Getting Your Photos Into Lightroom
At its heart, Lightroom is a very slick photo database, and one of the coolest things about it is it keeps track of all the photos you import, even if they’re not on your computer any longer. For example, if you imported photos that you keep on an external hard drive, even when you unplug that drive, their thumbnails are still in Lightroom’s database, so you can still work with those photos, and when you reconnect the drive, it reconnects to the real photos. Not too shabby. But this all starts with getting your photos into Lightroom, so let’s get to it.
Step One. The photos you bring into Lightroom are probably coming from either your camera (well, your camera’s memory card), or they’re already on your computer (everybody’s got a bunch of photos already on their computer, right?). We’ll start with importing photos from your camera’s memory card. If you have Lightroom open, and you connect your camera or memory card reader to your computer, the Import Photos dialog you see here appears. (Note: If you don’t actually want to import the photos from your memory card right now, just click the Cancel button and this dialog goes away. At the end of this chapter, I’ll show you how to stop that Import Photos dialog from showing up automatically if it’s driving you crazy.) If you cancel the Import Photos dialog, you can always get back to it by clicking on the Import button (found at the bottom of the left side Panels area in Lightroom’s Library module). If your camera or memory card reader is still connected, the smaller Import dialog (shown here) appears. Click the button that lists your camera or memory card reader on it to import photos from your memory card, or click the bottom button if you want to choose files already on your computer. In our case, click the top button.
Step Two. I recommend turning on the Show Preview checkbox at the bottom left of the Import Photos dialog so you can see a preview of the photos on your memory card. This way, you get to choose which photos you want to import (or you can import them all, but at least this way you’ll have a choice, right?). When you turn on the Show Preview checkbox (shown circled here in red), a Preview section appears on the right side of the dialog (as seen here). The slider that appears below the right side of that Preview section controls the size of the preview thumbnails, so if you want to see these thumbnails larger, just drag that slider to the right.
Step Three. By default, every photo in this Preview section is selected for import (that’s why there’s a marked checkbox in the top-left corner of every thumbnail). If you see one or more photos you don’t want imported, just turn off their checkboxes. Now, what if you have 300+ photos on your memory card, but you only want a handful of these imported? You click the Uncheck All button at the bottom of the Preview section (which unchecks every photo), and Command-click (PC: Ctrl-click) on just the photos you want to import. Then, turn on the checkbox for any of these selected photos and all the selected photos become checked, and will be imported.
Step Four. On the top left of this same Import Photos dialog, go to the File Handling pop-up menu (shown here) where you get to choose whether you want to just copy the photos from your memory card and import them into Lightroom as is, or to convert them into Adobe’s DNG format as they’re being imported (if you’re not familiar with the advantages of Adobe’s DNG file format, turn to page 29). Luckily, there’s no wrong answer here, so if at this point you’re unsure of what to do, for now just choose the default setting of Copy Photos to a New Location and Add to Catalog, which copies the images off the card onto your computer (or external drive) and imports them into Lightroom. Neither choice moves your originals off the card, it only copies them, so if there’s a serious problem during import (hey, it happens), you still have the originals on the memory card.
Step Five. Now we’ve come to the part where you tell Lightroom where to store the photos you’re importing. You do this right below the File Handling pop-up menu, in the Copy To section. To the right of Copy To, it shows you the default location where Lightroom is going to save your imported photos, but you’ll need to click the Choose button (as shown here) and navigate to your My Lightroom Photos folder (the one you made back on page 3, that is either on your computer or on an external hard drive connected to your computer). Click the Choose button in the Choose Folder dialog, and now your photos will be copied from your memory card into your My Lightroom Photos folder when you import them into Lightroom.
Step Six. Next you get to choose (from the Organize pop-up menu in the Import Photos dialog) how these images are organized as they’re imported. If you click on the Organize pop-up menu, you’ll see a list of different choices, and at first glance this might seem like a complicated list, but you really actually only have two choices: (1) If you choose Into One Folder, it tosses the photos loose into your My Lightroom Photos folder, and they’re not organized within their own separate folder. So, I recommend that if you choose this option, that you turn on the Put in Subfolder checkbox (as shown here), and then name the folder. That way, it imports them into their own separate folder inside your My Lightroom Photos folder. Otherwise, things will get very messy, very quickly. I cover the second Organize choice in the next step.
