Using the Import with Add Command in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom v3

July 01, 2010 | | Comments 29

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

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is designed to index a lifetime’s worth of digital photography. Lightroom creates a database which acts likes a library’s “card catalog.” Thanks to the index, it is easy for a professional photographer to find one specific image out of the thousands that are stored on their computer in seconds.

Lightroom creates thumbnails that act as placeholders for each of your digital captures. Search results are almost instantaneous because Lightroom only needs to flip through the entries in its database. We have a number of videos for Lightroom beginners in in the Getting Started Right with Lightroom 3 section of our website. Before you start adding thousands of images into your Lightroom Catalog, I suggest reading all of these posts on how Lightroom works, and on how to best set up your preferences.

Learning Lightroom is a lot easier if you have all of the settings and templates in place before you start adding thousands of files into your Lightroom index. If you are new to this software and the importing process then I urge you to watch this tutorial on how to build an Import Preset in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 before you go any further. An Import Preset can make life simpler and make importing files into your index far more efficient.

Lightroom’s “Add Photos to My Catalog” without moving or copying is a good option for those who have been using Lightroom for a while. This choice tells Lightroom simply to create thumbnails and reference points for your files where they currently live. I use the “Add” without moving or copying option when I want to add folders full of images into my index without changing anything about where these files are stored or what these files is called.

You might also want to click here for more information on how to use Lightroom to copy / move images from folder to folder or from one drive to another.

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


About the Author: David Marx teaches digital photography workshops and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom training classes. David is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop Lightroom and in Adobe Photoshop. David has lead workshops and seminars for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, the American Society of Media Photographers, FirstLight Photography Workshops, and he teaches annually at the world-famous Blackberry Farm Resort. For more information on his Photoshop Lightroom training seminars and digital photography field workshops please visit You can also follow daily updates and see new images from David on Google+.

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  1. Hi! I has catalogued in lightroom 3 some photos of beachs in Ubatuba, Brazil. Last week, I have done some photos of the beach and a I would want to add these photos to the same catalog. Is it possible? If so, how? Thank you in advance.

  2. Paula says:

    Hi. Thank you for your videos. New LR 3 on MacOSXLion user. LEARN MEET CURVE. So after 3 days of watching all of the videos here and setting up everything you suggest before I bring in a single image I think I am on track. However, the above video threw me. If they are in the external drive, in subfolders, why are we setting them in somewhere else that is the same place? Maybe I don’t understand the difference of what you are having us do here and what we have already done. Why would we want to “bring them in where they already live”?

  3. Carl Socolow says:

    Dave, I’ve been a longtime user of PS/Bridge on a Mac. Previously I would download cards to Finder. Now I import from card to destination folder using LR3 protocols and presets. I then export these files to their permanent residence on the college’s server in their respective category folders. I’ve been doing this since the end of Oct. when I attended a Julieanne seminar. My problem is the years and years of photos on server that are only organized by folder/subfolder/date or category. Rather than import the whole shebang into my LR catalogue I’ve been going to individual folders and importing/add into my master catalogue. This, of course, doesn’t maintain the file structure of the whole server, just each folder/subfolder. My question is if I want to have the catalog replicate the structure of the server do I have to reimport the whole server and, if so, how do I handle it even if I have Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates unchecked? Right now I have a bunch of separate, disparate imports representing the file structure although they are searchable. Thanks. Sorry to be so long-winded.

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Carl Socolow,

      I am not sure that I understand your workflow or your troubles. My first set of questions– Are you using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to import from your memory cards and telling the program to copy the images to the server? Or are you importing from the card to your computer then manually moving the new folders to the server? Or are you using the “Make a Second Copy” command in the Import dialog so that the primary version lives on your computer and the backup copy lives on the server? When does the “export these files to the college’s server” happen? What are you exporting?

      If you are using the Import with Add command to create reference points for images on the server, or anywhere else, then Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is not changing the existing folder structure. Using the right-click “Add Parent Folder” command in the Folders Panel might help you see the whole folder & sub-folder structure. Changing the “Root Folder Display Options”– click and hold the little + symbol next to the word Folders in the Library Panels” to see the whole “Path from Volume” or “Folder and Path” might also help.

      David Marx

      • Carl Socolow says:


        Thanks for getting back to me. For new work that I’m adding from a card I use the import from memory card to add to my computer folder that I use to work on new pix which includes editing, keywording, file renaming and some general developing; all from raw files. Then I export these to existing or new event folders on the college’s server as resized jpegs so that they’re accessible to the community since not everyone has raw converters nor would I want them to mess with how I’d like the photos to work.

        I think you got to the heart of the question with your second paragraph which has to do with maintaining existing folder structures for legacy photos already on the server. I’m going to try your two suggestions and see if that gets me where I need to be. As I mentioned, I’m bringing in each legacy folder, a bit at a time, using the Add command to add them to the catalogue and to give them some general keywords.

