How to import photos to Lightroom Classic – ultimate beginners guide

Before we get into how to import photos to Lightroom Classic, it’s worth noting that you’re far better off photographing in RAW format rather than JPEG. I’ve written an article on the pros and cons of RAW vs JPEG, so won’t go into the details here, other than to say RAW files capture so much more detail than JPEG.

So if you have the software to process RAW images, do yourself a favor and set your camera to photograph in RAW file format.

First steps for importing photos to a Lightroom catalog

Once you have a Lightroom catalog, you can import photos. If you haven’t already set up a catalog, read this tutorial on setting up a Lightroom catalog first.

Here’s how the Lightroom Classic import process works…

  • In the Library Module click “Import Photos” (it’s a button on the bottom left of the import panel)

New Lightroom catalog ready for importing photos

If it’s the first time you’re importing photos to a new catalog in Lightroom Classic, you’ll have a few additional options to set before you can begin importing. If it’s not your first time, skip the next two points and go straight to the steps for selecting the photos to import.

  • A dialog box opens asking if you want to Enable or Disable address look up – I disable this as I don’t need the extra data taking up disk space. If the address is important to you, select Enable.
  • At the bottom of the import window dialog box there’s a check box to “Always load this catalog on startup”. If you’re always going to use this catalog as your default catalog, check the box so that it opens automatically when you open Lightroom. If you use more than one catalog, leave it unchecked so that you can then select the catalog you want to open.

8 steps for importing photos to Lightroom:

  1. Select the location of the photos to import
  2. Select image files to import
  3. Specify destination folder
  4. Set file handling options on import
  5. File renaming on import
  6. Apply during import (develop settings)
  7. Set destination of imported photos
  8. Import photos to catalog

Now let’s get into the details of how to import photos to Lightroom for each step.

Lightroom import window from memory card

1. Select the source of the photos to import into Lightroom

On the left of the import window in the source panel you’ll see:

  • The folder structure on your computer
  • An external hard drive, if you have one have plugged in
  • A camera memory card, if you’ve plugged it into a card reader connected by USB to the computer
  • Or your camera, if you’ve plugged in your camera via USB cable to import directly from camera (not the best option, rather use a card reader)

At the top of the source panel make sure to check:

  • “Eject after import” (if importing from memory card)
  • “Include Subfolders” check box

Select the source (the current location of the original files) by clicking on the the relevant option listed above.

All photos check box for Lightroom importing

2. Select image files to import

You’ll see all the images on the memory card laid out in grid view in the middle of the import window. They should all be automatically ticked.

You don’t have to import all the images on your camera roll and you have a few ways to deselect images.

uncheck all photos box to deselect photos to import to Lightroom

To deselect all images:

  • Uncheck the box that says “All Photos” at the top of the grid view of files.
  • Or Click the button at the bottom of the import window that says “Uncheck All”.

If you change your mind, you can just check the “All Photos” box again or click the “Check All” button.

Randomly selected photos to import in import screen

To deselect one image at a time:

  • Uncheck the box at the top corner of the relevant image

one photo selected to import into Lightroom

To import one or just a few photos from the camera roll:

  • Uncheck all photos
  • Then check individual photos

Consecutive images to import to Lightroom

To import a series of photos that are next to each other…

  • Uncheck “All Photos”
  • Click on the first image in the set
  • Hold down shift
  • Click on the last image in the set
  • (All selected images will have a light gray border)
  • Then check the box on one of the photos in the set – this will automatically check all photos selected

Options for how to import photos to Lightroom

Import options – specify how the photos will be imported

At the top of the import window you’ll see that you have four options for importing photos into a Lightroom catalog:

  • Copy as DNG (my most used option) – copy to a new location, import RAW files, and convert to DNG.
    You can even use this if the photos are JPEG, Lightroom will simply go through the import process and then tell you at the end that the photos couldn’t be converted.
  • Copy – copy photos to a new location and add to catalog.
    One way of creating duplicate folders that are already on an external hard drive or memory card. (Not ideal as can lead to confusion)
  • Move – move photos to a new location and add to catalog.
    Ideal if your photos are on your computer already, but not in the right place and not in your Lightroom catalog (a great way to start tidying up your folder structure)
  • Add – add photos to catalog without moving them.
    Ideal if your photos are on your computer, but not in the Lightroom catalog and you want to keep them where they are in your file structure (warning – this can lead to confusion)

destination of imported photos

3. Specify destination folder – where the photos will go

On the right of the import window you’ll see the destination panel. This is where you specify where you want your photos to go and can also create folders.

