Using the Import and Copy Command in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom v3

June 18, 2010 | | Comments 64

Please read Getting Started: What Does “Import” Mean in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom? before proceeding with this tutorial.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 is a workflow tool designed to streamline digital photography. Ingesting new images from a digital camera memory card is a repetitive task that a professional photographer will repeat hundreds of times per year. This process just got a whole lot easier thanks to Lightroom 3′s new Import Preset feature.

“Importing” means referencing new images into your Lightroom Catalog. This is a critical step, and it is one of the first tasks that you will do with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. By creating an Import Preset in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, you are spelling out a list of steps that you want the computer to perform again and again. Using an Import Preset makes copying files from a digital camera’s memory card to your computer a painless procedure. The Import Preset is a step-by-step list that tells the software:

By creating an Import Preset, you can automate each of these steps so that the memory card to computer transfer process is push button easy. This is a huge time saver for a serious photographer who empties memory cards on a daily basis! Before you build an Import Preset though I suggest reading all of the posts on how Lightroom works, and on how to set up your preferences, in the Getting Started Right with Lightroom 3 section of our website. You will want all of these settings in place before you build your Import Preset and start adding lots of files into your Lightroom Catalog.

Just in case you need the review, I find it helpful to explain again how the Lightroom Catalog functions. Lightroom is, first and foremost, a database program. As an analogy, think of Lightroom as if it were the card catalog in a physical library. Think of your Lightroom Catalog as if it were a library’s wooden crate full of index cards. Whenever you import an image, Lightroom adds another index card into this wooden crate. The index cards in your Lightroom Catalog mirror your files but they are not a second copy of the entire image. Each index card records a file’s name, its location within your computer, and all of your file’s metadata. In addition, the index card also includes small thumbnails and previews for each image. The critical point though is that the Lightroom Catalog isn’t a place; it is an index.

You must understand that your images, the actual files, are not stored in the Lightroom Catalog. The Catalog references your files and tracks their changes, but the files themselves do not live in the Lightroom Catalog. You have got to keep this “index vs. file location” distinction in mind when you are looking at the Import Dialog, and this distinction is particularly important when you are using Lightroom to empty a memory card.

You have got to keep this clear in your head, because the Import Dialog needs to know where it should put your new files! On the far right and top of the screen is the critical box that tells Lightroom where your files should go. Pay attention to this line! Too often people neglect this box. If you don’t set it up right, Lightroom will put your files in the wrong folder or on the wrong hard drive.

The Whole Import Dialog

Lightroom 3 Import Dialog.jpg

When using a memory card, you only have two choices at the top of the screen. Both choices involve copying files over from your memory card so there is bad option here. How then do these choices differ?

  • Copy photos to a new location and add to catalog – This choice makes an exact copy of the files on your memory card, regardless of file format, and places the copies in whatever location you have specified. These files are added into your Lightroom index after the copying process ends.
  • Copy photos as a Digital Negative (DNG) and add to catalog – Like the first choice, this option makes a copy of each image on your memory card and stores the copies in whatever location you have specified. When you select this option though, your raw files are re-wrapped using the Adobe Digital Negative file format. All of the files on the card are copied, but only the raw files are converted from one file format to another. Once the copying process ends, all of the new files, regardless of their file format, are added into your Lightroom index. I like this choice, but before you pick this one you should carefully study up on what DNG means and how it might change your workflow.

Working our way down from the top right side of the Import Dialog there are fiour panels. The File Handling panel controls the Initial Preview size. When you view your images in Lightroom, you are looking at “previews” of your image. Lightroom uses three different size previews for each file; a thumbnail, a standard (full-screen) version, and a zoomed into 100% (1:1) version. Your choices in this box have no effect on your image quality, but rather on how quickly you can flip through your files and zoom in on them while editing and developing later on. This setting controls which of these three preview types Lightroom should create as part of the import process. The four choices are (in order from fastest to slowest):

  • Minimal – Immediately displays the images using the smallest previews embedded in the photos. Standard-sized previews will be generated as-needed. This is the fastest method on import.
  • Embedded & Sidecar – Displays the largest preview possible from the camera. This option take slightly longer than the “Minimal” setting, but it is still pretty fast.
  • Standard – Renders full-screen previews as the files are imported. This takes more time, but once the import is complete you can flip through your images in the Fit on Screen display mode without any delay.
  • 1:1 – All three preview sizes are generated on import. The 1:1 (100%) previews take quite a while to create, but once these previews are built you can zoom in on your images without any delay. I use this option most of the time. I would rather wait longer during import then during sorting. Generally, I am not in a big hurry during the memory card emptying stage, and I hate waiting for Lightroom to render my 1:1 (100%) previews while I am sorting through my images.

Beneath the Preview Size box there are two important switches. The Don’t re-import suspected duplicates checkbox tells Lightroom to watch for images that have already been added into your Lightroom catalog. I like turning this option on. It prevents me from emptying the same memory card twice in a drunken stupor!

The Backup to: setting allows you to copy the files on your memory card to two locations at once. The location specified in the File Handling section will be the images that are added into the Lightroom index. The second set, the Backup To set, will not be added into your index. I understand why the folks at Adobe created this option, but I don’t like it at all. I don’t use it because I have my own Professional-Grade Backup Plans that do a much better job protecting my files. If you use this choice, be aware that the backup files this option creates are static. These files are not updated automatically nor are they indexed. Since these files are static, they will not contain any of the improvements that you make to their twins while you are working in Lightroom.

Beneath this section are panels for File Renaming and information (metadata) to apply after the copying from card to computer process ends. The File Naming Template drop-down allows you to batch-rename your images as they are imported. The Information to Apply section lets you add metadata or develop settings to your images as they come in to the computer. These choices can be great time savers, but nothing that you add, or change, in this box is permanent. Remember that Lightroom is a completely non-destructive program.

  • Develop Settings – You can choose a develop preset to apply to all of your images as they are imported. I rarely use this option.
  • Metadata – You can apply a Metadata Preset, your copyright and contact information, to all of your images on import. This is a very useful time saver! More on Creating a Metadata Template is covered here.
  • Keywords – Any keywords that you put in this box will be applied to all of the images in your current import. I rarely find this choice useful, since the same keywords rarely fit each and every image on my memory card. There are far more efficient ways to add detailed keywords within Lightroom’s Library Module.

Finally, the Destination panel lets you tell Lightroom how it should distribute your new files. After years of working with Lightroom, I have found that the “Organize by Date” using the “Year-Month-Day” option is the best choice. I urge you to set yours up just like mine though the numbers that you see for the sample folder name will differ.

Lightroom 3 Import Destination.jpg

In my opinion, this is the easiest and most sensible way to go but Lightroom is designed so that you can divide your files up any which way you want. The truth is that file folders serve very little purpose within a sophisticated metadata catalog-based image storage system. Once you start using Lightroom, your folder names are basically decorative. You could lump a lifetime’s worth of digital images into a single folder, but I am convinced that having Lightroom distribute my files into a folder for each and every day that I photograph is the simplest and most elegant choice.


Filed Under: (03) Importing Images Into LightroomAdobe Photoshop Lightroom Tutorials


About the Author: David Marx is a digital photography instructor whose engaging teaching style inspires photographers of all skill levels. David is an Adobe Certified Lightroom Expert. To learn more about David's Adobe Photoshop Lightroom software training seminars and digital photography field workshops please visit or follow David Marx on Google+.