        I’ll let you know how I make out. Thanks so much.

  4. HelpSpa says:

    Now that you’ve imported your exisitng pictures into your LR3 catalog, what do you do now when you decide to add more images to these folders? Is there a best practice for using LR3’s folder watching features?


  5. Janet says:

    Apologize if someone sees this also in the Adobe Forums.

    Today, I opened Lightroom, and I believe it said “please wait while your catalog is upgraded.” When went to the library module, it said I was in Catalog-6. I’d created collections in Catalog 5, My workflow is copying files from camera card to Free Agent drive (usually G:/), imported them to the Lightroom catalog at their current location, selected and edited them, created collections of the edited photos, and exported the edited files to an external hard drive (usually E:/) with folder names that work for how I export/upload/share them.

    Now Open Catalog puts in me Catalog 6, the left hand panel doesn’t show my Free Agent drive, it shows my E:/ drive but with a question mark to locate all the folders, and scrolling down to collections just gives me the standard list of recent/past month/ etc. — none of the folders I’ve created by subject.

    I don’t remember clearly, but I think I may have recreated some of the folder structure and relocated files from earlier catalogs (like 3 and 4) to get to Catalog 5.

    I’m hoping I don’t have to recreated the work I’d done in Catalog 5 in the upgrade to Catalog 6. And I’m a little puzzled as to why the indexing and folder structure seems to be gone when the catalog is upgraded.

    Thanks for your help.

    • davem says:

      Dear Janet,

      I think you are doing two things that are making life difficult. 1. I don’t think that should be creating multiple Lightroom Catalogs. My experience in the classroom has convinced me that most Lightroom users cannot handle this extra needless level of complexity. 2. You are not taking charge of your drive letters. Letting Windows dynamically assign drive letters is a disaster for you. It’s a disaster because today’s G:\ drive is tomorrow’s E:\. Trouble is Lightroom is still looking for G:\! See How to change drive letter assignment from Microsoft and this tutorial on other ways to solve this silly Windows issue.

      David Marx

  6. Victor says:

    I want to make multiple copies of a 2 tb photo disk with lightroom catalogue.
    The disks all have the same files but do not show up in the folder section.
    Do I have to import the photos from each disk to show up in the folder section?
    Is there some way to copy my main catalog onto the secondary disks and then have them show up under my folder section?
    If I am not making myself clear,
    520-577-6365 Please call so I may explain.
    Victor Beer, M.D.

  7. Sally says:

    Dear David,

    Thanks for your LR tutorial to get me all set up! Being very new to LR, I somewhat couldn’t find an answer to actually work on the photo itself. After the images were being imported from the Camera to LR, now it sits on the external drive/PHOTOS GO HERE folder. Happy to find this video to link up the actual photos to LR. However, I find that the actual photo (inside PHOTOS GO HERE folder) still do not get updated when I made changes (effects) on LR. Or should it suppose to?

    Which brings me to another question if I may…
    on iPhoto, I can easily right click & duplicate photos and make the few effects I desired. But on LR, I can’t seem to find such option. Is there any similar function?

    thanks David, for your time!


    • davem says:

      Dear Sally,

      You are asking great questions. I think that you need more background info though to understand how Lightroom functions as a database and as a non-destructive image enhancer. The second part, learning to trust Lightroom and its cool features like Snapshots, so that you no longer need duplicates to protect your original is the easier part. Understanding the role of the Lightroom Catalog and its relationship with the images on your hard drive takes most folks a bit more time but you will get it.

      David Marx

  8. Jim Baker says:


    Thanks for the great videos. How do you import file presets when you use the add feature from your external drive to the same drive? Metadata seems to work but no file names…


    Jim Baker

  9. Graham M H says:

    David I have just recently purchased LR3 and never used LR before. I have followed your tutorials right from the start and I am very happy with the set up.(VERY VERY HAPPY)
    I have one question, I did set up the meta data preset to use on import and I did do the file rename preset and indeed renamed and re numbered all my old existing images – perfect.
    My problem now is when I download a flash card i always in the past made a new folder named it and put a shoot date and transfered to the ext hard drive. the problem is when I ADD these to my catalogue the preset will add metadata but not rename – in fact that check box is only in COPY or MOVE.
    Does this mean in the future i have to download my cards different ie COPY or MOVE. Or am I missing something.

    • davem says:

      Dear Graham,

      I am glad that you found our tutorials helpful! You are correct that the option to batch rename files on import in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is only available when using the Copy or Move choices but don’t panic. You can batch rename files at any time in Lightroom simply by selecting the appropriate files and then using the Library > Rename Photos command in the Library module. The keyboard shortcut for this command, by the way, is F2!