Applicable only with Copy as DNG, Copy and Move. If you’re adding photos to the catalog, they’ll be added where they’re already located on the computer.

If you have just one catalog and intend to have only one folder for photos, there’s nothing for you to do. I wouldn’t advise just one main folder, however, even though Lightroom gives you the ability to search for images by keyword.

Your life will be so much easier if you decide on your folder structure from the start. How you set up your folders will of course depend on how you work, how many different types of shoots you do and what makes sense to you.

Here’s the photo filing system that I’ve been using for years, how I figured it out and why it works so well for me.

Further down the right-hand panel you’ll see that there’s a Destination panel. This is another way of selecting the destination of imported photos and we’ll cover that in a moment as we go through the panel from top to bottom.

Import photos from other destination in import menu

Steps for choosing and creating folders on import:

  • Mouse over the text at the very top of the destination panel (where it says “To”)
  • The area changes to light gray
  • Click to open a drop down menu
  • Click “Other Destination” to open up an import dialogue box to create a new folder within your catalog by clicking “New Folder”, naming it and then clicking “Choose” or select one you’ve already created and then click “Choose”

Lightroom import dialog box to create new folder

  • Or click on a recent destination listed if one of them is where you want to save new photos to

4. Set file handling options on import

File handling settings are a personal choice based on how you like to work on images. In the file handling panel you’ll see 5 settings:

  • Build Previews
  • Build Smart Previews
  • Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates
  • Make Second Copy to
  • Add to Collection

Let’s take a closer look…

File handling panel for building previews in Lightroom

Build Previews

Because images imported into Lightroom are actually previews of the processed image files, you can choose how the previews appear.

It’s a balance between saving time during processing vs how long it takes to import and also the amount of hard drive space the catalog uses.

build 1:1 previews menu option when importing image files

Your choices are:

  • Minimal
  • Embedded & Sidecar
  • Standard
  • 1:1

Standard previews is the default import setting. I prefer to set it to 1:1, which is the maximum size.

It’ll take longer for images to import and they’ll take up more space on your hard drive, but you won’t experience a delay when zooming in to 100% when processing images.

After 30 days the 1:1 previews revert to standard previews, which is handy. By then you’ll have finished working on the photos and won’t need an instant full size preview, so will save space on your hard drive.

Build Smart Previews

Smart previews are low resolution previews of the original RAW file and can be edited even without access to the original files.

If, for example, your files are on an external drive and your catalog is on your computer’s hard drive, you can edit the image files even without connecting the external drive to your computer. The next time you plug it in, the image edits will update.

So, I suggest checking the Build Smart Previews box.

However, if you only ever work on one computer, with your catalog and photos on an external drive or on your computer’s hard drive, you don’t need this facility as it’ll take longer to import photos and will take up hard drive space.

Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates

It just makes sense to check this box.

After all, you don’t want to import a duplicate of an image you’ve already imported – that’ll just lead to a really messy catalog.

checkbox to select make second copy of files on import

Make a Second Copy To

I don’t use this function as I create a backup as soon as I’ve imported new images, but if you’re really concerned about having a backup of your original files even before you backup your photos and catalog, then check this box.

I can see how it would be helpful for wedding photographers and commercial photographers.

To make a second copy of files on import:

  • Check the box
  • Then select where you’d like them to go by clicking on the triangle
  • Select either the suggested destination or click “Choose Folder” to open your folder window and create a new folder by clicking “New Folder”, naming it and then clicking “Choose”

File handling panel in Lightroom import

Add to Collection

Although I use Lightroom collections all the time when processing a photoshoot, I don’t use this function on import.

To add to collection:

  • Check the box
  • Then either click the plus sign to create a new collection
  • Or select from an already existing collection in the list that appears (if of course you’ve already created collections in the catalog)

File renaming panel for photo import settings

5. File Renaming on import to Lightroom

This is another feature that I don’t use as part of the import process, because I prefer to rename my image files once I’ve been through the shoot and deleted the images I don’t want to keep.

