How To Import Photos Into Lightroom Classic

Importing files into Lightroom can be a little daunting. In this article we run through each option and make recommendations to make you an import genius. Before you can start editing your photos in Lightroom you need to import them into the database. This can be quite a daunting task for new users. This article […]

November 26, 2023

Importing files into Lightroom can be a little daunting. In this article we run through each option and make recommendations to make you an import genius.

Before you can start editing your photos in Lightroom you need to import them into the database. This can be quite a daunting task for new users. This article will take an in-depth look at the Lightroom import options and explain what each of them does in order to make the process as easy as possible.

First we will take a quick overview of the Import interface, then step through each option in detail

Important to note is that while the number of options may seem a little overwhelming at first, most of the options will remain the same for every import you do and once you set it, Lightroom will remember the settings between imports so you won’t have to keep changing them.

The Import Workflow

Importing files into Lightroom can be broken down into six distinct steps. As can be seen in the basic workflow diagram below, each step is contained in it’s own area within the Lightroom Import Dialog box:

The basic Lightroom Import Workflow

1: Choose Source Location

The source files are the ones that you are looking to import. In most scenarios you will point Lightroom to your camera or memory card that contains the images you are looking to import.

Screenshot of Source file selection during Lightroom Import


Under the ‘Devices’ section (see image above) you will see a list of cameras and memory cards attached to your computer. Simply click on the name of the device that you wish to import images from.

If you tick the ‘Eject after import’ box the device will be safely ejected from your PC after the files have been transferred, ready to be disconnected from the computer. Just remember that once ejected it will no longer show in finder or file explorer until you remove and reconnect it.


If your photos are already on a hard drive, or if your device doesn’t show up in the devices section then you can browse the list of available drives and folders in the files section. Clicking on a folder name will make the files in that folder available to import in the same way as if they were on a device.

If the ‘Include Subfolders’ box is left unticked you will only see the files that are directly in that folder. To also include all photos in subfolders then you will need to select the Include Subfolders box.

2: Select Files to Import

Next you can move across to the grid view of your photos where you can choose which ones you want to import. By default all of the images on the device or folder are selected. If you want all files to be imported then you don’t need to change anything here.

Screenshot of photo selection interface during Lightroom Import

A tick in the top left corner of each photo indicates that it is selected to be imported. You can deselect a photo by clicking on the check mark to remove it. After you have deselected a photo it will appear as dull and greyed out until you hover your mouse over it (as per the two top right photos in the screenshot above).

3: Choose Import Method

This section allows you to control what happens to the files you are importing

Screenshot showing Lightroom Classic’s Import Method Options


The Copy setting will make a copy of the files you are importing and place them in the destination location you choose in the next section. Your original files won’t be touched and you will need to delete them from your memory card at a later date (I always format the card in the camera before I start a new shoot).

As the files on the memory card won’t aren’t deleted or otherwise modified during import they will be safe from corruption or other issues if something goes wrong during the import process.

Copy as DNG

Copy as DNG works in the same way as copy, but will convert your files into DNG at the destination. Unless you have a specific reason to convert your files to DNG then you are better off leaving them in their original format by using the ‘Copy’ option rather than this one.


As the name suggests, this option will move the files from their original location to the one you specify in the next section. This option is similar to the ‘Copy’ option above but will remove the files from the source location after they are copied to your chosen folder.

This option is considered less safe than the ‘Copy’ option as if your files are somehow corrupted (it does happen) while being imported they will no longer be available on the source device for you to try again.


This will keep your files exactly where they are and will simply add them to your Lightroom catalog. You would only use this option if your files are already in their final location on your hard drive and have appropriate file names.

If you are importing files from a memory card or camera you will not be able to select this option. This is to avoid adding files to your catalog that you won’t have access to later on.

<callout> Our recommendation:

When importing from a memory card or camera you should set this option to ‘Copy’ your files from your device. If anything goes wrong during import you still have untouched copies of the files on your card.

If your files are already on a hard drive in the correct location then you can simply ‘Add’ them to the Lightroom catalog without moving or renaming them.

4: Choose the Destination

This is where you choose where to copy or move the files you’re importing to. Keeping your photos in a single location on your hard drive is generally considered best practice and will make them easier to manage.

