How to Import Photographs in Lightroom

In our previous Mastering Lightroom series articles we covered what Lightroom is and how it works. We also took a quick tour around Lightroom’s working environment. After highlighting the basic function and capability of each Module, it is now time to talk about them individually more in-depth, starting with Library Module. Before we can actually start using all Library tools, however, we need images to work with. That is why our first step is to learn how to import photographs in Lightroom. I will be using the latest (at the time of writing) version, Lightroom 5, to guide you through the process of Importing images. Virtually everything but Smart Previews is equally applicable to earlier releases.

How to Import Photographs in Lightroom

Importing Photographs

Lightroom is a catalog-based photo manager and post-processing tool. That means in order to start working with photographs, you need to first Import them into your Catalog. Importing is a very simple, straightforward process done using the Import window. To start the process of Importing photographs, launch Lightroom and then click “Import…” at the bottom of the left-side panel in Library Module. Alternatively, you can Import photographs by selecting “Import Photos and Video…” from File menu (Ctrl+Shift+I for Windows users). This will open the Import window for you to choose source directory, image files, destination and other details.

A side note: by default, Lightroom should automatically launch and ready itself for immediate Import as soon as you connect an external storage device to your computer, such as a camera or memory card. If it does not or should you want to change this behavior, go to “Preferences…” in “Edit” menu and check or uncheck the “Show import dialog when a memory card is detected” box in the General tab. I find this a particularly useful option, yet nonetheless disabled it immediately after installing Lightroom on my computer due to a simple irritation. Lightroom would launch its Import dialogue even if I connect a simple USB flash drive which I use for general files and documents, not photographs I need in my Catalog.

1) Import Window Structure

Lightroom’s Import window consists of three main sections, as shown in the screenshot below. These three sections clearly mark sequence of actions you need to take to successfully Import photographs into your Catalog.

First of all, you will need to select the source to Import image files from. Once you do that, choose which images to Import from the middle section of the window. Lightroom will generate thumbnail previews for both JPEG and RAW image files. Finally, specify additional information in the right-most section of the window. The tabs that will be available here depend on what settings you choose in the two previous steps. In all cases, you will have File Handling and Apply During Import tabs available.

Import Window

A side note: at times, Lightroom will allow you to virtually skip two previous Import window sections. For example, if you’ve just connected your camera for image transfer and want to Import them straight through Lightroom, it will automatically choose source destination (camera or memory card). Lightroom will then select all or new images (those that are not yet Imported into working Catalog) for Import process. Often, you will need to simply fine-tune those settings and add information in the last section. This makes the process of Importing pleasantly swift most of the time.

If you tend to Import photographs straight from memory card after a shoot and rarely, if ever, need to select specific images manually, you can have Lightroom show much simpler Import dialogue. To do that, either hit the arrow button at the bottom-left of the screen or Tab key on your keyboard.

2) Choose Source to Import From

Import From Source

This is what the first section of the Import window is for. If you have a memory card, USB drive or camera connected to your computer, Lightroom will automatically choose it as source directory for you. All external devices will be shown in a separate list at the top of the Source tab. Also, there will be an option to have Lightroom eject external storage device as soon as Import process is over if one of the devices from the list is selected as source. To do that, mark the relative “Eject after import” check box.

If there are no external devices to Import from, navigate to the source directory manually. In this case, you will have a “Include Subfolders” check box ready. Enabling this setting will display all images in selected folder and those in folders inside it if any are present.

3) Choose Image Files to Import

The second step is as simple as the first one – now that you have shown Lightroom where your images reside, choose which ones you want in your Catalog. Lightroom will automatically grey-out photographs that are already imported provided they are named identically. In such a case you don’t need to worry about duplicates sneaking in. At the bottom of the central section you will find the usual and straightforward controls, such as “Check All” or “Uncheck All”. Hold down Alt key to toggle “Check Videos” and “Uncheck Videos” options instead. There are also sorting options. Adjust thumbnail size if you’d like bigger previews as you select specific images to Import. Do note Lightroom will not render these in high quality. You can preview images in Loupe view (magnified view when only one image is shown) by double-clicking on them or hitting “E” key. Hit “G” to get back to Grid view or double-click again.

