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 long even if you select the options that take the most time.
But if you need to import hundreds photos it’s a different story. That’s when it’s beneficial to look at ways to speed up the process.
The long way: Copy as DNG, Build 1:1 Previews, Build Smart Previews
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 and Smart Previews.
The disadvantage of this workflow is that it takes more time to import your photos.
But the benefit is that it helps Lightroom work as fast as possible when you’re viewing photos in the Library module and developing them in the Develop module. The trade off is simple – importing takes longer but viewing and developing is faster.
• 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 frustrating when you have lots of images to look at.
• DNG files are smaller (up to 20%), saving hard drive space. But more importantly 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, see below). According to Adobe, embedding Fast Load Data speeds up the viewing process by as much as eight times.
• Smart Previews enable you to process Raw files when you don’t have the hard drive that stores them connected to your computer. The Develop module is also faster when Lightroom uses Smart Previews.
Further reading: The Ultimate Guide to Using Smart Previews in Lightroom
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 makes the DNG file larger than the original Raw file.
• Some software doesn’t recognize the DNG format. 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.
Make a Second Copy to…
I left this option out of the above workflow because the backup copies made using the Make a Second Copy option are in the camera’s proprietary Raw format, not DNG. That means if you lose your DNG files through hard drive failure, you need to convert the backed up Raw files to DNG before Lightroom recognizes them. In my opinion it’s easier to backup the converted DNG files.
How To Save Time When Importing Photos Into Lightroom
Now it’s time to look at the ways you can reduce the amount of time it takes to import your photos into Lightroom. These are useful any time that you’re in a hurry to view or develop your photos.
Time saving tip #1: Don’t build 1:1 Previews
It takes Lightroom a long time to 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).
1:1 Previews are only used in the Library module (and not in the Develop module, where Lightroom builds a different set of previews) when you zoom into your photos to check fine detail or focusing. If, on your initial viewing, you don’t need to zoom in, 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 if you need them. That’s five times quicker than building 1:1 Previews for all 500 images.
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. Lightroom takes a long time to convert Raw files to DNG and you have to decide for yourself whether the benefits are worth it.
Time saving tip #3: 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, you can delay that task to another time.
Time saving tip #4: Build Embedded & Sidecar Previews (Lightroom Classic CC only)
You may be familiar with applications like Photo Mechanic that allow you to view your photos faster than Lightroom’s Library module. The reason Photo Mechanic is so fast is because it uses the JPEG preview file embedded into the Raw file by your camera. Now, Lightroom Classic CC gives you the same option. All you have to do is set Build Previews to Embedded & Sidecar under File Handling in the Import window.
You can tell Lightroom to build Standard Previews for photos with Embedded previews whenever your system is idle. Go to Preferences > General and tick the Replace embedded previews with standard previews during idle time box under Import Options (see below). It’s unticked by default.
Again, you can save time during import by using Embedded & Sidecar Previews to do an initial cull of your photos, then build 1:1 or Smart Previews for the ones that you want to look at more closely.
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.
Time saving tip #6: Buy a new computer or install a solid state drive.
As with all software, Lightroom runs faster on newer computers with a higher specification than it does on older machines. If importing photos into Lightroom is too slow for you and you have a computer that’s older than five years it may be time to consider buying a new one. Another option, if your computer doesn’t have one, is to replace the hard drive with a solid state drive (SSD). Solid state drives are much faster and you’ll see a noticeable increase in your computer’s operating speed.
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The next steps
If you’d like to learn more about Lightroom I suggest you sign up to our Introducing Lightroom free email course (see below).
Mastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library Module
Our ebook Mastering Lightroom Book One: The Library Module is a complete guide to using Lightroom’s Library module to import, organise and search your photo files. You’ll learn how to tame your growing photo collection using Collections and Collection Sets, and how to get organized so you spend less time searching for photos and more time in the Develop module.