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Inside Lightroom 5
(Pt. 1): modules & importing

September 2013

Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom 5 photo editing software now comes bundled on a DVD with two of Canon’s EOS DSLR cameras: the EOS 6D and the EOS 5D Mark III. In a five-part series of articles and video tutorials Richard Curtis (a Principal Solutions Consultant in Digital Imaging for Adobe UK) will explain the key features of Lightroom 5 to give you a good grounding and understanding of how to get the most out of working with the software. In Part 1 of this series Richard Curtis examines the main modules of Lightroom and, in a special video, he explains how to create catalogs and import your pictures. Please click on the play button in the window above to watch the video...

What is Lightroom?

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

You can see in the picture above that the photographer's typical workflow is using the module tabs - Library, Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print and Web - at the top right hand side of Lightroom.

Lightroom is a software application made by Adobe that allows photographers to manage their pictures and videos, as well as providing an elegant way to edit them to create beautiful, finished photographs and maybe a little bit of video. Lightroom exists because it solves a very basic problem: to provide an imaging solution for photographers that would support the natural workflow from start to finish, but with elegance and simplicity. The other side of the problem is that any solution must support RAW files, as well as a way to not damage the picture, but also provide a way to be creative and an ability to create beautiful images. Lightroom was designed in this way, with the photographer in mind, and since then has grown in features to support new requirements, including the management and simple development of videos from cameras and phones.

How will Lightroom help photographers?

Lightroom does many things to help photographers; from providing an intuitive interface for the beginner to providing powerful tools for the advanced professional photographer. There are some key principles that Lightroom adopts to make this happen.

Lightroom supports a non-destructive and non-linear RAW imaging workflow (for RAW files, as well as other file formats - PNG, TIFF, PSD, etc), which effectively means Lightroom won't make any changes to the original files. All changes are stored separately in a small format called Metadata, thus allowing you to make any changes at any point in time without having to think about dependencies. Not only does this protect you, but it also provides you with the creative freedom to try different visions on the same picture without having to commit to anything. It also means that when used correctly, it won't take up huge amounts of storage for the adjustments.

What are RAW files and images and where does Lightroom put them?

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Whatever file format is used the files need to be imported into Lightroom, using the import feature (this screen is shown in the picture above).

RAW files and images can be confusing, so it's worth mentioning why it's an import part of the picture making process. Most Digital SLR (DSLR) and compact system/mirrorless cameras today support both the JPG and RAW formats. The JPG format is actually a final image picture format and it is created in the camera: this means that the colour, sharpness, saturation as well as other elements are fixed in the picture and can't be undone. The image can be changed using Lightroom, however it is not as flexible when it comes to editing and certain elements can start to be destroyed (depending on many different factors, mostly relating to how the JPG was created in the first place). That is not to say that it can't be changed and support a non-destructive workflow. Lightroom is able to work with JPGs as well, you just won't be able to push the image as far in a JPG workflow in comparison to a RAW file. The JPG format is an important format though, as it is typically used to publish your images to the Internet, print or sharing with friends via social media, JPGs are also heavily used in DVD creation, etc.

On the other side of the fence, the RAW file is extremely flexible as the image has not been created yet; it's more akin to a series of numbers that represent the final image. The challenge is that a RAW file is just numbers, therefore it requires a program to decipher them. Lightroom understands the RAW file and will create a preview of the final image for you. All of the tools that are provided inside Lightroom are designed to work with this format and provide you with the best image quality possible in any picture editing tool. The only drawback with the RAW file is that it is typically larger in size that the same JPG file, and will take up more storage on your disks.

To find out all of the file formats that Lightroom supports please click here. To discover the hundreds of different RAW file types that are supported as well, please click here. Whatever file format is used... the files need to be imported into Lightroom using the Import feature.

We hope you can see how Lightroom really embraces the workflow of photographers and provides a flexible and scalable solution for your future pictures. We also hope you enjoy the video and tutorial sessions – the first of these (click on the play button in the video window at the top of this article to view it) looks at creating a catalog and importing pictures into Lightroom...