4) Choose to Copy as DNG, Copy, Move or Add Image Files

Located at the top of central section, these options allow you to specify the method of Import. Some adjustments in the last section depend on which setting you choose here.

  • Copy as DNG – image files will be copied from source directory to a specified location in Adobe’s universal DNG format. Read our “DNG vs RAW” article to learn more about DNG file format.
  • Copy – image files will be copied from source directory to a specified location in original file format.
  • Move – image files will be moved from source directory to a specified location in original file format. This option is unavailable when Importing from a memory card, for example.
  • Add – files will not be copied or moved to a new location. Instead, Lightroom will simply add them to your working Catalog. This option is also unavailable when Importing from a memory card or USB flash drive.

5) Choose Destination to Copy Files to, File Handling Options and Metadata Settings

This last section of the Import dialogue is the last step you need to take to Import files and also one you’ll spend most time in. Let’s break it down and briefly discuss each tab.

5.1) File Handling
  • Render Previews – specify quality in which Lightroom should render previews for images you are Importing. Choosing Minimal will use smallest previews that are already embedded into the files by your camera. This is the quickest option and will take up the least disk space. Lightroom will render Standard previews when needed (when in Loupe view mode). This will slow down operational speed somewhat at first when working with images.

    Choose Embedded&Sidecar option to have Lightroom use highest quality embedded previews. A slightly slower process, it will also take a little bit more space on your hard drive. Again, Lightroom will render Standard previews when needed. This process will have an impact on operational speed at first.

    Render Standard previews to avoid slow-downs in Loupe view Fit zoom level. Instead of using embedded previews, Lightroom will render Standard size on its own. This process takes longer than the two previous options, but makes working with images swifter. You can fine-tune Standard preview quality by selecting “Catalog Settings…” from the “Edit” menu (hit Ctrl+Alt+,). Standard preview settings are found in the “File Handling” tab.

    1:1 previews are full-size images. They are used when zoomed in to larger magnifications, such as 100%. Rendering 1:1 previews takes the most time after the Import process is over and most disk space. However, it makes working with images even faster when done (you won’t have to wait for Lightroom to render 1:1 previews when zooming in individual images as you would with any of the other options selected). I would recommend you use this setting if you plan to post-process your images.

  • Build Smart Previews – this check box is only available starting Lightroom version 5. Smart Previews are especially useful if you prefer to keep your weighty RAW files on an external drive. If you check the “Build Smart Previews” check box as you import your images, Lightroom will allow you to post-process the photographs in any way you like even if they are not directly accessible at the time. More than that, you will even be able to export them up to about 2540px (long edge), which is great for web sharing. Understandably, Smart Previews take up some disk space. They are stored along with your Catalog files.
  • Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates – if you select this option, Lightroom will attempt to avoid duplicates on Import should they be present among selected files.
  • Make a Second Copy To – very useful if you tend back up your image files to another location. Lightroom will copy all image files you selected for Import to a specified location. This option is only available if you chose Copy as DNG, Copy or Move Import methods and doesn’t work with Add.
5.2) File Renaming
File Renaming

A set of important options only available if you chose to Copy/Copy as DNG or Move files on Import, it allows you to specify how you want to rename the images. Several naming templates are available and you can choose to create your own. File naming is best used in accordance to your image organizing model. For example, you can have your image name consist of date, event title and sequence number.

Creating your own template is very simple. Lightroom offers a huge amount of options for you to include. To create your own template, click on the drop-down list of available templates and choose “Edit…”. Filename Template Editor will pop-up – an extremely flexible tool you will use to create your own naming template. As soon as you’re done customizing your preset, use the Preset drop-down menu at the top of the Filename Template Editor dialogue and select “Save Current Settings as New Preset” to save and use the template.

To learn more about filename presets, read our “Using Filename Template Editor in Lightroom” article.

