used to make Lightroom faster and more convenient. 

Develop Settings

When Lightroom first imports you raw images, it makes some assumptions about how you want it to render the images. This should be considered a starting point, since you will often want to spend some time tweaking your best images to make them even better. Once you are used to working with the Develop tools in Lightroom, you will probably want to create some presets that apply custom settings to the images.

For instance, you might do a shoot with the expectation that you will process the images as Black and White photos. If you assign one of the Black and White presets when you import the files, the first time you see them in the Library, they will already be Black and White.  

Read more about making Develop Presets in the Develop lesson


Metadata tags are really helpful in Lightroom. You can use them to find all images from a certain location, or all images shot for a particular client. Tagging images during the import process is a really fast and easy way to make them easy to find later.

You should give your images some metadata tags when you first import them. At minimum, this should include your name and contact information, as well as some basic information about ownership and copyright. In addition to that, we strongly suggest that you put location tags on the images, as well as few keywords that can help you identify the shoot at any point in the future. The Movie in Figure 7 outlines how to apply develop presets, and how to name, save and use metadata templates.

FIGURE 8This movie shows how to create metadata templates in Lightroom


Like many places in Lightroom, you can save your import configuration as a preset. The preset contains the settings in the 'Move, Copy, Add' area at the top, as well as the settings in the right-hand column. Note that the source is not part of the preset. Figure 9 shows how to create and use an import preset.

FIGURE 9This movie shows how to make and use import presets