In this section you only need to choose the root (top level) folder as your photos will be saved in subfolders automatically (based on your settings in the ‘file handling’ section below). Which folder you choose is completely up to you. I choose \external drive\photos\.

To change the current destination click on the destination section (‘1’ in the image below) followed by ‘Other Destination…’ (‘2’) and choose an appropriate location.

Screenshot of Destination selection during Lightroom Import

<callout> Our recommendation:

Set this location to the main folder where you will store all of your photo files. Once this is set Lightroom will remember the folder so you shouldn’t need to change it. Your photos will be put into subfolders within this main folder based on the settings you choose in the Destination Options below.

5: Set the Destination Options

In this step you will set all of the options for the incoming files. There are quite a few things to go through here, but like most other settings, once you set them up you won’t have to touch them again.

The subsections below match the order in which they appear in Lightroom so you can follow along easily.

5.1: File Handling

Build Previews

Lightroom uses preview files to quickly display them in the Library module. In order to do this it needs to build (create) the preview files from your originals. Not creating previews as you import means Lightroom will create them on-the-fly, which can seriously slow things down.

Screenshot of Preview Size setting during Lightroom Import

The options for building previews are as follows:

  • Minimal – Only very small previews will be created. Fine for browsing photos in the ‘grid’ view in Lightroom, but bigger previews will need to be generated to show each photo in loupe view or zoomed to 1:1
  • Standard – Previews will approximately match the resolution of your screen. Great when viewing the full photo. Lightroom will need to create a 1:1 version if you want to zoom in.
  • 1:1 – Full resolution previews will be made along with the other sizes. Scrolling through the grid view, loupe views and 100% views will not need any further preview files to be created.
  • Embedded & Sidecar – Previews will be extracted from your original files instead of being created by Lightroom. The size of these previews will depend largely on which camera you use. If the embedded preview in your originals is too low a resolution Lightroom will look for a ‘sidecar’ file (you would need to shoot RAW + JPEG). Failing both of those options, Lightroom will create ‘Standard’ sized previews as above.

If you create ‘minimal’ sized previews during import, when you zoom into your photo in the Library module Lightroom will need to create a 1:1 sized preview in order to display the photo at full size. You will see a fuzzy photo and a ‘loading’ message while it does so. Depending on how fast your computer is this can take between 1-5 seconds per photo. If you had created 1:1 previews during import, the photo would zoom in and display at full resolution almost instantly.

<callout> Our recommendation:

Set Lightroom to build 1:1 Previews when you import the files. It will take a little longer, but means that browsing your files in the Library module will be a much smoother experience. Time taken now will reduce frustrations later on.

Build Smart Previews

A Smart Preview are used in the Develop module and should not be confused with the previews created in the above section. They are completely optional and can be thought of as smaller versions of your original file. If you create Smart Previews and your original file is unavailable (if for example the external drive containing your images is not connected) then you will still be able to do almost everything in the Develop Module by working on the Smart Preview.

screenshot of build Smart Previews during Lightroom Import

The only downside to Smart Previews is that they take up extra space on the drive on which your Lightroom catalog lives. About 1 Megabyte per photo will add up quickly with a lot of images, but may be worth it if you work on a laptop or don’t always have access to your original files.

<callout> Our recommendation:

If ever work on your files with the hard drive that the originals are on is not available, such as on a laptop, then enable this setting so you can still develop files with the drives disconnected.

Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates

Checking this box will prompt Lightroom to check if any of the files you are trying to import are already in your catalog. If they are, Lightroom will not re-import them. This is a good way to stop having multiple copies of the same file in your catalog and on your hard drive and can be helpful if you sometimes forget to erase your memory card before taking new photos.

screenshot of don’t import suspected duplicates during Lightroom Import

<callout> Our recommendation:

Keep this option ticked to ensure that you aren’t importing the same file more than once (as can happen if you forget to erase your memory card).

Make a Second Copy To

This setting allows you to copy your imported files to a second location. The second copy of the files won’t be added to the Lightroom catalog and can be used as a backup copy. Once the copies have been created, Lightroom doesn’t update or keep track of them as you edit your originals. So if you delete a file from your Lightroom library the copy won’t be touched.

screenshot of backup settings during Lightroom import

Many people use this feature as part of their backup strategy. You will need to evaluate if it fits in with your backup requirements. If you do use this feature, make sure the backup copies are not stored on the same hard drive as the originals (if your drive fails you will loose both copies!).