Step Seven. Your second Organize choice is to have Lightroom organize your photos into folders by date. All the By Date choices you see in the pop-up menu let you choose which date format you like best. They all start by putting your photos inside a year folder. For example, if you took the photos in 2008, they’ll automatically wind up in a folder (which Lightroom creates for you inside your My Lightroom Photos folder) named “2008.” So, what you’re really choosing from this list is the name of the folder that appears inside this new 2008 folder. Again, for example, if you took the photos you’re importing on the 4th of August, you can choose to have this folder named “08-04” or “2008-08-04” or “August 04” and so on. If you look at the pop-up menu (shown here), if you choose a date option that has a forward slash in it, it means the folder inside your 2008 folder will be named what appears after the forward slash.
Step Eight. If you choose a date option from the Organize pop-up menu that has no forward slash appearing after the year (one of the bottom three choices in the menu), it doesn’t create a 2008 folder and then another folder with that month and day inside of it. Instead, it creates a new folder with the full date, and puts that inside your My Lightroom Photos folder, like any other folder. So, for example, if you choose the 2005 Dec 17 option from the pop-up menu, it would create a folder named “2008 Aug 04” inside your My Lightroom Photos folder (see how it skips creating that 2008 folder first?). There’s no right or wrong choice here; it’s just up to your personal preference of how you want the folders on your computer (or external drive) named and organized.
If you choose one of the options that has a forward slash after the year, it creates a year folder (like 2008) inside your My Lightroom Photos folder, then it creates another folder inside of that named with the month and day that the photos inside were taken (as seen above)
Step Nine. If you’re like me, you probably wind up having multiple shoots on the same memory card (for example, I often shoot one day and then shoot a few days later with the same memory card in my camera). If that’s the case, then there’s another advantage to using the Organize By Date feature, and that is it shows each of the shoots on your memory card by their date (as shown here). Only the shoots with a checkmark beside them will be imported into Lightroom, so if you only want to import shots from a particular date, you can turn off the checkbox beside the dates you don’t want imported.
Step 10. One last thing about the Organize By Date feature that might surprise you, and that’s awfully darn handy, is that you can actually rename the folders so they’re not imported by date, but by a custom name you create instead. Just double-click directly on a date in the list of shoots, and it highlights so you can type in a custom name. Press the Return (PC: Enter) key once you’ve typed in your custom name and now your shoot will appear in a separate folder, by name, inside your main My Lightroom Photos folder. This is the method I use in my own workflow when importing images from multiple shoots. There are two more options just below the shoots list, but they’re pretty self-explanatory, and I always leave them both turned on because I don’t want duplicates of photos imported, wasting extra hard drive space, and once my photos are imported, I want Lightroom to automatically eject my memory card.
Step 11. At the bottom of the File Handling section is the Backup To checkbox, and when you turn this on (and you absolutely, positively should), it automatically makes a backup copy of the photos you’re importing (ideally, onto a separate hard drive), so you’ve always got an original backup of your photos. That way, you have a working set of photos on your computer (or external drive) that you can experiment with, change, and edit knowing that you have the untouched originals (the digital negatives) backed up. Only after I have two sets of copies (one on my computer [or external drive] and one on my backup drive) will I erase my camera’s memory card.
Step 12. For this backup feature to work properly, you’ve got to save the backup copies onto a separate external hard drive. You can’t just back up your photos to a different folder on the same computer (or the external hard drive you are storing your photos on), because if your computer’s hard drive (or your storage hard drive) crashes, then you lose both your working copies and the backup copies, too. That’s why you’ve got to make sure the backups go to a completely separate external hard drive. So connect this separate drive, then click the Choose button to the right of the Backup To checkbox and in the Backup Folder dialog, select that drive (under Devices in Finder’s sidebar on a Mac or under Computer on a PC) to back up to (don’t forget to keep things simple—put your folders inside one main folder there, too).
Step 13. Also, if you’re already storing your original photos on an external hard drive, it means you now have two external hard drives—one for your working photos, and one for your backups. A lot of photographers buy two small stackable external hard drives (small hard drives that can stack one on top of the other), and then connect one with a FireWire cable (called an IEEE 1394 on a PC), and the other with a USB 2 cable (hey, I never said this was going to be cheap, but think of it this way: if one day you lost all your photos, you’d pay anything to get them back, right? Instead, just pay a fraction now for a backup hard drive—believe me, you’ll sleep better at night).
