Three Lightroom Import Tips for Better Organization

There’s no question that organizing your image library can be one of the more challenging tasks in digital photography. I still recall my early days of learning Lightroom and struggling to fully grasp how this software managed my files. A recent workshop attendee voiced those same frustrations at dinner. Images missing but their previews were still there. Not being able to locate images at all. It sounded all too familiar. While there are many ways to keep your Lightroom catalogs organized, I figured let’s start at the beginning. Here are a few tips to help with organization right from the get-go, at the Import phase when your new photos are first hitting your Lightroom catalog.

Tip 1: Use Lightroom From the Start


Tip #1: If you are just starting out using Lightroom or have been used to copying and pasting files from within your normal Windows or Mac folders, this will help plant the seed that Lightroom is the primary place to start moving images around. One of the more important steps in keeping your Lightroom catalogs organized is to add, move, and delete files from within the software itself. Having Lightroom automatically open the Import Dialog when a memory card is detected will help remind you to use it right away vs. using any other method. Again, I can’t stress this enough. We want Lightroom to be the first and last contact point of contact for image adding, moving, and deleting. This lays the foundation for us (and Lightroom) to be able to find files when we need them. For this step, head to Edit>Preferences under the General Tab for Windows and under Lightroom>Preferences for Mac. Yo will need to click the button “Restart Lightroom Classic” for these changes to take effect.

Bonus Tip: If you ever shoot RAW+JPG, you may consider checking the box next to “Treat JPEG files next to raw files as separate photos”. This way you can see all your images in Lightroom. You can easily sort by file type and move RAWs or JPGs into a separate folder if you choose.

Tip 2: Use Those Import Options

Tip #2: This one is broken down into four parts. First, Lightroom provides several options for how your photos will get imported. You should see Copy as DNG, Copy, Move, Add at the top of the screen. I personally don’t convert to DNG. There are plenty of articles debating the pros and cons if you’re curious to learn more. I simply choose to leave my RAW files in their original state. The majority of the time, choosing “Copy” is the best option. We want to copy the files from our memory card onto our computer to a specific location and add them to the Lightroom library at the same time. This is Lightroom’s way of adding new photos and keeping track of their location. Second, when copying files, you may find there are still images on the memory card that have already been imported. In order to avoid duplicates and to import just the new files easier, make sure to check “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” in the File Handling panel located in the upper right of your screen.

adobe lightroom import file handling

Third, under File Renaming, consider adding the date in front of the filename or developing your own meaningful file naming sequence. Camera file names tend to recycle once they hit 10,000 frames, so you will run into naming conflicts if you don’t rename. And finally, choose the destination you want the new images to be located. For years, I used to create folders with the year, month, day the photos were taken such as 20150206_BadwaterDeathValley. My memory served me well…until it didn’t. Eventually, when I went looking for a specific image, say from Death Valley, I could no longer remember if it was from my 2015 February or 2017 December visit. During the first pandemic shutdown of 2020, I restructured my entire library by broad locations vs dates. All images were moved from within Lightroom so the software would know their new locations. Moving within Lightroom accomplishes both tasks: physically moving the file and making sure the new locations are tracked. With this new organization into location folders, I can still easily sort by date (or other parameters such as keywords or file type).

Tip 3: Building a Metadata and Keyword Foundation

Tip #3: The final advice I have for making the import process improve organization is by embedding important metadata and keywords to files as soon as they hit Lightroom. Years ago, I did none of this. Over time though, I have applied this information to older files, so if you haven’t been doing this on import, rest assured, it’s still possible to add the following information to images already in your library.

Create Metadata Presets: As you can see in the image above, I only use the IPTC Copyright, IPTC Creator, and Keywords sections. Here, you can put your personal contact information, copyright status, website info, and relative keywords to a broader category. I have these presets for each one of those broad location folders I use in my image folders. Every January, I update these presets to include the current year in my copyright line.

Use Focused Keywords: Finally, I add more specific keywords to a set of images upon import. This could be more detailed locations, time of day (sunset vs sunrise), and season as well as any specific keywords about the type of images I’m importing. If I’m feeling especially organized, I will import a few different times with different focused keywords each time.

I hope you found some of this information useful. By no means is this an exhaustive article on all the ways to import files, but again, I wanted to focus on how to better organize your Lightroom catalog from the very beginning. If you have any questions or tips you’d like to add, please leave them in the comments below!



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