5.3) Apply During Import

Yet another set of important options you will definitely want to fill in.

  • Develop Settings – allows you to apply a Develop Preset on images as soon as they become available in your Library. It’s great at giving you an approximate look of your final result rather than the flat RAW image rendering. Because you can only apply a single Develop Preset on Import, this setting works best with B&W conversion, color adjustment and tone adjustment Presets. Naturally, you can set it to a Sharpening or Noise Reduction Preset if you have those. The latter will give you a pretty good idea on which images came out too grainy for your taste.

    Read more about Develop Presets in our “How to Manage Presets” article.

  • Metadata – specify metadata preset to apply. You can easily edit or create new presets by choosing corresponding options from the drop-down menu. Managing metadata presets will be covered in a separate article.
  • Keywords – specify keywords that suit all the images you are about to Import, such as event name. They are very useful when searching for specific photographs in Lightroom or sorting them. Do not apply keywords that are only appropriate for some of the photographs. For example, if you have both portraits and landscapes selected, it is better to add “Portrait” and “Landscape” keywords to these images separately in the Library Module after the Import. All of the keywords can be edited at any time after the Import.
5.4) Destination

Setting destination is only available if you chose to Copy/Copy as DNG or Move files on Import. You can specify a subfolder name and have Lightroom Import images into separate folders for you rather than a single one (based on date, for example).

6) Create an Import Preset

There you go! You can now go ahead and click “Import” – all selected images will appear in your Library Module and have the keywords and metadata entries attached to them. However, in case you find yourself setting up Import dialogue the same way on a regular basis, you can also save these settings as an Import Preset. To do that, use the Import Preset tool located at the very bottom of the Import window.

Import Preset

Either way you are now set to start managing and post-processing your photographs. If you have any questions, you are welcome to ask in the comments section below.


  1. 1) Denzal
    July 4, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Quick question, how do you delete images you have imported into light room 4 to clear space on HD or to move to an external HD

    • 1.1) donski
      July 4, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      When you delete the image(s) from the picture train at the bottom of LR, it will prompt you if you want to delete it from the catalog or from the disk. If you select to delete from the disk, the picture will of course be sent to your bin.

  2. 2) SassePhoto
    July 4, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Well written, thank you! I have LR4 latest update and have issues with importing videos from my Nikon D4 – images always work fine. Sometimes I can import video files, sometimes not, I am puzzled. Any ideas?

  3. 3) Mark M.
    July 4, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Hi Romanas,
    do you know if there is any way of batch processing if using external program e.g. Topaz Denoise?
    Hate to open each image separately but could not find how to automate this.
    Sure I can use built-in options but Topaz gives better results for me.

  4. 4) RObert
    July 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm


    Can you set LR to import photos from a default folder? It always attempts to import from the memory card.
    I copy all .cr2 files to my Digital Photography folder and then import from that file folder.

    Problem is that every time I got to import I have to click, click, click to find that particular folder. I wish it would remember where you typically import files from.

  5. 5) Mark
    July 4, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Hi Romanas

    Sorry, this is off-topic.I followed your link to facebook in another recent topic and found this good foto. Is that you, this dancing man?

  6. 6) Mark
    July 4, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    You look so different from the avatar you use on this site, you should really use this foto as avatar, this one is very photogenic: :)

    btw, I always thought you are from Romania, now I see I was totally wrong, you’re from Lithuania :)

  7. July 5, 2013 at 4:17 am

    I found the most useful preset to use during import is Lens Corrections. Here are the settings I use for all my lenses (50mm F/1.8 G, 85mm F/1.8 G, 24-120mm F/4):
    In the lens corrections module tick the Enable Profile Corrections and the Remove Chromatic Aberrations boxes. For LR 4 and 5, in the color tab, set the amount (for purple hue) to 3, and the amount for green hue to 1. This is enough for these lenses. For lenses that have more excessive CR, you may want to raise these values. When done, create a new preset, name it Lens Corrections, then in the import dialogue, set this preset to be applied during import.

