How to Import Photos Faster Into Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
How to Import Photos Faster Into Lightroom Classic

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I’m always looking for ways to make my Lightroom Classic workflow more efficient. Today I’d like to share my newest import workflow with you. It lets me import photos faster and it could be helpful for you as well.

The key is to use Embedded & Sidecar Previews when you import your photos into Lightroom Classic. 

There’s a few things you have to do to make it work, and it won’t be the best workflow for everybody. In this tutorial I’ll explore the options so you understand what’s involved and can see if it could work for you.

What is an Embedded & Sidecar Preview?

When you use the Raw format on your camera it embeds an additional JPEG in the Raw file. Your camera uses the embedded JPEG to display the photo in your camera’s LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder.

Lightroom Classic can also use the embedded JPEG file to display your photos in the Library module. This has the potential to save you time when importing photos as there’s no need to build Standard or 1:1 Previews.

My understanding is that digital SLRs save a full-size JPEG in the Raw file (i.e. it has the same resolution as the photo), but mirrorless cameras save smaller JPEGs with a lower resolution (that’s certainly the case for my Fujifilm cameras). 

The good news is that if your camera uses low resolution JPEGs you can compensate by shooting Raw+JPEG. It takes up more hard drive and memory card space, but Lightroom Classic can use the JPEG (which is a sidecar file) for the previews. The larger JPEG lets you zoom in to check for focus and other fine detail.

I have to admit that although I’ve been aware of this for a while I hadn’t tried it because I expected Lightroom Classic to automatically start building the missing Standard Previews, which would slow everything down. But I’ve since discovered a way to use the embedded or sidecar files without prompting Lightroom Classic to build larger previews.

Here’s the workflow.

How to import photos faster

Before you start there are two important Preferences settings to adjust. 

1. Go to Preferences > General and uncheck Replace embedded previews with standard previews during idle time.

Lightroom Classic import preferences

2. Then go to Preferences > Performance and check Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for image editing 

Lightroom Classic import preferences

These Preferences settings are important because they make this workflow work. This is what you need to do when you import your next set of photos.

1. Open the Import window and check the photos you want to import into Lightroom Classic’s Catalog.

2. Select Copy rather than Copy as DNG if you’re importing photos from a memory card. Converting to DNG has advantages, particularly if you need to generate 1:1 Previews. But there’s a way to use the Develop module without using 1:1 Previews, which I’ll explain shortly. 

Lightroom Classic import settings

Note: Choose Add rather than Copy if you’ve already copied your Raw files to your hard drive.

3. Go to the File Handling panel and set Build Previews to Embedded & Sidecar.

For the fastest import make sure the Build Smart Previews and Make a Second Copy To boxes are unchecked.

Lightroom Classic import settings

4. If you normally rename files on import and you’re not shooting Raw+JPEG then go to the File Renaming panel and apply your usual settings. 

But if you’re shooting Raw+JPEG it’s important to uncheck the Rename files box. That’s because Lightroom Classic renames all imported files sequentially. So, for example, DSCF0001.jpg and DSCF0001.raf (as my Fujifilm camera would name them) become something like yourname-01.jpg and yourname-02.raf. 

The different number at the end breaks the link between JPEG and Raw file, and Lightroom Classic doesn’t know where to look for the sidecar profile.

5. Go to the Apply During Import panel and set Develop Settings to None. This is important as making changes to the Develop settings prompts Lightroom Classic to build new previews, slowing the import process down. You can apply a Metadata preset if you use one (i.e. for adding copyright information to the metadata).

Lightroom Classic import settings

6. Go to the Destination panel and select the folder where you want to save your Raw files.

7. Click the Import button to get start the import.

Tip: You can save these settings as a rapid import preset so you don’t have to re-enter them if you change the settings. Go to the Import Preset bar at the bottom of the Import window, click the drop down menu on the right (it will either say ‘None’ if you’re not currently using a preset or display the name of the current preset being used) and select Save Current Settings as New Preset… Give the Preset a name (something like ‘rapid preset’). Now you can set it here whenever you want. 

Lightroom Classic import settings

One thing to watch – you’ll need to change the destination folder every time you do a new import to make sure your Raw files are copied to the correct location.

Editing (culling) your photo files

The reason this process works is because  you can use the embedded /sidecar previews to view photos in the Library module. As long as you don’t make any Develop module adjustments Lightroom Classic can use the embedded/sidecar preview to show you the photo. 

The next step is to decide which photos you want to develop and add them to a new Collection. You can learn how I do that in How to Organize Your Photos With Lightroom Classic Collections.

Once you’ve created a Collection with your photos ready to be developed, select all the images inside it and go to Library > Previews > Build Smart Previews. Because you’re only building Smart Previews for some files, it saves time and avoids creating a larger than necessary Smart Previews file on your hard drive.

The final step

The last step is to select a photo, go to the Develop module, open the Navigator panel (at the top of the left-hand panels) and click the 50% zoom setting (marked below). 

Lightroom Classic zoom setting

Lightroom Classic zooms into your photo using the Smart Preview. When you click on the photo again it zooms out to the Fit view, then back to 50% if you click it again. This stops Lightroom Classic making 1:1 Previews, preventing any delays that happen while it’s building them.

This works for me because a 50% view is all I need for developing the majority of my photos. If you need a 100% zoom view, then select the photos again and go to Library > Previews > Build 1:1 Previews. Doing this first ensures there won’t be any delays in the Develop module.

Trade-offs with this import workflow

That’s a lot to absorb, so I’ll end with a summary of the trade-offs you need to make to get this workflow to work.

1. For the fastest import, don’t convert your photos to DNG or use the Make a Second Copy to option to copy your files to a backup drive. You can do these things if you want, as long as you don’t mind a slower import.

2. If you use a mirrorless camera that embeds small JPEG previews in Raw files, you need to shoot Raw+JPEG to get a full-size embedded profile (the JPEG is the sidecar file).

3. If you use Raw+JPEG, you can’t rename your files on import as Lightroom Classic renames them sequentially. The link between JPEG and Raw file is lost.

4. In the Develop module set zoom to 50% so that Lightroom Classic doesn’t automatically generate 1:1 previews. It uses Smart Previews instead which gives you the fastest workflow. 

5. Don’t make any Develop module or Quick Develop adjustments until you’ve selected the photos that you’re going to develop (the keepers). When you make adjustments the embedded / sidecar preview is no longer accurate and Lightroom Classic automatically generates a new Standard Preview in the Library module.

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