The Lightroom modules explained

Let's look at each module inside Lightroom and explain its purpose to the photographer. Please click on the headings below to find out more about each module...

1. Library

The Library is the ‘heart’ of Lightroom. At its core Lightroom is an optimised database system. This database provides a way for photographers to organise and manage their pictures, either by searching and finding the content wherever it may be in the set-up. This includes network drives and external hard drives. Lightroom never actually puts any of your pictures or videos in a place that you are not able to access them, therefore not locking you in.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Library screen in Lightroom 5. Amongst its features Library lets you gather files from multiple sources and find content via keywords. Files are shown being imported here - see the 'Current Import' tab on the left hand side.

It's true, however, that you need to import your pictures into Lightroom. Importing your work into Lightroom is really just to enable Lightroom to be aware of it and where to find it, should you want to edit and work on pictures. You can actually put your pictures wherever you wish, either using the Import module in Lightroom, or manually, and then telling Lightroom where it needs to find them (again via the Import). Ultimately Lightroom leaves you in control of your content and is able to manage hundreds of thousands of images and videos at any one time, across your whole set-up.

There is a huge advantage with the Library module. When you take a picture with a camera, the camera's internal electronics also contribute to the final image; the camera will automatically apply this additional data to your image when it creates the file. This information contains the technical aspects to the picture, i.e. the ISO that was used, f-stop, flash settings, white balance and possibly GPS location information (if you are lucky enough to have a GPS receiver in your camera). This information is loaded into Lightroom automatically upon import and can be important when looking for your images later on.

However, the real key to finding your images once they are in Lightroom is by using additional information that the camera is not able to tell you - this is keywords. Keywords are a way to describe the picture by your own language, i.e. where it was taken, who is in the picture, if it was a celebration... and there are many other ways to describe the pictures. Some people like to really go to town on this part of the workflow but, if you are not used to it, it doesn't have to be complicated or even take a lot of time; it is really just about you explaining what you will remember about the picture, the next time you want to find it. I would suggest that you start with just enough for you to remember when/where or what is in the picture when it was taken.

2. Development

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The image above shows the Development module and the tools on the right hand side that are used in Global and Local adjustments.

The Development module has been designed like an artist’s canvas and provides the tools that can be used for image enhancement (I refer to enhancement rather than manipulation because Lightroom never actually changes anything to the underlying content, whereas Photoshop is clearly a manipulation tool). It's important to explain the difference between image enhancement and image manipulation. Image manipulation on an image is usually done with Lightroom's big brother Photoshop and is hugely flexible when it comes to changing elements within an image or including new images into an existing scene, i.e. removing things from the picture and replacing with other elements from different pictures. Image enhancement is really similar to what you are able to achieve in the traditional darkroom - improving an image but not fundamentally changing its structure. The structure of the final image is never really compromised when using Lightroom: it may be that blemishes and other artefacts need to be removed, but never introduced from another picture.

The Development module has some very powerful tools and will work with many camera formats (from RAW to JPG, TIFF and other standards). The tools that exist can help you to create your vision for the photograph, but will also enable you to be highly creative with the picture in hand. Lightroom also enables some simple video enhancement as well.

From a Development point of view, Lightroom is able to work on an image in two modes:

  1. To alter the standard "global" elements of the image, from Exposure, recover highlights and shadows, convert to Black and White, sharpening, plus many other options.
  2. Lightroom introduces the powerful local adjustments panel, which allows you to paint your enhancements into the picture in defined selected areas, i.e. you may want to add more dimension or shape a model's face with a dodging and burning tool (to create an image with more impact). You can paint this adjustment in and create an effect that is easily removed or changed, at any point in time.

3. Map

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The picture above shows the Map module inside Lightroom, as you can see the map already has some pictures tagged, and will show those pictures in a pop-up window – in this case near Albuquerque, USA.