Step 14. Before we go any further, what if you’re not importing photos from a memory card, but importing photos already on your computer? It’s much simpler and faster—you don’t have to make many decisions, since the photos are already on your computer (if you followed the earlier instructions, they’re in a folder inside your My Lightroom Photos folder). Go under Lightroom’s File menu and choose Import Photos from Disk, or press Command-Shift-I (PC: Ctrl-Shift-I). Select the photos you want to import and click Choose. In the Import Photos dialog, from the File Handling pop-up menu, choose Add Photos to Catalog Without Moving. The only option here is the checkbox at the bottom to not re-import photos that Lightroom thinks are duplicates. When you click Import, it doesn’t copy or move any photos, it just adds them to Lightroom’s catalog so you can manage, edit, and print them just like photos you import from a memory card.
Step 15. The next section down (in the Import Photos dialog) is the File Naming section. (Note: You’ll only see this File Naming section when you’re importing photos if you choose the copy or move options from the File Handling pop-up menu.) By default, Lightroom uses the photo’s current filename, as shown here on top (in other words, it keeps the just-about-useless name assigned by your digital camera, like DSC01869.JPG. Is it just me or is that not a particularly descriptive name for a photo of a mountain stream?). Now, there are probably as many naming schemes out there today as there are photos on your memory card, and Lightroom has some of the more popular ones built right in, in the form of File Naming templates, so click on the Template pop-up menu to see the list (as shown here on the bottom).
Step 16. There is no “right” way to name your photos; it’s really just a personal preference, so I rename the photos I’m importing with names that actually describe the shoot. For example, my images might be renamed something like Boston.JPG. That way, I have a searchable name and, without even seeing the image, I know that the photo was taken in Boston. If I might shoot there more than once, then I include the year first, making it 2008 Boston.JPG, or if I shot on multiple days, then I’d make it Boston 1.JPG and Boston 2.JPG. You do this by choosing Custom Name from the File Naming Template pop-up menu, and you type in the name you want in the Custom Text field (Lightroom automatically numbers the files for you, so the final rename would be Boston 2.JPG, Boston 2-1.JPG, Boston 2-2.JPG, and so on).
Step 17. One last thing about file renaming: if you don’t see a built-in File Naming template that you like, you can always create your own custom File Naming template, and when you’re done, it will appear in the File Naming Template pop-up menu, just like the built-in ones. You do this by choosing Edit from the Template pop-up menu, which brings up the dialog you see here, where you create your template. Note: I included a step-by-step tutorial on how to create these templates later in this chapter, and if you just can’t wait to create your own custom File Naming template, jump over to page 22. Once you save your new template, come right back here and we’ll pick up where we left off. For the rest of us, just choose the built-in Custom Name template from the File Naming Template pop-up menu in the Import Photos dialog, and we’ll move ahead from here.
Step 18. The next section down in the Import Photos dialog is Information to Apply, where you can choose to have up to three different settings automatically applied to your photos as they’re imported. First is Develop Settings, which lets you apply preset tonal adjustments (either the built-in ones, or custom ones you create in the Develop module). For example, let’s say your camera always makes photos a little too red for your taste, so you wind up always adjusting your photos so they have a little less red. You could create a preset that would automatically remove a little red from every photo imported from your camera. That way, once they appear in Lightroom, they’ve already had their red adjusted just the way you like it. It’s pretty cool—I know. You’ll learn how to use and create your own custom Develop presets in Chapter 4, so for now just leave the Develop Settings set to None.
Step 19. The next pop-up menu down, Metadata, is where you can choose to embed your own personal copyright info, contact info, usage rights, captions, and loads of other information right into each file as it’s imported. You do this by first entering all your copyright info, contact info, etc., into a template (called a Metadata template), and then when you save your template, it will appear in the Metadata pop-up menu (as shown here). You’re also not limited to just one template; you can have different ones for different reasons. I show you step by step how to create Metadata templates on page 30 in this chapter, so go ahead and take two minutes to jump over there now and create your first template, then come right back here and choose your copyright template from this pop-up menu. Go ahead. I’ll wait for you. Really, it’s no bother.
Step 20. Okay, welcome back (see, I told you that would be quick). The third option down in the Information to Apply section is a surprisingly important field—the Keywords field. Keywords are just search terms—words that Lightroom embeds directly into your photos as they’re imported, so later you can search for (and actually find) them by using any one of these keywords. At this stage of the game, you’ll want to use very generic keywords—words that would apply to every photo you’re importing. For example, for these building photos, I clicked my cursor once in the Keywords field, and typed in generic keywords like Boston, buildings, and architecture. Put a comma between each search word or phrase, and just make sure the words you choose are generic enough to cover all the photos (in other words, don’t use “brown buildings” because they’re not all brown).
