How to Save Time When Importing Photos Into Lightroom

How to speed up Lightroom import process

Perhaps one of the biggest frustrations Lightroom users face is the initial process of importing photos from your camera’s memory card. The more photos you need to import, the longer it takes, which can be more than a little annoying when you just want to get on with viewing the photos.

Here then are some tips on speeding up the process so you don’t have to wait so long.

Let’s start by looking at the most time consuming way you can import photos into Lightroom, then see how we can improve on that. Bear in mind everything is relative. If you have ten photos to import into Lightroom, then it isn’t going to take very long even if you select the options that take the most time. You can go away and make a cup of tea and it will be done by the time you get back.

But if you have a hundred or five hundred or even more photos to import then it’s a different story, and that’s when it’s beneficial to look at ways to speed the process up.

The long way: Copy as DNG, Build 1:1 Previews

How to speed up Lightroom import process

This method gives you the best of all worlds, but the process is a long one if you need to import more than a few photos.

Lightroom copies the photos from your camera’s memory card to their designated place on your external hard drive, converting them to the DNG format as it does so and afterwards building full size Previews.

  • Generating 1:1 Previews means that you can zoom into your images whilst viewing them in the Library module without any delay. If you generate smaller Previews there’s a visible delay when you zoom. It may only be for a second or two, but it’s quite frustrating when you have lots of images to look at.
  • The benefits of converting your Raw files to DNG are that the files are smaller (up to 20%), saving hard drive space, and that using DNG makes Lightroom run faster (as long as you include Fast Load Data – the setting is found under the File Handling tab in Preferences, shown below). According to Adobe, embedding Fast Load Data speeds up the viewing process by as much as eight times.

How to speed up Lightroom import process

A couple of things to note about DNG:

If you tick the Embed Original Raw File box under the File Handling settings Lightroom embeds a copy of the original Raw file in the DNG file. You can then extract it, if you want to, using Adobe’s free DNG converter software. However, this does negate the space saving advantage of DNG.

Some software doesn’t recognise the DNG format. That includes Digital Photo Professional (DPP), Canon’s proprietary Raw conversion software. If you use an application other then Lightroom, it’s a good idea to confirm whether it can open DNG files. This will help you decide whether to use the format.

How can I make the import process longer?

Converting to DNG and building 1:1 Previews can take a long time, but there are ways to lengthen the process even more if you want to (it’s an odd question, I know, but bear with me).

The first is to select the option to build Smart Previews. Smart Previews enable you to process Raw files when you don’t have the hard drive that stores them connected to your computer. They also let you work with Lightroom mobile (the Smart Previews are synced via an internet connection).

How to speed up Lightroom import process

Further reading: A Short Guide to Using Smart Previews in Lightroom

Further reading: Five Ways to Use Lightroom Mobile

If the import process still isn’t long enough for you why not tell Lightroom to back up your photos to another hard drive at the same time?

How to speed up Lightroom import process

Personally, I’d advise against this because if there is a power surge while both hard drives are connected to your computer you could potentially lose all the data on both drives plus your computer. If you don’t have a surge protector for your computer, then please buy one now.

The suggestion to lengthen your import time was a little tongue in cheek, but there’s a semi-serious point behind it. If you genuinely need all those things (DNG conversion, 1:1 Previews, Smart Previews) then the best thing you can do is leave your computer to do all the hard work overnight. It’s no great hardship to wait (especially compared to the time I had to wait for my Kodachromes to come back from the lab – thankfully those days are gone).

Time saving tip #1: Don’t generate Smart Previews.

There’s no point in building Smart Previews if you don’t need them. And if you do, but it’s more urgent to view the imported photos on your monitor than it is to create Smart Previews, then you can delay that task to another time.

Time saving tip #2: Don’t convert your Raw files to DNG.

The benefits to using DNG have already being discussed, but if you’re not convinced, or don’t have the time to wait while Lightroom converts them, then don’t do it. If you really want to convert your Raw files to DNG (the most likely reason apart from the ones mentioned is for archival purposes) you can do it another time.

Time saving tip #3: Don’t build 1:1 Previews.

You can save a lot of time by selecting the Standard option instead.

Make sure you go to File Handling in Catalog Settings and set Standard Preview Size to Auto (see below). This ensures Lightroom doesn’t build larger Standard Previews than needed (saving time and hard drive space).

How to speed up Lightroom import process

Standard Previews may be good enough for what you need. If, on your initial viewing, you don’t need to zoom into photos to check fine detail or focusing, then you don’t need 1:1 Previews.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you import 500 photos into Lightroom, building Standard Previews. While viewing the photos you decide that 100 of them are worth looking at further, but the other 400 are not. You can put those 100 photos into a new Collection and then build 1:1 Previews for them. That’s five times quicker than building 1:1 Previews for all 500 images.

Time saving tip #4: Apply the correct Develop Preset at import

Lightroom lets you choose and apply any Develop Preset to your photos at the import stage, then builds Previews (whether Standard or 1:1) using that preset.

How to speed up Lightroom import process

The idea is to create Develop Presets that apply the colour profiles you use most often, and select the appropriate Preset at the import stage.

If you change the colour profile after Lightroom has built Previews, then view the images, Lightroom takes longer to display them.

Time saving tip #5: Copy the photos to your external hard drive, but don’t import them yet.

This is only for when you urgently need to free up a memory card, and want to get the photos on it saved and backed up as fast as possible.

You don’t even need Lightroom for this – just copy the photos from your memory card to your external hard drive, and make at least one backup copy to another drive. Then you can format the card, and import the photos into Lightroom later.

If you have any other time saving tips for Lightroom, I’d love to hear them. Please let me know in the comments!

Mastering Lightroom ebooks

Mastering Lightroom ebooks by Andrew S Gibson

My Mastering Lightroom ebooks show you how to get the most out of Lightroom. They cover the entire workflow process, including post-processing in the Develop module. Click the link to learn more.



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