A different way to look and work with your pictures is by the location where they were taken. If you are lucky enough to have a camera with a GPS receiver or an GPS adapter, then the picture will be placed onto the map automatically (when you enter the Map module). The Map module requires an internet connection to work, as it is powered by Google Maps. The GPS data is part of the Metadata that exists inside Lightroom and will created automatically when GPS tagged images are imported into Lightroom. You can also manually enter the GPS data or by collecting GPS data from another GPS enabled device (like a smartphone or GPS receiver). Lightroom will also try to fetch more location data about the picture using the GPS co-ordinates if you would like it to, but can be turned off when required. This won't have an impact on your connection performance, as the amount of traffic generated is negligible. This query to the Google Map engine will find the date and will fill in the blanks for you; collecting the town (sub-location), state/province, country, country code etc, location, as well as other elements.

For the more advanced user, Lightroom also supports GPX track log data, which means that you will be able to see the route you took when taking the photographs and therefore re-trace your steps when required.

4. Books

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Books screen in Lightroom 5 – this book-making option has been provided within Lightroom due to a partnership with Blurb.

Adobe has partnered with a company called Blurb to enable book-making from within Lightroom. This module is part of the photographer's workflow and is integrated into the Development module, as well as the Library module. Creation of books inside Lightroom does not require any other special software to be downloaded, just an internet connection when you want to send books to Blurb for printing within Lightroom. Blurb is renowned for printing high quality ad-hoc books (from one copy to many), however, you can also create a high-res PDF or high-res JPG renditions of your pages.

The benefit of having an in-built module is that any changes that are made in the Development module are subsequently reflected in the book, where ever the image is used either in the book you are making or may have made previously. Once your book has been designed, it can than be sent to Blurb (via your internet connection) for printing (via a button within the Book module), which can then be accessed and viewed and print by others (if required).

5. Slideshow

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Slideshow module in Lightroom 5 can quickly create a slideshow for those who wish to save time instead of producing presentations of images and video manually.

Sometimes you want to show your work to an audience and want to create it based up on the images and videos in your Lightroom Library, as well as including some music. Creating a slideshow manually can take a long time with other products, so having the ability for Lightroom to create it from your selection, as well as your developed work, is a great feature and is used regularly by many different people (from beginners to professionals).

6. Web

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Web module in Lightroom 5 helps you to create a page or website from a template, or lets you publish your work on your website or to an ftp.

Lightroom can help you publish your work to your website, ftp or create a page/site from a template. You can browse through a variety of flash-based or HTML templates and drop your shots into them. You can then personalise your gallery and let Lightroom generate all the source files you’ll need to place it online.

7. Print

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Print module in Lightroom 5 is very straightforward and also allows for soft proofing so you can review and adjust before printing.

The Print module in Lightroom is super-simple and will enable you to print your pictures on your printer with your choice of paper. Lightroom also supports a soft proof mechanism that will allow you to look at your picture before it's printed, to make sure it looks right and you don't waste materials. The Print module makes it super easy to print within a calibrated workflow and makes sure that your prints are of the highest quality.

Canon’s Print Studio Pro plug-in integrates seamlessly with Adobe Lightroom and provides the perfect workflow link between your image and the finished printed product. This unique software is designed specifically for Canon PIXMA Professional Photo printers and lets you achieve expert quality photo prints with ease.


Lightroom catalog

The Lightroom catalog is used to store a link to the actual photos or videos (and not the image itself). Any adjustments that you make in the Development module are stored there, as well as keywords and other technical information and thumbnails. The Catalog is an underlying component that makes Lightroom so powerful. You will need to import any files into the Catalog via Lightroom.

As part of your workflow you may need to create many catalogs. Some of the most common reasons for this are:

  • Wanting to split paid jobs and personal portfolios.
  • Having specific images inside different catalogs for content separation (i.e. Holidays, Portfolio, Landscapes etc).
  • Final work and work in progress in different catalogs.

