Lightroom Import (Part 1)

Here are some thoughts on the process of importing images into Lightroom.

Everything is controlled from this screen. It is similar to the one in ACDSee Pro and is a huge advance on ThumbsPlus – which doesn’t have one at all.

I like the ability to do multiple things from one screen:

  • Copy the images from the camera’s memory card to my PC’s hard drive. You can rename the files according to your wishes and select the directory organization you want to use on the PC.
  • Add them to the Lightroom database, sorry catalog, with suitable metadata. (It’s great that it can insert Copyright information into each file and you can add keywords and all sorts of other metadata.)
  • Make a backup to another drive. If you are importing RAW files and converting them on the fly to DNG the original RAW files are backed up to the drive you select.
  • You can apply a set of Lightroom develop settings to each image.
  • You can create the image previews Lightroom uses in Loupe view and the Develop module.

And you can do all this while you’re taking a shower and having a well-deserved cup of tea after a day’s shooting. (There are some caveats to this which I’ll carp about in another post.)

In theory you can continue to work in Lightroom while an import is going on. In practice I find that’s impractical, even on my fairly fast PC. It’s better to be patient and let Lightroom do its thing in peace.

One thing Lightroom will not do is erase the images from your camera’s memory card. Maybe the Lightroom team think it is a dangerous option and don’t want to be held responsible if users do something dumb.

Lightroom Import Screen

Lightroom Import Screen

The picture doesn’t show the Preview panel – only to save screen space in this blog. Lightroom is very quick at displaying image previews so it is worth showing them.


Here are some notes on how I use Import. If you have some good ideas or think I am doing something dumb, please let me know. The most important reason I started this blog was to learn as well as inform.

  • I don’t bother connecting my camera to my PC. I take the card out and put it into a Sandisk USB card reader I have had for years. That seems the least trouble.
  • If Lightroom isn’t running Windows gives me the option to import the images into Lightroom. That works fine. For some reason I do not understand ACDSee had its own ‘device detector’ but for Lightroom the standard Windows XP service is ok. (Note I use XP – I am too cautious to try Vista and will consider Windows 7 when it is stable. I am not going to be an unpaid guinea-pig for Microsoft any more. That’s a subject for another post / rant!)
  • I put my images into a folder hierarchy by date:
  • I keep the current day’s pictures on my PC’s hard drive. At the end of the day I move the while directory to an external drive. Of course I use Lightroom to do the move (drag’n’drop) so I don’t confuse its database. (Yes, Lightroom has a feature to re-synchronize itself if you move files around outside the product, but I have not used it. KISS).
  • There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on how to rate images using Lightroom’s 1 – 4 star ratings. The convention I have adopted is that all images get 3 stars by default. 2 star images are below average but I want to keep them for some reason, e.g. they have something unique on them. 1 star images are candidates for deletion (or illustrations of something dumb I did and I want to remind myself about them.) 4 star images are above average and candidates to be posted to Flickr / Picasa. 5 star images are the ones I love the most.
    • As an illustration, today, June 18th I have 27,347 images in Lightroom (since November 2008). 1 star – 51, 2 stars – 564, 3 stars – 25,961, 4 stars – 737 and 5 stars – 34). I should have an approximately normal distribution. I have too many 3 stars because I had about 15,0o0 images that I had to import when I gave up on ACDSee and I didn’t bother to re-star them – concentrating instead on the keywording.
  • I do not allocate Lightroom colour labels during the import process. I have a specific use for each one which I’ll explain separately.
  • I have a set of presets that I use to add selected metadata to each image. They are based on where I have been shooting. If I have been all over Bangkok I use the one called “Thailand-Bangkok”. If I have been in one specific district (khet) then I have a preset for that khet. For example I have one for my home khet called “Thailand-Bangkok-Din Daeng”.
  • One thing that can be confusing is that you can specify keywords in a metadata preset and you can add more in the import dialog box. Given the complicated way I allocate keywords (more on that in another post) it is possible to get confused and add conflicting keywords. I wish there was a read-only reminder in the import dialog of the keywords I am adding.
  • It would be nice if I could organize those presets into a hierarchy so “Thailand-Bangkok” inherits everything from the “Thailand” preset but adds metadata specific to Bangkok. That would save me a ton of work when I have to update each preset for a new year (the copyright string) or if I move apartment (the IPTC contact information). But that’s probably a lot to hope for from Adobe’s overworked Lightroom team.
  • Another thing I would like to see is the ability to Geotag images on import. My Nikon Coolpix P6000 doesn’t Geotag everything and none of my other camera understand the concept. Of course that only works if the same Geotag applies ot all images in the import batch. Lightroom supports plug-ins for image Export. I don’t think it does for Import else I am sure Jeff Friedl would have thought of it already. (I want to blog about Jeff’s work. I am a huge admirer of his but …)
  • I always use the option to “Copy photos as Digital Negative (DNG) and add to catalog”. Lightroom will of course ignore this for JPG files (it gives you a warning the first time but sensibly suppresses it it after that assuming you know what you are doing).
  • I make 1:1 previews on the theory that a) I have plenty of disk space and b) it makes Lightroom run a bit faster when I go to Loupe View or Develop Mode. As I said, I’m enjoying a cup of tea while all this is taking place.
  • I don’t re-import selected duplicates (although that leads to an annoyance I will write a separate blog entry about – this one is long enough).
  • I do eject the memory card when the import is complete. Then I return the card to my camera and re-format it secure in the knowledge that my images are safe on two hard drives. (Some say it is a good idea to re-format a memory card regularly and all sources I have seen say re-format in the camera, not on the PC.)

If all went according to plan Lightroom has done a huge amount of work for me and I am ready to have fun with the images in the Library module.

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