      David Marx

  10. Mark Greenberg says:

    Hi David,
    I have been following your protocol for moving all data to an external hard drive and it has gone smoothly. Once the files are on that drive, should the folders in PICTURES on a MAC be deleted? If I understand correctly, once the set-up is complete, only the LR3 application should be on the main drive and all data is stored on the external. That external drive can be used on either my desktop or laptop. Thanks for the help.


    • davem says:

      Dear Mark,

      It sounds like you have done everything right but being cautious here is good! Once you are convinced that you have successfully transfered everything over to the external drive I would urge you to make a complete backup. Backup that entire drive. Just for good measure, backup up Mac’s internal drive too. See Backing up a Mac with Carbon Copy Cloner and My Photo Storage System: Two External Hard Drives if you need more advice on this topic.

      Once everything is backed up then you should delete all of the folders inside your internal pictures folder. Drag all of these folders to the trash can and then empty the trash to truly remove them from the internal disk. You are now free to use your “Photo Storage” external drive with any computer and no matter where you go you should now have access to all of your images and your Lightroom index!


  11. David Marx says:

    Dear Brian Wilson.

    I liked your question on moving digital images from iPhoto to Lightroom so much that I made it today’s post. See for more details and a video tutorial.


  12. Brian Wilson says:

    How do I import to lightroom 3 from iPhoto? For the life of me I just cannot find out how and I am no newbie…

  13. Gail Conrod-List says:

    Hi, me again,

    Problem nearly gone. The fix involved pointing at the folders on the old drive (now with question marks indicating that LR couldn’t find them) and doing a “locate”. The folder then disappeared from the old drive and popped up on the external drive. Fast, and the metadata followed along. I had not saved metadata, so all metadata was in the catalog. The “Add without moving files” was not what I should have used (for my situation–the metadata was not embedded in the files, so the original negatives only were imported).

    I still don’t know why the catalog (when my laptop started using it) expected to find my files on the old drive, since I had moved the files with my stationary computer to the external.

    Just glad I didn’t lose the metadata. Yes, I am now pushing it down into the files.

    Back to reading more tutorials on how LR is built,

  14. Gail Conrod-List says:


    Great tutorials. I moved my Lightroom (LR) 2.5 catalog to an external drive – no problem. I then moved the folders to the external drive – no problem. My stationary computer finds everything as usual.

    I am now visiting my parents with my laptop and the external drive. The laptop has LR 2.7. I pointed LR to the catalog on the external drive – no problem. The thumbnails in the collections show up fine.

    Now comes the hard part. I pointed LR to the folders on the external drive. The images didn’t show up, so I did an import: add without moving. LR is not showing any virtual copies. The collections are there, but when I try to edit an image, it can’t find the image, despite the image already being imported with Add. Two questions:

    1. Are the collections looking on the wrong hard drive?
    2. What happened to the develop information for each image? In History, only the “imported on …..” message shows. I thought develop information was embedded in the DNG file? Or should I import with “embedded and sidecars” checked?

    If you have done a tutorial that addresses this issue, please point me to the URL.

    Thanks for any help,

  15. By default, your original Lightroom 2 Catalog would have been named Lightroom 2 Catalog.lrcat and the accompanying previews file named Lightroom 2 Catalog Previews.lrdata. When you upgrade the Catalog for use with Lightroom 3, new catalog and previews files are created in the same folder as the Lightroom 2 Catalog and are named Lightroom 3 Catalog.lrcat and Lightroom 3 Catalog Previews.lrdata respectively.

    If you can’t tell from the names, you can have Lightroom tell you. Open Lightroom 3 and make sure you are viewing the Catalog you want to keep. Go to your Catalog Settings (under the Lightroom or Edit menu). The exact location of your Lightroom 3 Catalog will be shown in the dialog box under the General tab. Click the Show button to view the location of your Lightroom 3 Catalog file in the Finder or Windows Explorer.


  16. Farshid says:

    Hello Scott, thanks for the comment. I did try that before but what if I delete the LR2 preview and library i would not be able to see any photo’s. What I’m doing wrong and how can I get to see only LR3 preview and library?


  17. Ariz,

    When upgrading to Lightroom 3, the program makes a copy of your Lightroom 2 Catalog before upgrading it for use with Lightroom 3. If you’re confident everything is working well for you in Lightroom 3, you may simply delete the old Lightroom 2 Catalog and its previews file. You may also uninstall the LIghtroom 2 program, if you desire.

    The article Upgrading from Lightroom 2 to Lightroom 3 covers some of these topics.


  18. Farshid says:

    Hi dave thanks for all the info. please tell me why I have light room 2 catalog still present if I just up graded to LR3? is that normal or should I be deliting them and how do I do that.