If there’s one thing that digital photography has changed, for better or worse, it’s our ability to shoot and to manage much larger numbers of images. Fortunately, the photographic software industry has responded to that need and turned out programs like Lightroom and Aperture that act half as a Digital Image management programs and half as a processing and development programs. In this article, I want to look at some import workflow strategies in Lightroom and their pros and cons.
Since Lightroom 3, the import dialog had made it practical to edit your images before you even import a single image. The import dialog has a fully functional loupe view, with controllable magnification, including the ability to do 1:1 zoom. It also shares many of the same keyboard shortcuts that the library module uses, so it’s familiar enough to work in.
The question is when is it better to make a first edit pass in the import dialog instead of doing everything after the images have been imported?
A number of factors play into the answering this question. Are you in a hurry? Do you need to archive everything you shot or just grab a few images and quickly turn them around for a client? Are you working on a sizeable workstation, or on a laptop in the field? Will you be importing multiple times from the same card without formatting in between?
Selectively importing images has some real advantages. Downloading fewer images requires less space, building the previews requires less CPU time and therefore less power, and all told requires less time. These area all good things if you’re working on a laptop in the field, especially if you’re working on its battery.
Editing in the Import Dialog
Surprisingly, the import dialog is well equipped to edit images. There is a loupe view that performs similarly to the loupe view in the Library module. It has enough resolution, to allow one to check focus, depth of field and sharpness, at least to some degree. However, the import dialog has a major caveat, you’re looking at the camera generated preview image not Lightroom’s RAW conversion; your sharpening and noise reduction settings aren’t visible until after you’ve imported images and generated their previews.
That said the import dialog’s loupe and grid views are sufficient to detect serious issues in exposure and focus, as well as the real glaring problems like accidental exposures and major exposure errors.
One huge factor that facilitates editing in the import dialog is that it uses many of the same keyboard shortcuts—or at least they behave similarly enough—as the library module. If you’re familiar with Lightroom’s flagging system, that is flagging picks and rejects, then you’ll be right at home selecting and unselecting images in the Import dialog.
In the Library module, the two main keyboard shortcuts for flagging picks and rejects are the ‘P’ and ‘X’ keys respectively. In the Import Dialog, those two keys perform similar functions. Pressing ‘X’ will uncheck an image, removing it from the import set, and pressing ‘P’ will check an image adding it to the import set.
Additionally, the import dialog supports auto advance, the mode where Lightroom selects the next image after an operations—such as flagging, tagging, keywording, rating or labeling—is performed on an image. There are two ways of enabling auto advance in the import dialog, and they mirror the library module in that respect.
Holding shift will pressing the pick or reject shortcut keys will temporarily enable auto advance as long as the shift key is held down. Alternatively, auto advance can be toggled by changing the state of caps lock. When caps lock is on, Lightroom will auto advance; when caps lock is off, Lightroom won’t auto advance.
What I do
Okay, so having written all this about editing in the import dialog, I have to admit I hardly do it. For the most part that all simply comes down to how my work is structured. I don’t have a laptop anymore, so the only machine I do work on anyway is the machine I archive all my images on as well. When I shoot in the field, I just bring back a load of cards with pictures on them. Likewise, when I’m working on something in the studio, either I shoot tethered or I iterate fast enough that it takes longer to select an image or two than it does to dump the handful of new images and go from there.
In fact, about the only time I manually change what Lightroom will import is when I have a card with mixed still and video content, and I don’t want Lightroom to download the video content since I generally have to manage it separately anyway.
All that said, just because I don’t use the editing capabilities in the import dialog doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t too. Half of a good workflow is finding what works best for you.