Adobe Lightroom 3 First Steps: How to Add Your Existing Images to a New Catalog

by Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen on June 14, 2011

You’ve just installed Adobe Lightroom 3 and started it up for the first time. Now you’re staring at a pretty much empty screen. What do you do first?

As with any new software, Adobe Lightroom 3 can be intimidating for beginners. In this series of articles, I’ll walk you through the basics.

For most new Lightroom users, the first question will be, “How do I get the photos that are already on my computer into Lightroom?” The answer depends on how you’ve been managing your images prior to Lightroom.

I’ll assume that you’ve never given much thought to image management before. You have probably been moving newly captured images from your camera’s CF or SD card into folders on your computer, but you haven’t spent much time giving them star ratings, color labels or keywords.

For those of you who have been using other software such as Adobe Bridge or Photoshop Elements to more meticulously organize your photos, Lightroom 3 does a good job of preserving your work. More on this in a future article.

This is part 1 of my series on Lightroom basics. Read the other articles here: Adobe Lightroom 3 Basics.

If you don’t want to miss a thing, subscribe to PhotoCitizen. It’s free.

Basic Lightroom Concepts: Catalogs & Previews

Before we dive into the nuts and bolts, let’s discuss a few important Lightroom organizational concepts.

Most importantly, Lightroom keeps track of your images by using its own internal database called a catalog. Everything Lightroom knows about your images is stored in its catalog: things like metadata from your camera, metadata that you have added such as keywords and captions and the location of your images on your computer are all filed away in the catalog.

Secondly, Lightroom creates Previews of each image. These are small copies of your images that are used to speed up image organization and editing. Lightroom doesn’t need to create thumbnails every time you access a folder like Bridge does – it simply shows you the preview it has already created and stored.

Using catalogs and previews, Lightroom makes image management fast. You can even manage images from an external hard drive that is no longer connected to your computer. Try doing that with Bridge.

There is much more to Lightroom catalogs and previews which I’ll cover in future articles.

Lightroom 3 Window Layout

When you first open Lightroom, you’ll be greeted by a screen which is mostly blank. Before we add our images, let’s review a few important aspects of this first screen:

Adobe Lightroom 3 First Steps - Library module layout

Library Layout

  • The Image Display Area in the center of the screen is where your thumbnails or full-sized images will be displayed – once you add some to Lightroom.
  • Surrounding the Image Display Area are four Panels:
    • The top panel consists of the title on the left – or, in Adobe speak, the Identity Plate which says “Lightroom 3” by default – and the Module Picker on the right. We’ll only be using the Library module in this article. The others – Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web – will be covered later.
    • On the bottom of the screen is the Filmstrip which will display image thumbnails once we add some images.
    • On the left and right are the panels where most of your work in Lightroom will be done. Each of these contains several sub-panels and, at the bottom, a couple of buttons.
Adobe Lightroom 3 Lesson - two panels closed

Closed Panels

If you don’t see all four panels, you may have accidentally closed one. The simplest way to re-open a panel is to click on the little gray arrow next to the panel.

It’s easy to inadvertently click on one of these arrows and close a panel when you didn’t mean to, so until you get the hang of it, you’ll probably be using these arrows frequently. In a future article, I’ll explain a few more advanced ways to control the panels to alleviate this problem.

This theme with a display area surrounded by collapsible panels is used throughout Lighroom, so you’ll get used to it quickly.

Adding Existing Images to Lightroom

The first thing we need to do in Lightroom is to add some images. Let’s add some of our old images that are already on our computer.

Eventually, you’ll want to add all of your images, but let’s add just a few now for practice. It’s a good idea to work on images you can afford to lose, just in case you accidentally delete them while learning to use Lightroom.

Open the Import Window

    1. Click the Import button in the lower left of the screen.
Lightroom 3 - Add images old images to the catalog

Import Window

    1. The Import Window opens. You’ll recognize the familiar Lightroom layout with a center image display area surrounded by panels.
    2. In the top panel, you’ll notice that the word Copy is highlighted. Since we don’t want to make new copies of our existing images, start by clicking the word Add to highlight it. This way, Lightroom will leave the images in their current location and simply add them to its catalog without creating new copies.

Choose Your Source Folder

Adobe Lightroom 3 Basics - twirl open a folder

Twirl Open

    1. In the left-hand panel under Source, all of the drives connected to your computer are shown. This is where you’ll tell Lightroom the location of your photos.
        1. You’ll probably only see one or two hard drives listed here as opposed to the seven that are part of my computer.
        2. The Source panel will also show any CD or DVD drives that have a disc in them and any media readers that have an SD or CF card inserted. In my example, I haven’t inserted and discs or cards, so none of these are shown.
      Lightroom 3 basics - include subfolders

      Include Subfolders

      1. To open the hard drive and view its folders, click on the black right-facing arrow to “twirl open” the drive. Then navigate to a folder of images you’d like to add to Lightroom. For this exercise, let’s speed things up by selecting a folder containing only a few images.
      2. Once you choose a folder, Lightroom will display thumbnails of the images it finds. If the folder contains other folders which you’d like to include in the catalog, be sure to place a checkmark next to Include Subfolders. Otherwise the subfolders will be ignored.

      Import Your Photos

Lightroom 3 import - Check Marks

Check Marks

    1. Now look at the center image display area. You’ll notice that all of the thumbnails include a checkmark. The marked images are those that will be imported. If there are some images that you don’t want to add, click the thumbnail to remove the checkmark. For now, I’d suggest leaving this alone and importing all the images in the selected folder.
Lightroom 3 import window - Standard Previews

Standard Previews

    1. In the right-hand panel, you’ll see a couple of sub-panels labeled File Handling and Apply During Import. These are for more advanced users, so we’ll only make one change here.
      1. Under File Handling, click on the double-headed arrow to the right of “Render Previews 1:1” to open the dropdown menu. Then choose “Standard.”
    2. Now, click the Import button in the bottom right of the screen to begin adding the images to Lightroom’s catalog.

Importing Images and Rendering Previews

  1. A Progress Bar is displayed in the upper right part of your screen while Lightroom processes your images in two passes:
    Lightroom 3 imports - progress bars

    Progress Bar

    1. First, Lightroom will import the images. This is where it reads the metadata and creates a basic thumbnail.
    2. Next, it will create Previews. In our case, it will render standard-sized previews since that’s the option we chose under File Handling.
  2. If you’ve made a mistake and want to cancel the import, click the small X at the right side of the progress bar.
  3. Once Lightroom finishes the import and rendering process, the Import window will close and the previously blank screen will be filled with images.

Next Steps

Now that you have some images in Lightroom, what can you do with them?

Lightroom 3 Module Picker

Module Picker

In my next article, I’ll cover the basics of image processing in Lightroom using the Develop module. For now, choose an image and click on the word Develop in the Module Picker and have some fun playing with all the controls there.

Don’t worry about damaging your image: Lightroom uses non-destructive editing which means the original pixels are never changed. You can hit the Reset button near the Develop module’s bottom right corner to remove all of your changes and start over.

You won’t find any Save or Save As features in Lightroom. You don’t need to save your work – Lightroom instantly remembers everything you do.


Here are a few books that will help you to get started and, eventually, master Lightroom 3. Click on the title to learn more.

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book:
The Complete Guide for Photographers
by Martin Evening
The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book
for Digital Photographers (Voices That Matter)

by Scott Kelby
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3
Classroom in a Book
by the Adobe Creative Team

Support PhotoCitizen. When you buy a book – or anything else – after clicking one of the links on this page, it helps pay the bills here at PhotoCitizen HQ at no cost to you. Thanks.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: