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Getting Photos from Your Camera into Lightroom

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Scott Kelby explains how to import photos into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 from your camera’s memory card.
From the book Getting Photos from Your Camera Into Lightroom

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 here with importing photos from your camera’s memory card (importing photos already on your computer is on page 16).

Step One:

If you have Lightroom open, and connect your camera or memory card reader to your computer, the Import window you see here appears over your Lightroom window. The top section of this Import window is important because it shows you what’s about to happen. From left to right: (1) it shows where the photos are coming from (in this case, a camera); (2) what’s going to happen to these images (in this case, they’re getting copied from the camera); and (3) where they’re going to (in this case, onto your computer, into your Pictures folder). If you don’t want to import the photos from your camera or memory card right now, just click the Cancel button and this window goes away. If you do this, you can always get back to the Import window by clicking on the Import button (at the bottom of the left side Panels area in the Library module).


Step Two:

If your camera or memory card reader is connected, Lightroom assumes you want to import photos from that card, and you’ll see it listed next to “From” in the top-left corner of the window (circled here). If you want to import from a different card (you could have two card readers connected to your computer), click on the From button, and a pop-up menu will appear (seen here) where you can choose the other card reader, or you can choose to import photos from somewhere else, like your desktop, or Pictures folder, or any recent folders you’ve imported from.

Step Three:

There is a Thumbnails size slider below the bottom-right corner of the center Preview area that controls the size of the thumbnail previews, so if you want to see them larger, just drag that slider to the right.

Step Four:

The big advantage of getting to see the thumbnail previews of the photos you’re about to import is that you get to choose which ones actually get imported (after all, if you accidentally took a photo of the ground while you were walking, which for some inexplicable reason I seem to do on nearly every location shoot, there’s no reason to even import that photo at all, right?). By default, all the photos have a checkmark beside them (meaning they are all marked to be imported). If you see one or more photos you don’t want imported, just turn off their checkboxes.

Step Five:

Now, what if you have 300+ photos on your memory card, but you only want a handful of them imported? Then you’d click the Uncheck All button at the bottom left of the Preview area (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. Also, if you choose Checked State from the Sort pop-up menu (beneath the Preview area), all of the images you checked will appear together at the top of the Preview area.

Step Six:

At the top center of the Import window, you get to choose whether you want to copy the files “as is” (Copy) or Copy as DNG to convert them to Adobe’s DNG format as they’re being imported (if you’re not familiar with the advantages of Adobe’s DNG [digital negative] file format, turn to page 37). 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, 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 (you’ll notice Move is grayed out), it only copies them, so if there’s a serious problem during import (hey, it happens), you still have the originals on your memory card.


Step Seven:

Below the Copy as DNG and Copy buttons are three handy view options. By default, it displays all the photos on your card, but if you shoot to a card, then download those photos, pop the card back into the camera, shoot some more, then download again (which is pretty common), you can click New Photos, and now it only shows the photos on the card that you haven’t imported yet, and hides the rest from view (sweet—I know). There’s also a Destination Folders view, which hides any photos with the same name as photos that are already in the folder you’re importing into. These last two buttons are just there to clear up the clutter and make it easier for you to see what’s going on as you move files from one place to another, so you don’t have to use them at all if you don’t need them.

Step Eight:

Now we’ve come to the part where you tell Lightroom where to store the photos you’re importing. If you look in the top-right corner of the window, you’ll see the To section, which shows where they’ll be stored on your computer (in my case here, on the left, they’re going into my Pictures folder on my hard drive). If you click-and-hold on To, a menu pops up (as seen far right) that lets you choose your default Pictures folder, or you can choose another location, plus you can choose any recent folders you’ve saved into. Whatever you choose, if you look in the Destination panel below, it now displays the path to that folder on your computer, just so you can see where your photos are going. So now, at this point, you know three things: (1) the photos are coming from your memory card; (2) they’re being copied from that card, not just moved; and (3) they’re going into a folder you just chose in the To section. So far, so good.

