How I Use Lightroom: Getting Photos In

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is an excellent piece of software I’ve recommended to many of my friends who have been bitten by the photography bug.  It catalogs and organizes all of my photos, allows me to quickly and efficiently edit them, and assists in pushing the end results for others to see. While on the surface it is targeted to professionals, I’m no professional and wouldn’t enjoy photography nearly as much without it.

Because it is so configurable, it is often very helpful to get a look at how others use its many features.  So that’s what I’m going to do with this series of posts titled How I Use Lightroom.  I won’t go to mind-numbing depth into every feature it has to offer, but instead will show you what I think is a very approachable and practical method for getting your money’s worth out of it.

So let’s get started with the first thing you need to do with it – get photos INTO lightroom.

Importing My Photos

Importing all starts with the Import… button on the lower left-hand corner of the Library module.

Clicking this brings up the big Import window.

Lightroom Import Window
Importing photos into Lightroom. Click to enlarge.

There are 3 main features to this window, and they are viewed Left to Right:

  • Source
  • Select Photos
  • To


The source is where you are going to be pulling your images From.  Most likely this will be your memory card reader or the drive your camera shows up as if you connect it directly with USB.

Lightroom will display all attached drives and devices so the list on the left can get fairly long.  Here’s what mine looks like:

Photo source in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3
Selecting Photo Source

The H: is my compact flash card reader.

Select Photos

The middle section of the window gives you a great thumbnail view of all of the photos from the source you select.  There’s a nice Thumbnails slider on the lower right corner of the grid which you can use to enlarge the photos for a better look.

Adjusting thumbnail size.
Getting a better view of your photos before import.

You can check and un-check each of the photos – only those checked will be imported into Lightroom.  Since I wipe my memory cards before I start using them, I rarely un-check anything here.  I’ll take care of deleting bad ones once they’re in Lightroom and I can get a much better look at them.

Copy as DNG or Copy

Above this preview grid of the photos to import, you’ll find a some options: Copy as DNG, Copy, Move, and Add.

I only use Copy as DNG. Move terrifies me. I don't know or care what Add is for.

I shoot in RAW, so I always use Copy as DNG when importing.  This will take each RAW file (.cr2 files for Canon), convert it to the standard RAW format (.dng), and then copy it to the ultimate destination.  Converting to DNG makes the import take longer, but I feel it is worth it since DNG is a) standard and b) a format that can save your edits back into the same file if desired.

If you only use JPG out of your camera, just select Copy.  Copy as DNG won’t do anything but give you an annoying message once the import is done – telling you that none of your files could be converted to DNG since they weren’t RAW.

The fun part – Selecting where they go

The right-hand side of the import window is where you’ll choose where the files will be copied, among other things.

Destination Settings. Click to enlarge.

Before I continue describing this, a word about where I store my photos.

Here’s a screenshot of my main RAID array where most of my Lightroom data lives:

My Lightroom Data

The Lightroom directory is where the Lightroom Catalog is saved along with the image preview cache.  I should probably move the Image Preview Cache to another drive – there’s no need for it to be protected by RAID.  The actual photo files (.dng in my case, after they are converted during import) go into the Photos directory.

There’s one other important directory involved, and that’s to save a backup of every single imported file.  I do this just as insurance against something ridiculous happening before my nightly backup procedures make permanent backups of the directories mentioned above.  This folder sits on another drive:

Let’s go back to the import window now and see how things are setup.

File Handling

This section specifies some low-level details about the file copy and import process.

My File Handling Settings

Render Previews forces Lightroom to generate preview images as a part of the import.  This will save time later when you’re browsing.

Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates is good if you leave photos on your memory cards between imports.  It will let you just keep all of the images checked during the import, and Lightroom will detect which ones it doesn’t need to import.  I leave this unchecked because it would re-import bad photos I purposely deleted.

Make a Second Copy To is the setting I mentioned above to copy the original files from the memory card to my G:Lightroom Import Backup directory.  From that screenshot you’ll see it puts every import into its own sub-folder named after the date of the import.

File Renaming

I don’t do any with this section.  When I first started using Lightroom I tried using it, but I think it’s really more suited to professionals.  I just prefer to leave the images named IMG_####.   The only time I want different file names is when I share them, and that renaming can be done during Export.

Apply During Import

Various presets can be applied here.

Develop Settings –  I have a preset configured for my Canon 30D camera that gets applied to every one of my imports.  This preset just applies a Camera Profile to each image so I don’t have to manually do it later.  Any setting you can do in the Develop module can be saved into a preset and applied during import like this.

Metadata – I also have a metadata preset configured which mainly just embeds my name and a copyright notice to the image.

Keywords – For the photos you are importing this time, pick as many keywords/tags as are applicable and set it here.  Keywords are good, but only if you use them.  You’ll use them more if you apply as many as you can during import.  Others can (and should) be added in the Library module after the import.


This is where you’ll set the folder you want all of your photos stored in.   Lightroom remembers the selection for subsequent imports, so you don’t need to go in here often.

Configuring the destination. Click to enlarge.

As you can see in the screenshot, I have Lightroom setup to save images into sub-folders of z:Photos by year and capture date.  This results in a directory structure that is easily browsable by date:

This structure has always just made sense to me. It makes for easy browsing outside of lightroom.

More to come

So that’s it.  When you click Import, the selected photos will get copied over to the destination – while giving you much more control than if you were just using Windows Explorer and drag/dropping them.

After the importing has completed, the next step I take is to go through and delete the terrible ones.  More on that in another post…

Thanks for reading!