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How to Import Photos Into Lightroom Classic

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Import Definitions

When you are working with Lightroom, you will need to import your photos into Lightroom.

You will basically create a connection between the original files and the Lightroom Catalog. If you will change the location of the files the connection will break and you won’t be able to work on those files (until you’ll renew the connection).

So, basically, you have two ways to import files into Lightroom:

  1. Import files from the computer directory.
  2. Import files from a camera or a memory card.

Both methods are pretty similar, so let’s start with the more common one, import files from the computer (this option is also a bit easier and quicker because you will have fewer definitions to deal with).

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Import files from the computer directory

Let’s assume your files are already on your computer, if not then connect your camera or your memory card and copy your photos to the relevant directory.

The import button is on the lower-left corner in the Library Module, or you can just use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+i

import button

The import window in Lightroom

  1. Origin directory location – this is where you set the location of your photos for Lightroom.
  2. Import method.
  3. Choosing which photos to import/exclude.
  4. Import definitions
Lightroom Import Window
  1. On the import window, you will choose the specific directory (you can choose multiple directories) by navigating on the left sidebar, or you can either choose “Other Source”.
    select a source
  2. On the center, you can choose from 4 definitions, how you want Lightroom to import the files:
    1. Copy as DNG – Lightroom will copy the files, import them to the catalog and convert them to .DNG files, AKA, Digital Negative format.
    2. Copy – Lightroom will copy the files, and import them to the catalog.
    3. Move – Lightroom will move the files to a chosen directory and import them to the catalog.
    4. Add – Lightroom will import the files to the catalog.
      Import Method
      In this case, you can choose the Add method because the files are already on your computer.
  3. Now, you can choose specific photos to include or exclude simply by checking the ✔ mark.
  4. After you chose the photos you want to import, on the upper right, you can define more options, and when you’re done, just hit the import button on the lower right.
    Import Definitions

That’s it.

Now, Lightroom will start the import, and when it will be done, you will be able to edit the photos in the Develop module.

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Import files from a camera or a memory card

When you import photos straight from a camera or a memory card, you will have only two options to import the files:

  1. Copy as DNG – Lightroom will copy the files, import them to the catalog and convert them to .DNG files.
  2. Copy – Lightroom will copy the files, and import them to the catalog.
Import Method - 2

Choose Copy and the software will also copy the files to your computer.

On the upper right, you can see the import definitions has 4 different sections:

  • ​File Handling
  • File Renaming
  • Apply During Import
  • Destination

In each section, you can define different things that will affect the import process and the files.

Import Definitions - 2

File Handling

Build Previews

When importing photos to Lightroom, Lightroom makes preview files to allow you to see the photos. Keep it on the Embedded & Sidecar for larger previews (approx. 1024 px or larger).

Build Smart Previews

This option enables you to create smart preview files that will allow you to edit the photos offline, without direct connection to Lightroom. Those are big preview files in DNG Lossy format with lots of information to work on them offline. Most people don’t need to use this feature, so you can keep it off.

Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates

Keep this option on if you don’t want Lightroom to import duplicate files (duplicate files will be Grayed and you won’t be able to choose them).

Make a Second Copy To

This option will create a copy of the files in another location of your choice, and every time you will import, Lightroom is going to create a backup library for the imported files.

Add to Collection

This option will add the files to a chosen collection. You can create a new collection by clicking on the plus button (+).

File Handling

File Renaming

This section will be available only if you choose Copy as DNG, Copy and Move.

You will have the option to choose a Lightroom Template to rename the imported files, or you can create a new custom one.

File Renaming

Apply During Import

In this section, you can define the parameters:

Develop Settings – here you can choose to implement a preset on your imported photos

Metadata  – in this option, you can choose from existing data preset or add new data to the photos.

Keywords – you can add specific keywords to the imported photos.

Apply During Import


This section will be available only if you choose Copy as DNG, Copy and Move.

In this section, you can define a specific target directory to import your photos to. You can add a new folder (+). And after you chose or made one, you can define to create a subfolder by clicking on the “Into Subfolder” and giving it a name.

The easiest way is to just click on the top right and choose “Other Destination”, navigate to the specific folder, create a new one if needed, and click “Select Folder”.


In the Organize option, Lightroom will define the folder array for the chosen photos.

Here you have 3 options:

By Original Folders – Lightroom will create new folders, but it will keep the names (and hierarchy) of the original folders (this option is useful if you want to keep your existing organization).

By Date – here Lightroom will create a date folder array (each photo will be in a separate folder, or with photos from the same date). You will be able to set the template you want to use for the folders if you choose the “Data Format” option.

Into one Folder – this is usually the preferred option, here you will be able to manually set and choose the specific location you want to put your photos.

Organize Options

Save Time With “Auto Import” in Lightroom Classic

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After you successfully finished importing your photos into Lightroom, Lightroom has an “Auto Import” option that not many are familiar with.

If you automatically upload photos to your computer, or if you use a scanner, or maybe, you want to create photos on other programs and you would like to easily and automatically import them into Lightroom, then the “Auto Import” can help you in those cases.

Basically, you set Lightroom a specific folder to watch on, and every time you will upload photos to that folder, Lightroom will automatically import those photos 

How to Enable “Auto Import”

Go to: File > Auto Import > Auto Import Settings (at first, the “Enable Auto Import” won’t be available. Because you need to define the “Watched Folder” in the “Auto Import Settings”).

How to Enable Auto Import

On the setting window that will appear you will be able to set:

  • Enable Auto Import – this option will be grayed at the start until you will define the “Watched Folder”.
  • Watched Folder – choose a folder (needs to be an empty folder), or create a new folder you want Lightroom to watch (note, this is a temporary folder, as Lightroom is transferring to the new destination at the “Destination Folder” you will choose next.
  • Destination Folder – choose where do you want Lightroom to copy (and move) the files to.
  • File Naming – if you want, you can choose to rename the names of the files.
  • Information – here you can define the parameters we already talked about in the “Apply During Import” section above, which include: “Develop Settings”, “Metadata” and “Keywords”.
    And in the additional option of “Initial Previews”, you can choose the “Embedded & Sidecar” for larger previews as we mentioned above also.
Auto Import Setting

After you finish your settings, from now on, as long as Lightroom is open it will watch this specific folder and every time, when you will upload a photo to that folder, Lightroom will move and import it to the destination folder automatically.

Common Problems Importing Photos to Lightroom

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Can’t find the import button

If you can’t seem to find the import button, check to see if you are on the Library Module, because the import button only appears in the Library Module.

Anyway, don’t panic, as we mentioned above, you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+i or go to File > Import Photos & Video

Can’t import photos into Lightroom

There can be several reasons why some of the photos or all of the photos are grayed and can’t be checked to import.

First and foremost, the most common is duplicated photos, unless you remove the checkmark under “File Handling” that says: “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates”, all the duplicated photos will be grayed and you won’t be able to import them.

File Handling - Do not Import Suspected Duplicates

The second reason to check is if you have enough room on your hard drive to import those photos. This can cause an error.

The third reason why you can’t import your photos can be file types Lightroom does not support like:

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Nikon scanner NEF
  • Files with dimensions greater than 65,000 pixels per side or larger than 512 megapixels.

Note: if you use a scanner to import photos, it’s suggested to convert them to TIFF or DNG format with your scanner’s software, before importing them to Lightroom.

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Hey there, my name is James and I am the creator and editor of this site. I have been photographing for the past 20 years and my mission is to simplify this misunderstood art of taking and processing photographs I love. I invite you to say “hey” on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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