To rename files on import:

  • Check the Rename Files box
  • Select a template from the dropdown menu (you can also customize the options by clicking “Edit” to open the filename template editor)
  • The default for Extensions is “Leave as is”, but if you want to change it, you can do so here

Apply during import panel settings

6. Apply During Lightroom Import

You can apply develop settings (including presets), metadata and keywords on import.

Presets dropdown menu to apply in Lightroom import process

Apply Develop Settings

You don’t have to apply presets on import, but if it suits your workflow, here’s how…

When you click on the dropdown menu you’ll see that there are a number of presets you can choose to apply as you import photos. They include the presets that come with Lightroom, as well as any presets you may have created or purchased.

Click on the one you want to apply, or leave it as “None” and apply a preset once you’ve selected your keepers. Or not at all.

Lightroom metadata presets menu

Metadata settings

This is the information that’ll be contained in your exported images and can include camera settings, contact information and copyright details, among other things.

If you haven’t yet set the metadata for your images, now is a good time to create a metadata preset.

Adding metadata preset on import to Lightroom

  • Click “New”
  • Give your new preset a name
  • Fill in the fields (you don’t need to fill every single field – I’ve filled in IPTC Copyright and IPTC Creator info, excluding my address)
  • Click “Create” when you’re done and the next time you import images you can just click your preset instead of filling it all in again.

Set keywords in Apply During Import panel

Using keywords in Lightroom

Because Lightroom is such a powerful database, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the keywords facility for finding photos, especially if you don’t have an organized folder structure.

Just make adding keywords part of your import process.

Type your keywords in the box and separate them with a comma.

Lightroom import photo destination panel settings

7. Destination of Imported Photos

If you haven’t already selected the destination folder for your images by clicking at the top of the right-hand panel of the import window, you can do so in the destination panel. It shows the folder structure of where your photos will be saved.

I want all images from a shoot to go into one folder for that shoot, without being further divided into subfolders so I always:

  • Leave the “Into Subfolder” box unchecked and
  • Ensure that the “Into one folder” option under “Organize” is selected

If you’ve taken photos over several days and want them saved by date order, instead of into one folder, you can select the “By Date” option.

Import button in import window

8. How to import photos to Lightroom catalog

Once you’re happy that all your photos have been selected to import and you’ve filled in all relevant fields for importing files, click the Import button in the bottom right of the screen.

You’ve done all the hard work, now you can take a break while Lightroom imports photos into the catalog. The more photos you import in one go, the longer it takes.

One you’ve selected photos to keep and edited them you’ll want to export them for sharing and/or printing – here’s how to export from Lightroom for web and print.

Leave a comment

If you have any questions about how to import photos to Lightroom, let us know in the comments.

Also, I love good news, so if my Adobe Lightroom tutorial has helped you, share that too.

2 thoughts on “How to import photos to Lightroom Classic – ultimate beginners guide”

  1. Hi Jane, you say it’s best to shoot raw, I use fuji cameras and have done for a lot of years. I shoot jpeg straight out of camera, and I can’t see a difference with those and raw? I use lightroom very occasionally for light editing, but usually just to organize my pics. I’d much rather spend the time out with my Fuji’s rather than sitting in front of a pc editing, plus lightroom isn’t very user friendly for Fuji raf files?

  2. Hi Jane, I am digitizing museum & historical photos with unique museum number systems. I prepared a set of “MAIN_Museum(name)” folders in my Lr Catalog.
    To “import” a work session I prepare direct on my PC, outside Lr, a new folder in the applicable MAIN_Museum_folder e.g. “Box1” with sub-folders e.g. “Folder1.1.” and even sub-sub-folders “Bag1.1.a.” etc. With my card reader the photo_session is then “moved” from memory card into the PC folders just created (but are not in Lr yet!).
    Renaming of image files as per the museum numbers (most important in this environment) is then completed.
    By means of the “Synchronizing Folder” feature the IMPORT into the MAIN_Museum catalog is done, with Meta data as on the camera….and then the fun starts to restore and clean the file images.😊 ….warm greetings from Pretoria!


Leave a Comment