Step 21. At the bottom of the Information to Apply section, there’s an Initial Previews pop-up menu where you get to choose how quickly Lightroom displays the previews of your photos. You’re really making a quality decision here, because the higher the quality of preview you choose, the longer it’ll take for you to view them in Lightroom. You have four choices, and in the next steps, we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Step 22. No matter which option you choose here, Lightroom first fetches a low-resolution JPEG preview from the photo as it’s imported (the same preview that’s displayed on the LCD screen on the back of your digital camera), and displays that in Lightroom as a small thumbnail (so, no matter which option you choose, your thumbnails all appear in the Library module at about the same speed, because they are all low-resolution previews). However, it’s when you go to zoom in on one that makes the difference. For example, if you choose Embedded & Sidecar (which gives the fastest previews), when you double-click on a photo, you’ll have to wait a few moments before the larger, higher-quality preview appears onscreen (you’ll literally see a message appear onscreen that says “Rendering Preview”). If you zoom in closer, you’ll have to wait a few moments more (the message will now read “Rendering: Higher Quality”). That’s because it doesn’t create a higher-quality preview until you try to zoom in.
Step 23. Minimal is the next fastest, and it grabs the low-res JPEG thumbnails from your camera too, but once they load, it starts to load higher-resolution thumbnails that look more like what the higher-quality zoomed-in view will look like (even though the preview is still small). The Standard preview takes quite a bit longer because it renders a higher-resolution preview as soon as the low-res JPEG previews are imported, so you don’t have to wait for it to render the first level of larger preview for any imported photo (so, if you double-click on any one, it zooms up to a Fit Screen view without having to wait for rendering). However, if you zoom in closer, you’ll get that Rendering: Higher Quality message and you’ll have to wait a few seconds.
Step 24. The 1:1 (one-to-one) preview imports the photos, displays the low-res thumbnails, and then it starts rendering the highest-quality previews, so you can zoom in as much as you want with no waiting whatsoever. There are two downsides: (1) It’s notoriously slow. Basically, you need to click the Import button, then walk away and go get a cup of coffee (maybe two), but when you come back, you can zoom in on any photo and never see a rendering message—it zooms right in. (2) These large, high-quality previews get stored in your Lightroom database, so your database file is going to get very large in file size. So much so that Lightroom lets you automatically delete these 1:1 previews after a certain amount of time (one day, one week, or even 30 days). So, if you haven’t looked at a particular set of photos for 30 days, it figures you don’t need the high-res previews, and it deletes them for you. You set this by going under the Lightroom menu (PC: Edit menu) and choosing Catalog Settings, then clicking on the File Handling tab and choosing your settings (as shown here).
Step 25. So which one do I use? I use Embedded & Sidecar, because I want to see my thumb-nails appear, and start sorting my photos, as soon as possible. Then, if I click on a thumbnail, I do have to wait a moment or two while it renders the higher-resolution preview, but since I don’t zoom in on every single photo (just the ones that I think might be good), I only have to wait for those photos I double-click on to render at a higher quality (an ideal workflow for people who want instant gratification—like me). However, if you charge by the hour, choose 1:1 previews—it will increase your billable hours. (You know I’m joking, right?)
Step 26. I ran a Lightroom preview time trial, importing just 14 RAW images off a memory card onto a laptop. Here’s how long it took to import them and render their previews:
Embedded & Sidecar: 19 seconds
Minimal: 21 seconds
Standard: 1 minute, 15 seconds
1:1: 2 minutes, 14 seconds
You can see that the 1:1 preview took seven times as long as Embedded & Sidecar. That may not seem that bad with 14 photos, but what about 140 or 340 photos? Yikes! So, armed with that info, you can make a decision that fits your workflow. If you’re the type of photographer that likes to zoom in tight on each and every photo to check focus and detail, then it might be worth it for you to wait for the 1:1 previews to render before working on your images. If you’re like me, and want to quickly search through them, and just zoom in tight on the most likely keepers (maybe 15 or 20 images from an import), then Embedded & Sidecar makes sense. If you look at them mostly in full-screen view (but don’t zoom in really tight that often), then Standard might work, and if you want thumbnails that more closely represent what your photo will look like when it is rendered at high quality, choose Minimal instead. Once you make your Initial Previews choice, click the Import button at the bottom right of the dialog. As your photos are imported, they will appear in the Library module’s Grid view (as seen here). It took us 25 steps before we got to click the Import button here in the book, but in real life (once you’ve set up your metadata preset, file naming presets, etc.), you’ll only spend literally about a minute in this dialog. But that minute will save you hours of time and loads of frustration down the road.