The more troubleshooting I do for people in Lightroom, the more I realize that the root causes of many issues stem from how the photos were imported into Lightroom. In this video and article, I’m going to show you what I consider to be best practices on how to import your photos into Lightroom. At the end of this video, you’ll know what mistakes to avoid. Plus, you’ll discover what I consider to be the smartest and easiest way to add your photos to your Lightroom catalog.

Lightroom Importing Issue #1: Designating the Wrong Import Action

Lightroom is a powerhouse so naturally when you open the import dialog box, you have a plethora of choices. Sometimes, it’s a few too many choices so my preference is to simplify the process. To start, let’s assume we’re photographing in the RAW format.

Now, I find that the majority of issues when importing your photos into Lightroom come from two things. First, people not paying attention to their choice at the top of the import dialog box causes issues. Second, not being consistent in how they import causes issues. Our import options are to either Copy as DNG, Copy, Move, or Add. 

First, be consistent in how you get your images from your camera to the computer. The majority of the time, we are connecting our SD cards to our computers. And then, we want to do 2 things. We want to copy those files from the SD card to the hard drive location where we will permanently store the files. This permanent location is generally either on our computer’s hard drive or an external hard drive. 

The Difference Between Copy as DNG, COPY, MOVE, and ADD in Lightroom

Copy as DNG means that Lightroom will convert your camera’s proprietary RAW file format (NEF for Nikon, CR3 for Canon, etc.) to a DNG file. DNG files are Adobe’s version of a RAW file. The purpose of the DNG is to serve as a universal RAW file format to easily work across all of Adobe’s products. And it’s good, but so are all of your name-brand RAW file formats.

DNGs are claimed to be about 15-20% smaller in size. It just depends if your camera brand already applies lossless compression to your RAW file. However, it achieves this smaller size through its compression and by removing some of the camera manufacturer’s specific propriety RAW data, such as Active-D Lighting or the Pictures Profiles for Nikon or Sony’s Pixel-shift technology. The last thing to note is that DNG is a one-way street. Once you convert to DNG, you cannot go back to your camera brand’s proprietary RAW data file. I haven’t found a compelling enough reason to get me to convert all my RAW files into DNGs so I don’t convert my files to DNGs. It isn’t wrong if you do, as long as you do so with intention.

Let’s jump to MOVE quickly. Move will take the files from their current location and move them to wherever you designate in the Destination Panel in the Importing Dialog Box. This MOVE option is greyed out if you are importing photos from an SD card. That means you can only do this if you have already saved them manually to your computer’s hard drive or an external hard drive.

Lightroom will grey out the ADD option if you are importing photos from an SD card too. This option will only add the photos to the Catalog. Therefore, ADD is good if you previously saved your RAW files to their permanent storage location from the SD card. But that’s not normally the case. Normally, you want to copy the photos from the SD card to your hard drive and import the photos into Lightroom.

That brings us to COPY. And you probably guessed it by now – we’re going to make this as easy as a Rotisserie Oven Infomercial jingle. If you are photographing in the RAW file format and connecting your SD cards to your computer, then I want you to select Copy, and then set it and forget it (in a sense). This is going to take the RAW files from your SD card and copy them to their permanent storage location. At the same time, it will import the photos into the catalog. That is the easiest solution. Let Lightroom copy your photos from your camera card to the hard drive and add them to the catalog based on that location. Then, you can manually delete the files from your SD cards. But only delete after you know everything is copied, imported, and backed up appropriately. 

Lightroom Importing Issue #2 – Destination Panel Kerfuffles

The second biggest and probably the most common importing mistake occurs in the Destination Panel. For some, this Panel is intuitive, but for others, it serves as a pain point of confusion. If you miss a checkbox or accidentally click the wrong parent folder, you can mess up your folders’ panel or even lose track of where those photos went. That’s why I advise people to avoid using the Destination Panel. Instead, I want you to follow this workflow. The workflow starts before you open the Import Dialog box so let’s close this for a minute.

From your Library Module, go to your Folders Panel, and navigate to the parent folder where you want to permanently store your photos. For me, I organize my folder structures with a date and location format.  Click the plus sign, and add a subfolder, and label your folder with something meaningful. I share my advice on the best ways to structure your folders in my complete Let’s Get Organized! in Lightroom online course. Once you have your folder created, right-click and select Import to this Folder. From there, the import dialog box will appear and this automatically sets the Destination Panel for you – no more errors, no more guessing, you told Lightroom exactly how you want that folder structure to look.  

Lightroom Importing Issue #3 – Importing Duplicate Photos

To reiterate, we ensure we are selecting COPY. Then, my last piece of advice is to make sure you check the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” box. Lightroom checks duplicates based on the time and date of capture along with the filename.  If this box is unchecked, you can easily start importing duplicates of your photos. This is especially true if you don’t always clear your SD cards. Once you have duplicate photos in your Lightroom catalog, it is very cumbersome to find and clean them up without using third-party software. And if you have duplicate photos, it can lead to weirdness and error boxes popping up in Lightroom. That is why this is another best practice. Keep that box checked. 


Now, I can and do talk about all the other importing options in my full Let’s Get Organized! in Lightroom online course. If you want to know every important detail about how I import photos in Lightroom along with my full workflow, that’s the place to find all the answers. Even without the course, if you simply adopt these three tips I shared (COPY your photos, Don’t import suspected duplicates, and open the import dialog box by right-clicking on the newly created folder from the Folders Panel in the Library Module), you will be setting yourself up with the smartest and easiest method to import your photos into Lightroom.

I hope you found these tips helpful and cheers to a happy Lightroom experience!

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