Importing Files with Adobe Lightroom 4

Adobe Lightroom is a great program to catalog, manage, edit and even publish photos. I myself have been somewhat resilient against adopting Lightroom in my workflow but after experimenting with it for a while I have to admit that it greatly improves my efficiency, especially with my travel photography collections. So if you are just starting out with Lightroom or considering purchasing it, here is a basic tutorial on how to import files into your catalog, and all the different options you will encounter. Understanding how Lightroom import function operates is essential because everyone has to use it to work with photos and it is one of the initial steps in anybody’s workflow.

When using import function in Lightroom, you can achieve several steps at once. Most importantly you can copy the files from your memory card to your primary storage device while adding the files to a Lightroom catalog. You can also make a second copy to another location as a backup, set an automatic renaming of files, add keywords and copyright data to the entire batch and even apply basic filters and effects, all during the import process. These options can significantly improve handling of large batches and reduce time spent on processing. Remember, however, that Lightroom Catalog file does not store actual images, but only collect information about their locations and applied changes. Therefore note the destination of your photos during import.

How to import?

You can set Import option to appear each time you connect your memory card to your computer. To do this go to Edit>Preferences on the top Navigation Panel and look for Import Options section in the General tab, then checkmark “Show import dialog when a memory card is detected” box.  To initialize import manually, you can click on a big Import button on the Left Panel or just hit [Shift]+[Ctrl]+[I] keys ([Shift]+[Cmd]+[I] for Mac users).

Import Window

Adobe Lightroom 4 import window

Import window is divided into several sections. Each is responsible for a separate task. Starting from left we have ‘import from’ device selection, import method with preview of images and ‘import to’ location with various automated actions. On the bottom you also have an option to miniaturize the import window and save the current import settings as a preset.

Importing from

Left section of the Import window is very straightforward. Here, you can simply select a device from which you would like to import your images. Lightroom will typically default to a memory card if one is detected but you can also choose from any number of additional hard drives or network drives you have available. On this panel, you can also checkmark a box to eject a memory card once the Import is finished.

Import method and Preview

Importing Files with Lightroom 4The middle section of import window is responsible for import method and preview of images. Import method will typically include four options: Copy as DNG, Copy, Move and Add.

  • Copy as DNG –if you shoot in RAW the chances are that your files are saved in a format proprietary to your camera manufacturer. For example: Canon saves RAW files as .CR2 while Nikon produces .NEF. Adobe has developed its own RAW format called Digital Negative (DNG) to unify all different RAW formats into one. Adobe has opened the license for DNG format so technically anybody is free to develop hardware or software that takes full advantage of this format. When you select Copy as DNG option Lightroom will convert your files into DNG format while importing to a new location. This will not affect image quality and keep original files on the memory card.
  • Copy – this option will simply import the files ‘as-is’ to a new location while keeping the files on the memory card without any conversion.
  • Move –as its name implies this option will import the files to a new location and delete originals from the memory device. This option is only available when importing from a hard drive or a network drive and will not be active with a memory card.
  • Add – this option will not move any files but will only add them to Lightroom Catalog. The physical files will remain at their current location. Because the files are not actually transferred, you will only have a choice of adding Metadata info to images. Since the files need to be on a permanent drive this option will not be available when importing from a memory card.

The main stage of the import window is taken up with a preview of images. Adobe Lightroom is capable of recognizing all popular RAW formats so it will have no problem previewing your RAW files. If you shoot RAW + JPEG Lightroom will omit JPEG duplicates and only show one version of the file. However, if you want JPEG files to be treated as different images you can specify that in Edit>Preferences.

When previewing images you can deselect the ones you do not wish to import. If you want to view each file individually you can select Loupe View or hit [E] key. To go back to Grid View hit [G] or select grid icon. Here, you can also select different sorting options and change the size of preview thumbnails.

Importing to

Importing Files with Lightroom 4On the right hand side you will see all the options for destination files. Depending on which import method you have chosen, you will have several parameters: File Handling, File Renaming, Apply During Import and Destination.


  • File Handling – this option specifies how the files are handled during import. You can choose for files that are virtually identical to be automatically eliminated. You can also select a second destination as a backup if you prefer to have a redundancy for safety. Additionally you can select how previews will be rendered during import. Minimal will display smallest previews (which takes shortest about of time) but render standard when needed. Embedded & Sidecar will display full preview that is created by the camera. Standard will display full preview rendered by Lightroom, this will take longer but ultimately provide better preview quality. 1:1 will display previews at full size.
  • File Renaming – this option allows for changing file names during import. There are lots of variations available. You can create a custom numbering system or keep the file numbers but also add shoot name to them. Additionally, you can add shooting date to the file names.
  • Apply During Import – this option provides an ability to apply various presets to images during import process. You can choose to convert images into black and white or do all kinds of cross processing. But most importantly this option also allows for Metadata implementation to the entire batch. Using this option you can add keywords to all images from a shoot and even add your copyright notice.
  • Destination – this option specifies where the imported files will be saved.

Additional Options

On the bottom of the import window you will find two mode options. A small arrow in the bottom left corner will miniaturize import window and eliminate some of the advanced options for a more streamlined import. Hitting [Tab] will also miniaturize import window.Lightroom minimized import window

You can save all the custom functions you have chosen from the options described above as a preset for future imports. A tab on the bottom of import window will let you save a preset or select a previously saved one.

Auto Import

It is also possible to activate auto import and bypass import window altogether. This will limit many custom options you have available through import window but will greatly optimize importing. To do this, go to File>Auto Import> Enable Auto Import. You will need to select a folder from which all Auto Import will occur. To accomplish this go to File>Auto Import> Auto Import Settings.  Watched folder is the folder from which all Auto Import will transpire. Whenever you place files into this folder, Lightroom will automatically perform import. Remember that watched folder needs to be empty when you specify it and Lightroom doesn’t auto import anything from subfolders. To select where the files are placed during Auto Import, change destination section in the Auto Import Settings.

This entry was posted by Alex Gumerov.

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