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Understanding Lightroom Classic’s import dialog

A couple years ago, Adobe made headlines by completely revamping the import dialog in Lightroom Classic. Since then, they’ve restored the classic look and feel that much of us are used to. But there are still several options here that most of us don’t utilize, and we’re really missing out!

Things like applying develop settings, metadata, smart previews and more are always available to us in the import dialog. And what’s the difference between Add, Move, Copy and Copy as DNG menu items? Here’s an introduction (or refresher) into the Lightroom Classic import dialog that we use so often.

What import does, and what it doesn’t

When you have Lightroom Classic open and insert a memory card into your computer or card reader, the import dialog will immediately pop up. Likewise, when you select File > Import Photos and Video, you’ll get the same view. It can become pretty overwhelming at first glance, but once you’re used to the import dialog, it’s really simple to work with.

There are four options for importing your photos into your Lightroom Classic catalog:

  • Copy: The option I use most of the time, this allows you to copy the files from your memory card to the directory on your computer that you tell it to. It imports them in your camera’s native RAW image format, or as JPEG, depending what you’ve shot. After this, you no longer need the photos on your memory card.
  • Copy as DNG: Just like the Copy option, Copy as DNG copies the files from your memory card to your computer. But instead of importing them in your camera’s native RAW image format, it converts them to a DNG, which is Adobe’s proprietary RAW format. This usually saves on disk space a bit, but not noticeable enough to make a difference.
  • Move: If you have your photos in a different directory, and want to organize them with the rest of your photos while importing them into Lightroom, you’ll select the Move option.
  • Add: If you want to keep your photos where they are on your computer, and just make sure they’re in your Lightroom catalog, select the Add option.

Note that importing photos to your Lightroom Classic catalog doesn’t mean that you can delete the photos off your hard drive. Your catalog references the files in the folder you put them in — so if you delete the folder, that means your photos are gone. Your photos DO NOT live inside your Lightroom Catalog.

Import options

There are several different options when you import your photos:

File Handling panel

The File Handling panel gives you some basic controls over the previews of your photos, as well as some organization assistance. You have the option to build four different types of previews:

  • Standard: This is Lightroom’s default preview, which creates a preview in the Adobe RGB color space. It will slow down the import process slightly, but when you zoom in, your image will load quickly.
  • Minimal: This is the fastest preview option, and it creates embedded previews from your camera and brings them over to Lightroom. However, if you’re looking at your photos zoomed in, it will take a longer time to render the image.
  • Embedded & Sidecar: This creates the largest possible image preview, again using your camera’s embedded previews. The import time is longer than Minimal previews, but may be a bit quicker when you’re zooming in and out.
  • 1:1: These are much slower to import, as Lightroom is creating a full resolution preview.

Beyond that, you can also build Smart Previews, which allow you to edit your photos when your photos are not connected to your computer. If you do a lot of traveling, this is ideal, as you can edit without having to plug in an external drive. These are lightweight, smaller and are based on a lossy DNG file format.

There’s also an option to ignore duplicates, titled Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates. I usually have this on, as there’s no reason to have multiple copies of photos in my Lightroom catalog. I can also choose to make a second copy, which is a great option if you’re manually backing up your photos.

Finally, my favorite checkbox in the File Handling panel — Add to Collection. I’ve embraced collections over folders over the past year, as it allows me to have more organization features and do things like syncing to my Lightroom CC account. Usually before I start the import process, I’ll create a collection set for my client (if one doesn’t already exist), and then create a collection with the new photos.

File Renaming panel

After I had issues with my old Drobo, I started renaming my photos. This allowed me to easily find the photos should my file structure become corrupted, or if I needed to do any deep searching on my system. It allows me to quickly find photos outside of Lightroom should I need to.

Plus, for clients, it helps them stay organized, and gives them the ability to search their systems too. This is especially handy if I do a lot of work for them, and if there are multiple events with the same name (but different dates or years). I usually rename my photos like the following: “Client – Event – Date.”

Apply During Import panel

There are two powerful drop-downs in this panel: Develop Settings and Metadata. I will often select a preset I’ve made that takes care of some basic adjustments. And with every photo, I have my basic copyright metadata preset selected. For me, this includes my name and year in the copyright, but you can also include things like captions, GPS information and more.

Finally, there’s also a Keywords box. I don’t personally use this, but if you sell stock imagery, this will be super helpful in getting things uploaded quicker.

Destination panel

This is a must for when you’re importing. Usually this defaults to the last destination folder you selected, but sometimes it will have a mind of its own! Be sure your photos are importing to the proper directory on your hard drive or Drobo device, so you can stay organized.

If you have a cloud backup service like Backblaze, putting your photos all in one master directory will ensure that your service automatically backs up any new files in that directory (as well as sub-directories).

I usually use a date and client system. My master directory is my Drobo, then the first sub-directory is 2019, then I have another sub-directory for the client. Inside there, I create a final sub-directory with the name of the event, and I put the month in it (“05 Graduation,” for example). Again, I do this because it helps if anything goes haywire with my setup.

Additional options

At the bottom of your import dialog screen, you’ll see a few additional options presented. One, the Import Preset. If you find yourself applying different settings over and over again, this will come in handy so you don’t have to set the options above each time.

There’s also a small triangle in the lower left corner, which will load a simpler view of the import dialog, without all the options above.

And below all your photos, you’ll see different ways to view your photographs — in a grid or single view, sorting options and thumbnail sizes. You can also select whether to check or uncheck all your photographs for import.

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