Workflow Friday: Importing Images into Lightroom

The last blog post on Lightroom Preferences is a key topic but, if I am being honest, it is not exactly an exciting topic. Lightroom may not seem like a complex piece of software but there are some subtleties that will help it run smoother and much more efficiently – a few of those were covered in the last blog post about setting up the preferences. In this post we’ll cover importing images into Lightroom. There are a few different methods and Lightroom offers some very powerful shortcuts that can really save you some time. And we all want to save time don’t we?

Downloading images is a simple task but when I teach workshops I am often amazed how poorly organized many photographers can be. I suggest creating a file and folder naming technique that allows each image and folder name to be completely unique so as to avoid overwriting files or folders. Using the date goes a long way to creating unique files and folder names, as the date will never be the same. Doing this will save you a lot of headaches in the future!

I tend to download images the old fashion way – I drag and drop the raw image files into a folder then rename the folder with my naming convention. This is the safest method. And one should always go back and compare the number of images on the memory card versus the number of images you just downloaded to make sure none were missed. I’ll cover some other download methods that are faster and more efficient here but not necessarily safer. I say that the old school method is safer because of an issue that cropped up a few years ago with Apple OS X "Leopard." With the Leopard, Lightroom had some issues downloading images from a memory card to the computer and importing them. Some images were not downloaded or were corrupted when imported into Lightroom. This issue was fixed fairly quickly but issues like this are not uncommon. Computers are great when they work and not so much fun when they don’t!

Now, let’s get to how we import images into Lightroom (Version 5.2). In Lightroom you can either click on the Import button at the bottom of the left hand panel of the Library module or choose File > Import Photos and Video. If you are on a Mac you can also drag and drop the folder of images you want to import over the Lightroom icon in your dock. Once you’ve selected Import the Import Photos dialog window appears which should look like Photo 1 below.

photo_1 Above is the Import Photos and Video dialog, which appears once you select Import Photos from the Library module.

The Import Photos dialog window is the gateway to importing images into Lightroom. It is a very important step in the workflow process and allows us to bypass several steps all at once. Lightroom allows us to embed metadata, keywords, captions, copyright, etc. into images as they are being imported into Lightroom. This is a huge time saver, especially if all of the images in each folder are from the same location.

But first things first, the top bar (labeled "1" in Photo 2 below) provides an overview of what will happen when you click import. The image files from whatever folder you have chosen will be copied or added to the catalog you are currently working in as laid out in this top section of the Import Photos dialog. In the center of the top bar the Import dialog deals with whether or not Lightroom is going to copy, move or reference the images in their existing location. If you have multiple imaging hard drives floating around your office the logical choice would be to "Add" (Add photos to catalog without moving) as I have selected. This option is also the default setting and will keep Lightroom from making a duplicate copy of the images. You can also choose for Lightroom to move your images to a new location and create DNG copies of your raw image files by choosing "Copy as DNG" (Convert to DNG in a new location and add to catalog) but I prefer to reference the images where they are at and currently I am not using the DNG format. We’ll discuss the DNG format, including the benefits and drawbacks in another blog post.

photo_2 Here I have highlighted the four main areas of the Import dialog. (1) The top part of the import dialog shows you what will happen and how the images will be imported. (2) The left panel shows your source folders – here is where you select the image or video files you wish to import. (3) The middle section here contains the image previews so you can see what you about to import. (4) The right panel deals with image preview generation, backing up your images to a new location, and metadata and keywords.

In Photo 2, I have outlined in red the four areas we will have to deal with in the Import Dialog panel. In the left panel, number "2" in Photo 2, you have the Source folders where you can choose exactly which images will be imported. In this example, I have selected a folder of images from a recent windsurfing shoot in Oregon. Lightroom also searches for duplicate images on import to keep your catalog from getting larger than necessary. In the middle section, labeled number "3" in Photo 2, of the Import Dialog are the image previews, which are a great visual confirmation of the images you are about to import. Just above the previews is a bar where one can select "All Photos" or "New Photos," which is to say that you can choose to select all the images in the folder or just the ones that are new to the catalog.

