Adobe Lightroom Workflow – Importing Photos
Posted on December 18, 2008 by Bo
What? You’re not using Adobe Lightroom? Well, you should be. Lightroom is a very powerful image editor and management system, and since it was created by Adobe then it integrates great with Photoshop. It has quickly become a vital program in my photography workflow and one of the easiest programs to recommend to friends who are looking for a better way to manage and edit photos.
The starting point of any workflow is the importing of the files. (Yes, I know the actual starting point is the creation of the photos, but for the sake of staying within the scope of this article, let’s agree that our starting point begins with the import). This is the foundation of your workflow, getting your photos imported to relevant locations on your hard drive and named accordingly.
This article details the steps I take when importing files in Lightroom. There are no definitive right ways to import your files, so I am by no means preaching the gospel here. I’m just offering suggestions on what has helped me over the past few years in organizing my photos for effective use and archiving.
Select Files to Import
One way or another, you’ve got to tell Lightroom which files you want to import. There are several different ways you can do this. If your photos are still on your digital camera’s memory card, you can either connect your camera directly to your computer or connect your memory card to a USB card reader. Simply connect your camera or card reader, pull up Lightroom, and go to File > Import Photos from Device…
If your images are already on your computer’s hard drive, you can easily import them as well by going to File > Import Photos from Disk… and selecting the folder where they are located.
Master the Import Dialog Box
Once you’ve selected the files you wish to import into Lightroom, you’ll be presented with a rather large import dialog box. While it may seem intimidating at first, it’s actually a very straight-forward and logical arrangement of options for importing your photos. Let’s take a closer look at each of these options (please refer to the image to the right).
1. File Handling and Location
The first option is asking how you want Lightroom to handle these files. Here you have a few different choices to make:
- Add photos to catalog without moving – Imports the photo information into Lightroom but leaves your existing photos where they are on your hard drive.
- Copy photos to a new location and add to catalog – Copies your photos to a specified location and imports them into your Lightroom catalog.
- Move photos to a new location and add to catalog – Moves your photos to a specified location and imports them into your Lightroom catalog.
- Copy photos as Digital Negative (DNG) and add to catalog (Recommended) – This option copies your photos as DNG files to a specified location and imports them into your Lightroom catalog.
The Copy to option allows you to specify where you want the photos to be copied or moved to. I typically target my My Pictures folder on a Windows PC, or my Pictures folder on a Mac. This is the most intuitive place to store photos since these folders are pre-designated by either operating system.
2. File Organization
This drop-down menu gives you several options to choose from. My personal favorite is:
By date: 2005/2005-12-17
This setting automatically organizes my photos by the date they were taken. So, there’s no room for error by manually typing in a date. In my particular scenario, the photos I’m importing will be put in the following directory:
Pictures > 2008 > 2008-12-16
Another advantage of organizing your photos in this way is that you can view a list of all your images by the date they were taken and determine what is to be imported. Using the checkboxes beside the dates you can select which photos you want to import. By selecting a specific date you can view all photos taken on that date and select individual photos to import. Right-clicking on a date will also allow you to rename the target directory.
3. Backup Option
Speaking as one who has lost images before (either due to hard drive failure or hasty file deletion), I want to emphasize the importance of backing up your files. Selecting this checkbox allows you to create a copy of all imported files to an external hard drive. This way you immediately have a backup of your files before you even start working with them. While you’re configuring a backup scheme, you may want to consider a remote backup service such as Mozy Remote Backup.
I personally have my file naming structure set as YYYYMMDD_001.dng (where the “001″ represents a three digit sequence number). This allows me to quickly see the exact date the photo was taken.
Once you’ve defined your custom file naming template, you can save it and that template becomes the default for the next time you import the files.
5. Information to Apply
In this section you can designate the information that is applied to each image that will be imported:
- Develop Settings – A list of presets (black and white, sepia, antiqued, etc.) that will be applied to all photos. This is the one option I’ve never used in the import dialog simply because I like being able to easily view the original version of each photo and apply the preset I think most appropriate.
- Metadata – Similar to the File Naming Template mentioned in the previous step, this allows you to create a metadata template to embed certain information into each photo. I usually setup a template for copyright information that doesn’t change often and leave that template set as the default option.
- Keywords – Specify keywords to be embedded into the photos. One thing to keep in mind is that these keywords will be applied to all photos imported. You can always add and change the keywords once the files are imported into Lightroom.
- Initial Previews – The size of thumbnails that are imported with the photo. Minimal is the default setting and is the fastest method for importing photos; however, while browsing through the photos you may experience lag time because Lightroom may be having to recreate the photos at a larger size as they come into view. Standard means a longer export time but makes browsing medium-sized thumbnails much easier and more fluid. My suggestion? Start with Minimal. If browsing your photos afterward is making your computer lag then step it up to Standard. There is also a 1:1 option, but the import takes even longer and the previews take up more disk space. I’d suggest avoiding the 1:1 setting unless that’s what works best for your workflow.
6. Image Size and Selection
The buttons in this section allow you a quick way to either select all images or deselect all images. The slider bar changes the size of the thumbnails displayed in the window, but has no effect on the information that’s embedded into the photos.
Once you’ve made the appropriate import settings, simply hit the Import button and Lightroom will do the rest!
Over the next few articles we’ll be taking a look at the next steps in the photography workflow inside Lightroom. It’s important not to overlook the import step as it sets the pace for your workflow and overall photo organization.