Downloading images from multiple memory cards into Lightroom

Here’s something that I find incredibly useful on about a third of my shoots – ones where I’ve shot a massive amount of images – and that’s the ability to download images from a selection of cards all in one go into Lightroom.

Downloading from Multiple cards
The number of cards you can download from at once is only really limited by how many card readers you’ve got, and how many USB slots you’ve got!

First off, why is this useful?  Well, if I’ve shot more than one card’s worth of images, I would need to keep coming back to Lightroom after each card had finished, and start the next one.  Depending on how much I’ve shot, this can become quite tiresome.  At some events in recent years I’ve come home with half a dozen, 16 or 32GB cards, all of which need downloading into Lightroom to be processed.  By downloading all of them at once, I can set everything up, and then go off and do something more pleasant and productive, such as having my dinner.  Or sending out the invoice.

Downloading multiple cards into Lightroom
More expensive methods are available, (see below) but a card reader with more than one slot works just as well.

Besides all the cards you’ve shot, the next thing you’ll need is a card reader for each card, or failing that, a slot for each card on a multiple card reader.  I can’t speak for every card reader out there (obviously) but my little Transcend USB 3.0 one you see in the picture above, which cost less than £20 several years ago, has slots for CF, SD, Micro SD and others, and Lightroom recognises all of them at once.  It may be that the only limiting factor is the number of USB ports on your computer, particularly if it’s a laptop.  Mine only has 2!  If the number of ports available is a problem, or you’re just feeling flush, there is another solution – the Lexar Workflow HR1:

Lexar Workflow HR1
Lexar Workflow HR1 – Empty

I bought mine a couple of years ago, and after a couple of teething problems, it’s become a very useful tool indeed.  Essentially it’s a housing for multiple card readers, and Lexar sell readers for CF, SD, and for those of us freaks who use Nikon D4 and D5’s, XD (thanks for that by the way Nikon, I love having to buy a whole extra set of readers to satisfy the whim of some mad designer in Tokyo with shares in Sony….)  You can fit the housing out with any combination of readers – I use 2 x CF, 1 x SD, and 1 x XD.

Lexar Workflow HR 1 - Full
Workflow with cards inserted.

The readers also function as standalone readers, so you can use them individually:

Workflow HR1 Reader
Standalone HR1 reader

The HR1 costs just over £100 (or it did when I bought it, they’re now about half that) and the readers are about £30, but as always, it’s worth a quick search to find cheaper ones.  I mentioned teething problems earlier, and the only real problem I’ve had with it, is that it’s not quite “plug and play”.  It comes with a power supply, and in my experience it works best if you load all the cards in, then plug in the power supply, then plug the whole lot into the USB on the computer.  Variations on this method don’t seem to work too well.  Each reader has a little blue light on the front, and I’d wait for them all to be lit before plugging it into the computer as well.


Next, how do you get Lightroom to download all the cards at once, rather than stopping after just one?  Depending on how you’ve got “autoplay” or similar set up on your computer, wait until all the cards have been recognised by your machine, then boot Lightroom.  If Lightroom’s already running that’s no problem, but don’t launch the Import dialog until your computer’s found all the cards.

Launch the import dialog – should be bottom left of your screen if you’re in the “Library” module.  Before you do anything else, go to the bottom right of the main screen, and choose “Sort: Capture Time”.

Sort: Capture Time
Choose this to save yourself some time further down the line

What this will do is order the images you download according to the time they were taken.  If I’ve been shooting with multiple cameras across one day, I find this very useful, as generally it’s easier to order things by time than any other way.  Make sure of course, that your cameras are all set to the same time, otherwise this step may cause chaos!  You may prefer to order things by which camera they were taken on, in which I’d suggest that you download cards from each camera separately to insure things don’t get mixed up.  This is also an ideal time to be taking advantage of one of the many areas where Lightroom lets you automate things, by setting up an “Import Preset” – that little tab in the image above that says “c_job_dng”.  I have several, and these allow you to choose a destination, a develop setting, rename the files – all sorts of things, and all whilst they’re being downloaded without you having to lift a finger. Very handy, and very time-saving.

On the left folder tree you should see all the cards you’ve inserted as “drives”.  Click on any of them, and at the top of the tree a check box labelled “Include Subfolders” should appear – check this.

Lightroom "Include Subfolders" Dialog
Tick this box once you’ve launched the import dialog in Lightroom

Next , click the black horizontal arrow next to each drive to expand the contents:

Drive folder icon in Lightroom
Click this Black arrow, and it will expand the folder contents.

Now, do the same for all the Drives that are you memory cards, and, here’s the clever bit, CTRL + Left click each of the subfolders in each drive, to select them all.  If you’re on a Mac I believe the correct button is the Command button, but frankly I’ve no idea 😉

Highlighted mulitple card folder
Subfolders selected and highlighted

Previews will start to appear in the main window at this point.  Should you want to start editing at this point, and choose to not download some (you know, those ones you took with the lens cap on) then by all means deselect the appropriate images, but I tend not to bother and do it once everything’s downloaded.

Now all you need to do is press “Import” at the bottom right of the screen, and everything will come scurrying down the cables and onto your hard drive.  Lightroom will import all the cards, eject them when it’s finished, and you’re free to go and watch the Simpsons.  No, erm, something more worthy than that – go out for a run, or visit an aged relative.  That’s better.

Confused by any of the technical terms in this post?  Have a look at my Technical Foundations course, it might be just what you need!

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