So, it's always a good idea to know how to create a new one.

Creating a new catalog

You can create a new catalog using the menu system and selecting ‘File/New Catalog’. Lightroom will then ask you where you would like to put the catalog… I would suggest that the catalog resides on your local computer's hard disk, as this will enable the best performance (if the Catalog is placed on an external disk or somewhere else on your network you may not achieve fully optimised results). Once you have chosen a place for your catalog, then you can give it an appropriate name and press ‘Create’.

Importing your pictures & videos

If you have created a new catalog or are adding pictures to an existing catalog, the import module of Lightroom is something that will used many times. For a step-by-step guide to importing pictures and videos into Lightroom just click on the headings below OR click on the play button in the film window at the top of this page. In the film Adobe UK's Richard Curtis explains how to import your first photographs using Lightroom 5.

Importing your pictures & videos in Lightroom

Assuming that you have just created a new catalog or are adding pictures to an existing catalog, the import module is something that will be used over and over again. You may import many different types of images into Lightroom, including JPGs, PSDs, TIFFs etc. Lightroom has been designed from the ground up to support the RAW format and the RAW workflow. The RAW file is the most flexible format to create beautiful images from. There are many different types of RAW files and most camera manufacturers have their own format (Canon’s is .CR2). Adobe also has a format called the Digital Negative (DNG). For a list of all supported cameras and RAW formats with Lightroom as well as Adobe Camera RAW then please navigate to this page. The following picture shows the Import interface of Lightroom.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Import interface of Lightroom – note the source folder on the left hand side.

The best way I have found to navigate the Lightroom panels is by working from left to right and in a clock-wise direction.

You can see from the screen shot above, that the source folder is on the left hand side. The source is used to import the pictures into Lightroom. You should select the folder that you wish to bring pictures in from. Sometimes, you may not see all of your pictures, even though they are on the card or the drive. To resolve this, there is an ‘Include Sub Folders’ flag under the ‘Select source’ (if no source is selected) or click on the combo box at the top left of the screen marked ‘EOS_DIGITAL’ (to the left of the big black arrow). If this does not have a tick by the side of it then the sub-folder won't be displayed, so click the ‘Include Sub Folders’ to display them.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

You need to choose your source in order to see all of your pictures – in this case the combo box EOS_DIGITAL.

At the top of the Import panel you will see the ‘Copy as DNG’, ‘Copy’, ‘Move’ and ‘Add’ options. These are controls for how Lightroom will import your pictures and videos. If you are importing from a memory card and card reader, it is more than likely that this will be set to ‘Copy’, and is that one that you need. The other options are for importing with more control. They are:

  • Copy a DNG will copy the native camera RAW file (i.e. Canon .CR2) from its native format and convert to the open Adobe DNG format.
  • Copy will copy the files from the source to the destination.
  • Move will move the files from the source into the chosen destination and delete the files from the source.
  • Add will not copy or do anything to the pictures or videos, it will just tell Lightroom where they are.

Selecting pictures and videos to import

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The ‘Check All’ and ‘Uncheck All’ options in Lightroom.

The pictures and videos that Lightroom is able to find are displayed in the middle part of the screen. Those pictures with a tick in the check box will be included as part of the import process. All content can be selected (‘Check All’), or none (‘Uncheck All’), or a selection of them from the filmstrip at the bottom of the screen. Also, the order of the content that Lightroom is displaying can be changed in the ‘Sort’ selector placed in the bottom right of this window, as well as the ‘Thumbnail’ size.

Options to be applied as part of the Import

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The options available on the right hand side of the Import screen let you customise how Lightroom will import your content.

On the right hand side of the Import screen is where you are able to customise how Lightroom will import your content – via ‘Build Previews’, ‘Build Smart Previews’, ‘Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates’ and ‘Make a Second Copy To’. These are explained below...

