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How to Auto-Import Photos From a Networked Folder in Lightroom (Great for Teams)

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Networks are great for collaboration, and with common shared digital space photographers and their teams can work together even at a physical distance.

In this tutorial, you'll see a technique for collaboration with for Lightroom Classic based on shared, watched folders that automatically import new photos to a Lightroom catalog from across a local network (and beyond).

Why Create a Watched Folder in Lightroom

Photographers and assistants, first and second photographers on a wedding, portrait photographers in a studio and shared retoucher: If you work with a team, it helps to have one streamlined place to look to as the source for new files. With the help of Lightroom's Auto Import feature, you can automatically watch a folder for new images, and add them to your catalog.

However, Lightroom's Auto Import feature doesn't natively work with network drives—you'll get an error message if you try to point the built-in Auto Import to a network watched folder. Instead, we're going to use Jeffrey's Folder Watch Lightroom Plugin. It accomplishes the task and isn't hindered by Adobe's built-in network limit.

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Lightroom's Auto Import feature doesn't work with network folders, but have no fear: there's a plugin that helps us work around it!

Where to Store Lightroom Catalogs

Here's an important note: Lightroom Catalogs can't open from a network path. Lightroom simply writes too many changes to the database while working in the app to play nicely with network drives. So the Lightroom catalogs "lock" when opened to avoid sharing issues that wouldn't work well with shared drives; this helps avoid conflicts.

Another option, though, is to store your Lightroom Catalog in a cloud service like Dropbox. With Dropbox, you have a local folder that's also synced to the cloud. Make sure you keep your catalog synced locally (don't let Dropbox offload it to the cloud) and to pause syncing when working in Lightroom.

How to Create a Watched Folder in Adobe Lightroom

Let's set up a watched folder so that Lightroom watches a folder and automatically adds new images to a Lightroom Catalog.

1. Download the Folder Watch Plugin

Jeffrey Friedl has created an impressive set of Lightroom plugins that extend Lightroom's functionality. In this tutorial, we'll use the Folder Watch Lightroom Plugin. It does the same thing as Adobe's feature, but unlocks the ability to use network paths.

Jump to the Jeffrey's Folder Watch Lightroom Plugin page, then click on the orange link to download the latest version of the plugin.

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Download the Folder Watch Lightroom plugin to unlock network drive auto importing.

This plugin is free to use for six weeks, and continues offering some functionality thereafter. I highly recommend making a donation to support Jeffrey's work. It's licensed under a "pay what you want" donationware model, and the plugins are well worth it.

2. Install the Plugin

After you download the plugin, you'll find a zip file. Double-click it to extract it, and you'll find a file labeled folder-watch-jfiredl.lrplugin. Move it somewhere safe, like in a folder next to your Lightroom catalog.

Now, let's install the plugin in Adobe Lightroom. Switch to the app, then browse to the File > Plug-in Manager window. Then, click Add in the lower-left corner.

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Use the Plug-in Manager, then click Add to browse to the newly downloaded .lrplugin file.

Finally, find where you saved the .lrplugin file and select it. Click Add Plug-in and it's now installed. 

3. Create A Shared Folder

Now, let's set a folder to watch. In my case, I have a network-attached storage (NAS) location that connects to my network. Think of this as an external hard drive, plugged directly into a wireless router. Anyone on my network can access this location, so it's ideal for teamwork.

For this tutorial, I created a new folder called Photo Dropoff. Share this path with your collaborators as the place to upload photos.

Not working on the same local network? That's okay too. This is another scenario where a shared cloud folder like a Sparkleshare or Dropbox share can bridge the gap. The important part is that your images sync to a folder that everyone can access.

4. Configure the Plugin

If you closed the plug-in manager earlier, return to it with the File > Plug-in Manager menu option. Let's set a few options.

First, the most important setting is to update the Folder(s) to watch. Click Browse, then point the plugin to the folder you set up.

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Use the Browse option to show the plugin your watched folder.

Most other options here are optional. Here are a few additional settings you might want to change:

  • Frequency to check: I typically set this to every minute or so, so a setting like 60 seconds. It's a good balance between monitoring a folder and not using too many system resources.
  • Filenames to consider: if your team works with mixed formats, switching this to any importable image is a great way to avoid adding video files to Lightroom if it's not your primary tool for video. 
  • Move file to: this is a helpful setting if you want to move files. I typically will turn this on, then set up a local folder on the computer running Lightroom. 

Finally, before you leave this menu, make sure to check the box labeled Enable Scan. This is an important setting that maintains the auto-import even after you close the plug-in manager.

That's it! With these basic settings, your Lightroom catalog now automatically adds any new photos from a network watched folder.

5. Optional: Apply Import Settings

As you import images, you might want to apply some basic adjustments or metadata. This saves time and work by automating settings like metadata.

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In the Upon import settings, you can choose one of your Develop presets to apply to each imported image.

Here are a few ideas for smart "Upon import" settings:

  • Apply metadata preset: metadata is the list of text-based fields that you can apply to images t odescribe them, and this feature can automate adding metadata to images on import. 
  • Add keyword: I like to know what images are brought in using the Auto Import feature so that I don't miss the images or misattribute them. Using a specific keyword, it's easier to tag auto imported images.
  • Build Smart Preview: one of my favorite Lightroom features, Smart Previews help you keep working on files even when disconnected from the original file.

One-Click Options for Creative Lightroom Looks

When I started using Adobe Lightroom, I remember feeling a bit lost while working in the Develop module. There are so many sliders and settings that it's hard to know where to start.

The solution is to get some help in the form of Adobe Lightroom presets. With one click, your images take on the visual styles crafted by other photographers and editors. You'll see the sliders move and instantly, your images are transformed.

The best source for Adobe Lightroom presets is Envato Elements. The all-you-can-download creative library is carefully quality controlled with the very best presets. Each preset styles your image differently.

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With the help of Envato Elements, you can use presets to learn how to edit your images.

When you use Lightroom presets, you borrow the best styles from other talented editors. You can even use them to train yourself to study the way that Develop sliders shape the look and feel of your images.

See selections of our favorite Adobe Lightroom presets in these articles:

More Adobe Lightroom Resources to Master The App

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