<callout> Our recommendation:

We recommend that you don’t use this option, but have a solid backup strategy for all of your files outside of the Lightroom ecosystem.

Add To Collection

This option will add all of the files you import into a new or existing collection in the Lightroom Library module. It can be handy to use this feature if you are importing files from several different sources (eg. two cameras) or if your photos were taken over several dates and you’d like a simple way to access all of the photos at once.

screenshot showing how to add to a collection during Lightroom import

<callout>Our recommendation:

This is completely optional. If you are importing files from several cameras/memory cards and you would like an easy way to access all of the files in a single location then a collection would be a great way to do it.

5.2 File Renaming

Your camera probably names your files in a way that doesn’t help you identify them later. If you have more than one camera from the same manufacturer you may even end up with different photos with the same filename. Lightroom allows you to rename your files to something more sensible as you import them.

screenshot of file renaming dialog box during Lightroom import

You can choose from one of Lightroom’s inbuilt file-naming templates, or come up with one of your own choosing. Click on the dropdown next to ‘template’ and choose one that suits you. To edit a template click the ‘edit’ button. There are LOTS of options here, you need to choose a naming template that makes sense to you and will help you locate a file later if you need to find it outside of Lightroom.

<callout>Our recommendation:

Rename your files to something that makes sense to you. I use: YYYYMMDDHHMMSS which gives me a unique date based file name. You may also want to add a text description after the filename if you are shooting an event:


20200303_073422 – Dave and Candice Engagement.nef

5.3 Apply During Import

Develop Settings

If there are any develop settings that you apply to all of your photos you can save some time by applying them during import. For example if you apply lens corrections and sharpening to every photo you can save it as a preset and apply those settings during import. Just click on the drop-down list and choose which preset you would like to apply.

Note that it is not possible to create a new preset during import, you will have had to have created them in advance.

screenshot of develop presets during Lightroom import


If you want to add metadata information to your photos, such as copyright, owner, etc: you can apply it during import. Previously saved metadata information can be selected from the preset drop down list. If none has been saved, you can create a new set of information by clicking ‘New…’

screenshot of metadata presets during Lightroom import

Fill out all of the information you want to add to your photos and save the preset. The information will be added to all of your imported files.

<callout> Our recommendation:

Create and apply a metadata template that has your basic information, such as name and copyright information included and apply it during import.


Here you can enter any keywords that apply to the photos you are importing. Enter keywords by typing them into the box and separating different keywords with commas. At this stage you should only enter keywords that apply to all of the photos that you are importing as there isn’t any way to tag individual photos. Any additional keywords should be added later in your workflow.

<related posts> Related: Lightroom Workflow – 6 Simple Steps

screenshot of keyword entry during Lightroom import

<callout> Our recommendation:

Insert any keywords that apply to all of the photos you are importing. This will save time later on.

5.4 Destination

This is where you will choose the finer details of where your imported files will be located on your hard drive. I have no idea why Adobe decided to put this section so far away from the ‘rename’ section, but I digress….

<callout> Our recommendation:

Where you put your files is a personal choice. Keep it logical so it works for you to be able to file the files easily at a later date.

I leave ‘Into Subfolder’ un-ticked and organise ‘by date’ with a date format of YYYY/YYYY-MM-DD. This ensures that my photos are neatly organised by date in my main photos folder, but aren’t buried under too many layers of subfolders:


6: Import the Files

The only thing left to do now is to click on the ‘Import’ button. The import dialog box will close and you will see your files start to populate in the Lightroom Grid View.

screenshot of the Lightroom import button

Although it is tempting to start looking at your files as soon as they appear, it is best to wait until Lightroom has finished importing the files and building the previews. Performance will generally be quite bad while the data is being processed. You can keep your eye on the progress of the import in the top left of the screen:

Bonus Tip: Import Presets

If you use different settings on a regular basis you can save each set of Import settings as a preset for easy use. For example, if you save your photos in a different subfolder on a per-camera basis you can save the settings for each one separately and recall them at the click of a button.

screenshot of the import presets interface

Simply click on the import preset name to choose a previously saved option or to save the current settings as a new preset. Once chosen all of the settings will be loaded in an instant.

screenshot of the import presets interface