    Now you won’t have to worry about distortions/vignetting/chromatic aberrations and you can start working on clean images ;)

  8. 8) Jonathan Weavers
    July 6, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Hey Romana –

    Your last post [How to Import Photographs in Lightroom] was freaking awesome. I have gone ahead and added your stuff to my Feedly account. Please keep me updated if you post anywhere else.

    Keep rocking –


  9. 9) Lisa
    July 7, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Hi Romanas,

    Thanks for your detailed article. I have a question: my Lightroom catalog and photos are on an external drive and my memory card reader is really wide, so I can’t plug that and the external drive at the same time into my laptop. So I’ve tried copy/pasting the photos into a folder on my desktop, then importing them to Lightroom. When I delete them from the desktop folder, the previews show up in Lightroom, but the images are “unavailable”. What do you think is the problem? Thanks!

  10. 10) Sutha
    July 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm


    A related question, with Lightroom 5 and Smart Previews, I changed my work flow to have my Network Drive as my primary data source/storage. I use my desktop as my master catalogue. On my laptop, I have a few selected images, but also when travelling download images directly to the laptop and work on them on the laptop. Is the easiest way to sync the laptop images and Lightroom processing with Master to use Export Catalogue on the laptop with images and then import into the Master on the desktop?


  11. 11) Andre
    July 11, 2013 at 9:29 am

    How do you import photos that were previously organized into basic folders yymmdd-subject and Picasa? The tags of Picasa would be great to have kept.
    Would just importing the folders do – or is there a prelim work better done while still in Picasa?
    The idea would be to completely leave Picasa. I have 3 computers with different folders, one with most of the pictures.

  12. 12) Cecilio
    July 27, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Quick review but enough for someone like me. No previous contact with LR. Always managing pictures with Aperture (Mac). I am now switching to LR5. I hope not be wrong…
    Congratulations for your website.

    • January 12, 2014 at 7:58 am


      I hope you are happy with your move to Lightroom. :)

      • 12.1.1) Cecilio
        January 12, 2014 at 8:12 am

        Yes, I’m completely satisfied with the move. Aperture is quite limited know compared to LR5.

  13. 13) cathy
    October 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    How can I import files from a CD? I have unedited images that are on another computer and would like to transfere the images to a disk, then load them on my new computer that has Lightroom installed. The Lightroom tutorials I’ve seen only discuss importing images from a card.

    How do I do this from a disk?

    • January 12, 2014 at 7:58 am

      Cathy, exactly the same way you would from a card – you just need to choose the disk as the source. Mind you, you will still need to copy images on a hard drive – either an internal or external one – upon Import (choose the Copy or Copy as DNG option).

  14. 14) Sherri
    January 11, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    How do I change the settings in LIghtroom5 so that my images from my card reader will go to the external hard drive instead of the laptops internal hard drive. Thank you!

    • January 12, 2014 at 7:57 am


      you could create an Import preset in the Import dialogue or just simply choose the location manually each time you import from memory card and want those images on external hard drive.

  15. January 15, 2014 at 6:20 am

    Thank you for an awesome entry. Do you know of anyway in Lightroom 4 or 5 to “Auto Import” from a networked folder? I use Canon’s EOS Utility to tether in images for my photobooth. I have Lightroom on that MacbookPro to watch that folder and apply my “photobooth edit preset”. I have networked a second mac (via ad-hoc network) to share files. I want the second mac to “auto watch” the destination folder on the 1st mac but Lightroom tells me “the watched folder for the auto import function cannot be a network drive”.

    Canon 5D Mark III – MacBookPro with LR4 and Macbook with LR4

  16. 16) Christina Andrews
    February 12, 2014 at 10:53 am

    I am new to LR 4.4 version. I am working with a printing company to print my work. Before they will set up my account, I have to submit five test files in 300 PPI and size my images to 8×10’s. I have done this 3x’s now and each time the company writes me back stating they are receiving my images at a 90PPI, and they are not at the size of 8×10. I changed the settings in the export, but I am not sure what is happening from when they are receiving the images. I have a client waiting for 3 wall mounts and I am starting to panic.