Build Previews

The ‘Build Previews’ option will create a larger image than just the small thumbnail that the Lightroom Library will display. These previews are handy for later and when we move to the Development module. However, making a lot of previews may have an affect on the size of your Lightroom catalog, but should not affect the performance of Lightroom when editing your work.

Build Smart Previews

This option will build a preview that can be used instead of the real image file; it is useful when Lightroom is not able to find the original file. This can be handy when travelling and using Lightroom to work on your pictures (I use this when I am on planes or trains and in a car). The files that are created are stored next to the Lightroom catalog in a special format and will not take up a huge amount of space (when compared to the original). There are controls within Lightroom to manage these files (i.e ‘Build and remove’, so is not a requirement to always build them here). My feeling is that they should be used when required and not all of the time, as it may increase the size of your catalog contents unnecessarily.

Don't Import Suspected Duplicates

Lightroom has the ability to make sure that duplicate images are not imported into the catalog. This check box, when turned on, will enable this feature.

Make a Second Copy To

As photographers we are always protective over our content. This option will instruct Lightroom to back up your pictures whilst it is importing. This is handy for whilst you may be away on your travels, in the studio or at home, and can help you to organise your data, just in case anything accidentally happens to your master collection. Also, Lightroom has a backup option: this is designed to backup your catalog only and not your pictures, so this is something you will need to manage.

File renaming

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The ‘Rename Files’ lets you change the name of a file and later the extension, if required.

Sometimes you may want to rename the files when they are imported, so that you can recognise them.

By enabling the ‘Rename Files’ tick box, you can change the name of the files to be something that suits your workflow. There are templates that you can select, or you can create your own.

Apply During Import

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The ‘Apply During Import’ option applies a standard behaviour to your still images or videos when they are imported into Lightroom.

The ‘Apply During Import’ option enables you to apply a standard and consistent behaviour when importing your pictures and videos.

Develop Settings

Lightroom has a concept of presets within the Development module. These presets can give your pictures or videos a certain look and feel (i.e. Black and White, Highly Saturated, Grainy - like the old film days) and create consistency across your pictures. Presets can be made in Lightroom, purchased, or there are also some free downloads from the internet. Develop settings/presets are non-destructive and will not harm your photograph - they can be removed at any time in the future using Lightroom. I would recommend choosing ‘None’ here (at least for your first import), then you are able to see your pictures as they were taken from inside the camera before any adjustments are applied to them.

Metadata preset option

Typically you would like to get credit for your pictures if they are shared or used online. Having content in the Metadata preset (i.e. your name, website address and copyright information) will enable people to know where the picture came from. You will need to create your own, but you can do this from this option. The chosen preset will stay in the Lightroom Metadata option until it is changed (this will help you to not forget to apply it on every import).


Keywords are an important part of the workflow and will really add more context to your catalog. They will not only remind you where you took the image or video, but also enable you to find them later. One tip here is that when importing your data the keywords should relate to the whole import, rather than just one or two of the images. You can add specific keywords to the images later, once they have been imported.


© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Destination option allows you to choose where to place your work during the import process – an external hard drive is recommended.

You can specify where the pictures and video will be placed during the import process. This is where Lightroom will be able to find the each piece of work when you move into the Development module. I would suggest that this is an external hard drive, or somewhere on your network, but that is not to say that it won't work on your computer’s hard disk (you may run out of space at some point, if working with large RAW files though).

The Plus sign at the top of the picture above will enable you to create a custom folder in the destination - a right click on anywhere on the folder will also enable you to do the same thing.


© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Click on the Import button to import your work from source to destination.

The final stage is to actually import the pictures from the source to the destination, and applying the options in the process.

Biography: Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis is a Principal Solutions Consultant at Adobe UK with a focus on Digital Imaging. Richard is the UK contact for Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements and Imaging workflows around the Creative Cloud. He is a keen technologist and has been a keen photographer for over 20 years, with a focus on travel and portrait photography.


The Library screen in Lightroom 5. Amongst its features Library lets you gather files from multiple sources and find content via keywords.