Step Nine:

Now, if you choose the My Lightroom Photos folder we created earlier as the place to store your photos—don’t worry—it’s not just going to toss your images in there scattered all over the place. Instead, it will either put them in a folder organized by date, or you can have it create a folder for you, and name it whatever you like (which is what I do, so we’ll start with that). Go to the Destination panel on the right side of the window, and turn on the Into Subfolder checkbox (as shown here), and then a text field appears to the right where you can type in whatever name you want for your folder. So, in my case, I’d be importing my photos into a folder called “Motocross 2012” inside My Lightroom Photos. Personally, it makes it easy for me to keep track of my images by just naming my shoots exactly what they are, but some folks prefer to have everything sorted by year, or by month, and that’s cool, too (and we’ll cover that option in the next step).

Step 10:

To have Lightroom organize your photos into folders by date, first make sure the Into Subfolder checkbox is turned off, set the Organize pop-up menu to By Date, then click on the Date Format pop-up menu, and choose which date format you like best (they all start with the year first, because that is the main subfolder. What appears after the slash [/] is what the folder inside the 2012 folder will actually be named). So, if I chose the date format shown here, then my photos would be stored inside the My Lightroom Photos folder, where I’d find a folder named 2012, and inside of that there would be another folder named “February.” So, what you’re really choosing from this list is the name of the folder that appears inside your new 2012 folder. By the way, if you choose a date option with no slash, it doesn’t create a 2012 folder with another folder inside. Instead, it just creates one folder with that exact name (automatically using today’s date, of course).

Step 11:

Okay, so now that you know where your files are coming from and going to, you can make a few important choices about what happens along the way in the File Handling panel (at the top right of the Import window). You choose, from the Render Previews pop-up menu, just how fast larger previews (larger sizes than just your thumbnails) will appear when you zoom in on a photo once it’s in Lightroom. There are four choices:

(1) Minimal

Minimal doesn’t worry about rendering previews of your images, it just puts ‘em in Lightroom as quickly as it can, and if you double-click on a photo to zoom in to Fit in Window view, it builds the preview right then, which is why you’ll have to wait just a few moments before this larger, higher-quality preview appears onscreen (you’ll literally see a message appear onscreen that says “Loading”). If you zoom in even closer, to a 100% view (called a 1:1 view), you’ll have to wait a few moments more (the message will read “Loading” again). That’s because it doesn’t create a higher-quality preview until you try to zoom in.

(2) Embedded & Sidecar

This method grabs the low-res JPEG thumbnails that are embedded in the files you’re importing, too (the same ones you see on the back of your camera on the LCD screen), and 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).

(3) Standard

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 Fit in Window preview (if you double-click on one in the Grid view, it zooms up to a Fit in Window view without having to wait for rendering). However, if you zoom in even closer, to a 1:1 view or higher, you’ll get that same rendering message, and you’ll have to wait a few seconds more.

(4) 1:1

The 1:1 (one-to-one) preview displays the low-res thumbnails, then starts rendering the highest-quality previews, so you can zoom in as much as you want with no waiting. However, there are two downsides: (1) It’s notoriously slow. Basically, you need to click the Import button, then get a cup of coffee (maybe two), but you can zoom in on any photo and never see a rendering message. (2) These large, high-quality previews get stored in your Lightroom database, so that file is going to get very large. So large that Lightroom lets you automatically delete these 1:1 previews after a period of time (up to 30 days). If you haven’t looked at a particular set of photos for 30 days, you probably don’t need the high-res previews, right? You set this in Lightroom by going under the Lightroom (PC: Edit) menu and choosing Catalog Settings, then clicking on the File Handling tab and choosing when to discard (as shown here).

Step 12:

Below the Render Previews pop-up menu is a checkbox you should turn on to keep you from accidentally importing duplicates (files with the same name), but right below that is a checkbox that I feel is the most important one: Make a Second Copy To, which makes a backup copy of the photos you’re importing on a separate hard drive. 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 on a separate drive. I just can’t tell you how important it is to have more than one copy of your photos. In fact, I won’t erase my camera’s memory card until I have at least two copies of my photos (one on my computer/external drive and one on my backup drive). Once you turn on the checkbox, click right below it and choose where you want your backup copies saved (or click the down-facing arrow on the right to choose a recent location).

