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Successfully Copy Photos from Your Memory Card to your Computer

Before you can begin editing your photos you need to get them safely off your camera and onto your computer. Unfortunately this process is often hijacked by (well-meaning if misguided) software which purports to do the work for you but leaves you wondering just where your photos really are! So, to help you understand your options for getting your photos onto your computer, here’s what I recommend.

First of all: Take Charge!

The first thing to understand about getting photos from your camera card or camera onto your computer is that you’re in charge. Any application that opens and tries to grab your photos for you can be closed down. If it is not the application you want to use then do just that – close it.

Now you can take charge and manage the process in a way that makes sense for you.

Choose your application

If you’re using Photoshop then you can use Bridge to import your photos. If you are using Lightroom then you can launch Lightroom and import your photos using it. If you don’t have either program, or if you prefer to manage the process yourself, you can do so using Finder on the Mac or Windows Explorer on a PC. I’ll cover this process first, then look at Bridge and Lightroom.

Importing using Finder or Windows Explorer

import-photos-using-Windows-1When attached to your computer, a camera or memory card works like any drive, so you can view its contents. You can also copy photos from the memory card onto your computer’s hard drive manually using Explorer or Finder.

On a PC, if the AutoPlay dialog appears when you insert your camera card or attach your camera, choose the Open Folder to View Files option.

If the dialog doesn’t appear, simply launch Windows Explorer and select the drive that represents your camera or memory card.

Navigate to the folder that contains your photos – there may be multiple folders depending on how your camera stores images on the card. You can select the photos, then drag and drop them to the folder of your choice. It’s often easier if you first open the target folder in a second Windows Explorer window so you can drag from one to the other.


The process is similar using Finder on the Mac. If iPhoto launches – stop it from downloading any photos and close it. Then you can drag photos from your camera card open in one Finder window, to a folder of your choice open in a second window.


Importing Photos using Bridge

If you are using Photoshop, launch Adobe Bridge and choose File > Get Photos from Camera. Click the button to open the Advanced Dialog.


From the “Get Photos from” drop down list select the drive letter that corresponds to your camera or card.


You can now see and select the photos to import. This is one benefit of using Bridge over Windows Explorer – you will see thumbnail images of your raw files so you can see what you are importing.

On the right of the dialog select the folder in which to place the images. Typically this will be inside your My Pictures folder on your computer but you can choose any location that makes sense to you. However, if you want to find your photos later, on it is essential that you pay attention to the choices you make here.

import-photos-using-bridge-3Once you have selected the folder to import the images into, you can, if desired, select a subfolder. In this way you can group photos by shoot, date or something that makes sense to you.  Bridge will create the folder for you if it doesn’t exist, so choose an option from the Create Subfolder(s) list and, if required, type a name for it or choose the date to use – either the capture date or today’s date. If you don’t want to organize photos in a subfolder then click None.

import-photos-using-bridge-4You can also select to rename files on import, or not. Choose Do not rename files if you don’t want them renamed or alternatively select a naming convention from the list.

If you have advanced naming requirements for which the dialog does not provide an appropriate choice, scroll to the bottom of the list and click Advanced Rename to open the Advanced Rename dialog where you can create quite complex naming conventions. Whatever choice you make check the entry just below the dialog where Bridge shows you an example of the naming convention in place so you can check to see if it is what you want.


In the Advanced Options area you can choose other options including Convert to DNG – which is handy if your camera captures in a manufacturer specific format such as CRW, NEF, PEF and so on, but you prefer to work with DNG files. Select this option and Bridge will do the conversion for you.

You can also select Delete Original Files although this is not recommended. It’s best to make sure that the images are correctly copied onto your computer before the originals are deleted so I suggest you leave this option disabled.

Bridge offers a backup option so it will make a copy of your photos on import. To do this, click the “Save Copies To:” checkbox and select an alternate location (such as an external drive) in which to save a copy of your photos.


If you have a metadata template already created you can select this from the Apply Metadata drop down list.

In future you can create such a metadata template in Bridge by selecting Tools > Create Metadata Template. I suggest that you complete the IPTC Core Data for Creator as well as Copyright Notice, Copyright Status and Rights Usage Terms. Also complete the Type Of Source entry in the IPTC Extension group. When completed this will give you a good all round metadata preset to apply to all your images. For more information on IPTC Copyright Metadata check out this article: Lightroom: Add your IPTC metadata on Import.


When you have your import settings selected and configured to meet your needs click Get Media to import the images.


You will see a dialog showing you the progress of the import process.


Importing Photos using Lightroom

If you’re using Lightroom then it is the obvious choice for managing the process of importing photos from your camera or memory card. From the Library module click Import, then select the source in the top left corner of the Import dialog.


Across the top of the screen you will see only two choices, Copy as DNG and Copy. This reflects the fact that you’re importing images from a camera card or camera – the options Move and Add are not available for this process (if you do see Move and Add as available options, it appears that Lightroom isn’t recognizing your camera or camera card correctly and even though they may be available you should not use either of these choices).


Next, open the File Handling panel on the right of the screen and select the kind of preview to create – Standard is a good choice. You can choose Build Smart Previews or not (if you’re unsure, check Build Smart Previews).

Checking Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates will ensure that Lightroom doesn’t import images again, that you’ve already previously imported. This is one feature available in Lightroom which is not also available in Bridge.

In Lightroom you can also choose to make a backup by making a second copy of your photos to an alternate location as you import them.


File Renaming panel allows you to rename images on import – you can select from a range of naming templates and even create your own. Here I’ve chosen to use the Custom Name – Sequence template so I’ve typed the Custom name and the sequence is set to start at 1:


The Apply During Import panel has an option for applying metadata to the image upon import. Unlike Bridge the drop down list for Metadata presets also includes an option New which you can use to create your own metadata preset. I suggest you complete the IPTC Copyright and IPTC Creator details, and in the IPTC Extension Administrative select Original digital capture from a real live scene from the Digital Source Type drop down list. Type a name for the preset and from the Present drop down list click Save current settings as new preset.


In the Destination panel you’ll need to select the location into which the images are to be copied. If you’re copying them to your hard drive then typically you’ll select your C drive, then your My Pictures folder which should be in your Users area.

If you save your images to an external drive then select the external drive and the folder into which the images should be imported.

If the folder does not exist you can create a subfolder on import by selecting the Into Subfolder checkbox and type a name for the folder that Lightroom should create to import the images into.


From the Organize drop down list you can select to put the images into this folder (Into one Folder) or to organize them by date. Whichever choice you make you can see a preview of what’s going to happen in the folder list, allowing you to check and make sure that everything is going to be imported and arranged to your requirements before you go ahead and complete the import process.


When you’re ready to import the images click Import.

Whatever process you choose to use for getting images off your camera card onto your computer the acid test for whether it is a good system or not will be if you can find your images later on. Also be aware that it’s advisable to make a backup copy of your images in case your computer is stolen, damaged or your hard disk crashes. For this reason a backup on a removable external drive is a sensible choice.

Having an import routine that you understand, and can reliably execute, is a necessary first step for any photographer. The worst possible scenario is to have copied your images from your camera card to your computer and erased them from your card, only to discover that you cannot find the images. It’s a scenario that way too many users have encountered – don’t let it happen to you!

Find a video version of this blog post here:

Do you have any other copy and import tips? Please share in the comments below.

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Helen Bradley
Helen Bradley

is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

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