  17. 17) Marty
    May 29, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Have recently installed Lightroom 5, having used Lightroom 4 on an older computer for a few years. I have an importing problem that I never had before and that it is the following:
    I imported photos from a camera and they went into the catalog as normal, everything hunkydory. I also imported some photos from a USB, which appear in the catalog and can be edited and whatever as long as the USB stick is in the computer. Whenever I remove the USB, the photos still appear in the catalog but in a pixelated form and marked with “!- Photo is missing”. I can’t work with these photos until I put the USB back in. What’s going on?

    • May 30, 2014 at 1:04 am


      my guess is your computer sees the USB flash as an external HDD for some weird reason. Even if that is not they case, Lightroom does not seem to have copied the files to your computer, but kept them on the USB. The easy thing you can do is simply move/copy the files to your computer through Catalog Module or even through your operating system (in which case you will need to relocate the source files within Lightroom afterwards).

  18. 18) samantha
    June 1, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    everytime I shoot in raw and try to import my pics in lightroom , I get a message saying more than half of my files cant be read???????? it doest do it when I shoot and import jpeg, so what am I doing wrong?

    • June 2, 2014 at 1:20 am

      Samantha, it is hard to say. Are you importing straight from the memory card? Are there any other files on it? What camera and Lightroom version are you using, are you certain your camera is supported?

  19. 19) Millary
    July 23, 2014 at 10:13 am

    I am new to LR 5 so perhaps there is an obvious answer to my question! Is there a way to import photos from my camera into specific folders that are named (i.e. Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, etc.)? Do I need to set up the named folders prior to importing photos? Thanks for your help!

    • 19.1) Michael
      August 5, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      Millary, when you import, on the right side of your screen you will see section titled “Destination”. All you need to do is check “into Subfolder” which will create a box for you to type the name of the folder you want to save it in. You can still choose where the file should be saved by selecting the desired drive and file if you so choose.

  20. 20) Michael
    August 5, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    I am having an issue that I hope maybe you can help with… when importing from a reader, LR5 thinks some images were already uploaded and have been greyed out. “Don’t import suspected duplicates” is not selected. If images are copied to my desktop and imported from there, I have no problem, but I never had to do this before and don’t want to do it now.

  21. 21) George
    October 16, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    I want to move images from one folder into another folder within Lightroom 4.4 (want to rename them and etc) When I go to import and choose move or add or copy all images in the folder are not active. I deselected that don’t include suspected duplicates – yet it is still inactive… What do I do wrong?

  22. 22) William Carey
    January 20, 2015 at 12:05 am

    I am importing from a D810 direct onto a remote hard drive. I select “Copy” in the centre top bar then “New Photos”in the bar below and the “New Photos” box is ticked in the top left of the bar below just above all the thumbnails of the images on the camera. All the photos that have on previous occasions been imported are being ticked as “New” when they are not. Can you explain what I am doing wrong and why LR is not detecting it has already imported images? Thanks

  23. 23) Donem
    May 19, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Lightroom 4.4 (and other versions judging from all the threads on this topic) does not recognize CR2 files that I have previously imported and converted to DNG files as duplicates. The two files are a different size and have a different create date and therefore are not recognized in the import phase as duplicates. Any suggestions, other than to make sure I reformat my camera card after every import?

  24. 24) Norm Ford
    August 1, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    I’ve already imported my photos onto my PC. Sorted files into subdirectories.
    I now want to import these photos into their own catalogue, But they keep getting copied into a default catalogue. How to I rename that default catalogue name so as it represents my HD structure?

    Thank You


  25. 25) Del
    August 13, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    The designers of this software have made way too many bells and whistles. Really it’s ridiculous . I take photos, I want a simple date or label to my photo’s and I want to process them so I can utilize them. This needs to be a very simple process. I really don’t enjoy computer time and I really don’t want to feel like I’m applying for immigration just to view and process images.

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