July 3 2012
Adobe Lightroom is a powerful software application for managing digital photographs. Lightroom’s management functions start with importing digital photos from a memory card to the computer’s hard drive.
The during the import process Lightroom automatically performs general management tasks so photographers can concentrate on decisions that are specific to the current batch of new photos. The routine items include adding the photographer’s contact details and copyright information to the metadata for each photograph. This means all the digital photos are treated the same, whether they are from a large photo shoot or a one off shot.
This allows photographers to focus on strategies for finding individual or related photos later on, such as file renaming, destination folders, and adding keywords. This merits a bit of planning before this stage of the digital workflow. Lightroom offers a range of options for photographers to customise the process to suit their own needs, not someone else’s.
Choosing the Source
A camera’s memory card is the most common source of photos added to a Lightroom catalog on a computer’s hard disk. Adobe recognised this and included an option in the general preferences for Lightroom to automatically open the import dialog box when it detects a memory card in the card reader. Lightroom selects the card as the default source and loads photo previews from the card.
On the left side of the import screen a check box near the top enables automatic ejection of the memory card from the computer’s card reader at the end of the import operation. This does not physically eject the card, but tells the computer’s operating system to properly close any files and operations related to the memory card.
When I have groups of photos on the memory card with different subjects and locations I disable the automatic ejection operation. Then I can import photos in related groups and treat each group differently in the import process.
However, there are occasions when I need to add digital photos from a hard disk, either the internal disk or an external unit, to my Lightroom catalog. Clicking on the Import button and Lightroom opens the Import dialog box and shows the range of connected drives. Simply navigate down the file structure to the folder where the photos are located. There is a small check box for including digital photos stored in sub folders in the import operation.
The sub folders option does not apply to camera memory cards where Lightroom presents all the photos for importing.
Copy, Add or Move
After selecting the source of the digital photo file the next step is choosing the method from the options at the top of the import screen. The availability of the options and their use varies depending on the source of the digital photos.
Not all camera manufacturers currently support the new standard, so Adobe offer this facility for converting from a propriety format to the DNG format for long term storage and a greater chance of future compatibility for the image files.
Lightroom’s Move and Add options really only apply to file operations where the source is a type of hard disk. These options do not make sense for removable media such as memory cards or CD/DVDs.
Selecting Photos to Import
Apart from the option of importing all the files from a location Lightroom has powerful tools for selecting groups of digital photos from memory cards to import. The simple method is to use a grid view of image thumbnails from the card. Each thumbnail has a check box, ticked by default, to indicate photos to be imported.
To import only some of the photos in an import operation remove the tick on the unwanted images by clicking on the check box on the top left of each thumbnail. More than one can be done at a time using standard highlighting techniques and then unchecking one of the highlighted set of thumbnails.
There is a tool in the file handling panel to tell Lightroom not to import suspected duplicate images and only import new photos. This makes it easier to import separate groups of photos from the one memory card.
This is a simple Lightroom panel with few options. Set the Render Previews to minimal for fastest loading of image previews.
Smart previews is a new option introduced in Lightroom 5. This option builds a more complete preview file in Lightroom’s catalog that allows editing of photos stored external drives even when they are offline. This facility is most useful for laptop users who store their image libraries on external drives . Naturally this extra information should increase the size of the Lightroom catalog file so there are tools to add and delete smart previews for photos after they are imported.
A handy option in the file handling section is the option not to import photos if they are already in a Lightroom catalog. This stops cluttering the catalog with multiple appearances of the same photo.
The final option is to decide if you want to store backup copies of the original photos as part of the import process. This is a good idea as there should be at least two copies of any digital photo for long term security. The backup location needs to be a different storage drive from where the main copies are kept. I have a separate external hard drive to hold the backups created during the import process. However, there is still only reference to the main photo location in Lightroom’s catalog so the backup is not a duplicate entry.
The photo file names produced by digital cameras are rather cryptic numbers, with no guarantee of uniqueness for prolific photographers. In the import process Lightroom can rename the files with something more meaningful than a number. Photographers have a range of fixed and custom options such as incorporating the shooting date or custom text into the filename to help identify related photos. These names apply outside the lightroom environment in the normal file system.
Apply During Import
This is a form of batch processing that applies develop settings during import into Adobe Lightroom from a choice of standard presets, or your own custom develop settings. These are only applied to the preview and provide a starting point for adjustments, or for quick proofing.
This is another batch processing option for photographers to add their contact details and copyright notices to the EXIF data.
There is text box for photographers to attach keywords to the group of image files being imported into the Lightroom catalog. Assigning keywords for each photo plays an important part in managing photos, allowing Lightroom to search and filter for photos with specific keywords. So at this stage it is important to add meaningful keywords. They can be added at any time but where you are importing a related group of photos then this is the place to add general keywords that are common to al the photos.
This is where planning and a consistent keyword scheme is an advantage. Include a variety of keywords describing the major attributes of the image, ranging from general to specific. The aim is to include keywords that you might use to find photos. These searches could be based on name and type of subject, weather or season, the name of an event or general location.
The lightroom import process not only includes the photo files into Lightroom’s catalog but the Copy, and Move options apply to the normal computer file structure. Therefore the setting in the Destination panel has implications beyond Lightroom’s file management and affects other operating system file management functions.
It is worth organising images in the basic file structure, even though Lightroom offers a range of sophisticated photo management features. An organised file structure is worthwhile when using other applications to access or manage photo files.
There are a number of options for a digital photo file strategy. The one I use most isa master folder for photos and then Lightroom creates a year folder with sub-folders for the months when the photo was taken, if they do not already exist. Lightroom automatically retrieves these dates from the EXIF data in the photo file.
This works well for the general collection, but there is always the option of creating a separate folder for specific projects such a large photo shoot for a client.
The only trap is you have to point to an appropriate root folder, as Lightroom creates additional folders if you indicate the wrong master folder. The good thing is that Lightroom retains the last master folder used, so for routine import operations this is not normally a problem.