Step 13:

The next panel down is File Renaming, which you use if you want to have your photos renamed automatically as they’re imported. I always do this, giving my files a name that makes sense (in this case, something like Motocross, which makes more sense to me than _DSC0399.NEF, especially if I have to search for them). If you turn on the Rename Files checkbox, there’s a pop-up menu with lots of different choices. I like to give my files a name, followed by a sequence of numbers (like Motocross 001, Motocross 002, etc.), so I choose Custom Name - Sequence, as seen here. Just by looking at the list, you can see how it will rename your files, so choose whichever one you like best, or create your own by choosing Edit at the bottom of the menu (I take you through that whole process on page 30).

Step 14:

Right below that is a panel called Apply During Import, which is where you can apply three things to your images as they’re imported. Let’s start at the top. The Develop Settings pop-up menu lets you apply special effects or corrections automatically as your photos are imported. For example, you could have all your photos appear in Lightroom already converted to black and white, or they could all already be adjusted to be more red, or blue, or... whatever. If you click on the Develop Settings pop-up menu, you’ll see a list of built-in presets that come with Lightroom and if you choose one, that look gets applied to your images as they’re imported (you’ll learn more about these, along with how to create your own custom Develop presets in Chapter 6, so for now, just leave the Develop Settings set to None, but at least you know what it does).

Step 15:

The next pop-up menu, Metadata, is where you can embed your own personal copyright and 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 info into a template (called a metadata template), and then when you save your template, it appears in the Metadata pop-up menu (as shown here). You’re not limited to just one template—you can have different ones for different reasons if you like (like one of just your copyright info, and another with all your contact info, as well). I show you, step by step, how to create a metadata template on page 38 of this chapter, so go ahead and jump over there now and create your first metadata 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. (Note: I embed my copyright info into every photo [well, at least the ones I actually shot] using a metadata template like this while importing.)

Step 16:

At the bottom of the Apply During Import panel is a field where you can type in keywords, which is just a fancy name for search terms (words you’d type in if, months later, you were searching for the photos you’re now importing). Lightroom embeds these keywords right 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 apply to every photo you’re importing. For example, for these motocross photos, I clicked in the Keywords field, and typed in generic keywords like Motocross, Bike, Jump, Dirt Track, and Dade City (where the track was). 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 Twist, because he’s not twisting in every photo).

Step 17:

I mentioned this earlier, but at the bottom right of the Import window is the Destination panel, which just shows again exactly where your photos are going to be stored once they’re imported from your memory card. At the top left of this panel is a + (plus sign) button and if you click on it, there’s a pop-up menu (shown here) where you can choose to Create New Folder, which actually creates a new folder on your computer at whatever location you choose (you can click on any folder you see to jump there). While you’re in that menu, try the Affected Folders Only command to see a much simpler view of the path to the folder you’ve chosen (as seen here—this is the view I use, since I always store my photos within the My Lightroom Photos folder. I don’t like to see all those other folders all the time, so this just hides them from view until I choose otherwise).

Step 18:

Now you’re set—you’ve chosen where the images are coming from and where they’re going, and how fast you’ll be able to view larger previews when they appear in Lightroom. You’ve added your own custom name to the images, embedded your copyright info, added some search terms, and even saved a preset so you don’t have to go through all these decisions each and every time. All that’s left to do is click the Import button in the bottom-right corner of the Import window (as shown here) to get the images into Lightroom. If this seems like a lot of work to go through, don’t worry—you’ve created custom file naming and metadata presets (templates), remember? (You’ll be surprised at how many presets you can create in Lightroom to make your workflow faster and more efficient. You’ll see as we go on. Presets rule! As a matter of fact, you can turn to page 18 before you click Import to learn how to save this as an import preset.)

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