In the right panel, labeled number "4" in Photo 2, of the Import dialog box are sections where you can tell Lightroom what type of previews to make, how to deal with suspected duplicates, where to make a backup copy of your images and also a section to add metadata and keywords. I normally select "1:1" in the Build Previews toggle under File Handling, as in Photo 3 below, so that Lightroom can go to work building the 100% previews of the images being imported. Building the 1:1 previews is a key step in the import process. If you have forgotten to check the 1:1 previews in the import stage you can render those previews in Lightroom by going to Library > Previews > Render 1:1 Previews in the Library module. In terms of duplicate image files, I always leave the box checked next to "Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates."

photo_3 For Lightroom to run as fast as possible I highly recommend generating the 1:1 (100%) previews. Here I have selected the 1:1 option in the Build Previews toggle in the Import dialog.

Continuing down in the right panel, in the Apply During Import section, there is a Develop Settings options which works very well if you have a custom Develop module preset you want to apply to all of your images or if you want to force your images to appear with a custom camera calibration setting.

Below the Develop Settings, we come to the metadata and keyword insertion area. These fields allow incredible control for inserting metadata while images are imported. As an example, lets say that we want to insert keywords and basic copyright information into our images as we import them. To access the metadata template shown in Photo 4, simply click on the toggle switch next to "Metadata" and select your metadata template or create a new template click on "New" or "Edit Presets" at the bottom of this pop-up window. For the keywords just type them into the keyword field. You can view all the images being imported by moving the slider on the right side of the image preview area, which scrolls though the image previews. The keywords will be added to every image so they need to be fairly general if the images are varied in subject matter. In this example, I am importing windsurfing images shot in Oregon so I will add the appropriate general keywords for that folder of images. I will later go in and add more specific keywords for each group of images. For the metadata I can use a metadata template, as in Photo 4 below, that includes my copyright and contact information. If all the images are of the same subject then I can go ahead and add the pertinent metadata including location, caption, shoot date, etc.

photo_4 Above is my standard copyright metadata template, which includes my name, contact information, copyright statement and also indicates the images are model released.

An alternate method to download and import images is available within Lightroom when you are downloading directly from a memory card. With this method, instead of downloading your images to your desktop you let Lightroom download the images to one or two locations, add metadata, keywords and build previews all in one step as the images are imported into Lightroom. To set this up you’ll need to adjust your Lightroom preferences so that the "Show import dialog when a memory card is detected" box is checked as in Photo 5 below.

photo_5 In order to import photos from a memory card directly into Lightroom, you’ll need to adjust your Lightroom preferences so that the "Show import dialog when a memory card is detected" box is checked in the Lightroom preferences as shown above.

Now when you connect a memory card to your computer Lightroom will open (if it isn’t already open) and the import dialog will appear. The Import dialog is a little different with this method because there are a few more options – it will look like Photo 6 below. File handling is still the same – the images are referenced from where you chose to copy them. I normally organize my images into one folder and choose to have the card ejected after the import process is finished. And below this you can chose to have the images downloaded to a second location, which is an excellent idea for backing them up instantly. The images can also be renamed in the import process. The rest of the process is the same and all in all it is a very slick way to download your images. Just be sure to check and make sure everything went where it was supposed to and all of the images are present and accounted for.

photo_6 Above is the Import Photos and Video dialog that shows up when you import photos and/or video footage into Lightroom directly from a memory card. This dialog is laid out a little differently than the normal Import dialog but it is basically all the same stuff save for the fact that you have to tell Lightroom where you want to save the images to on your hard drives.

I realize workflow is one of those topics that isn’t so exciting but we’ll get to the exciting stuff here soon enough. Metadata and the import process isn’t exciting but that metadata is critical – especially if you shoot a lot and want to find your images.

This blog post is a modified excerpt from my e-book, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Professional Photographer’s Workflow. For more information on this e-book or to purchase the e-book please visit my website.

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October 2013