Lightroom 6 Basics: Using Library Tools for Import, Export, and Organization

I’ve gotten some requests to do a few posts explaining how I edit in Lightroom 6. Today, I’m going to start at the beginning: the Library window. Keep in mind that this is a brief overview; there are certainly more features that I don’t ever use. If I skip over something important or a feature that you use a lot, be sure to let me know! I’m always trying to learn more about Lightroom.

Also keep in mind that I’m pretty much self-taught. I started using Lightroom 4 on my laptop years ago, and I now use Lightroom 6 on my desktop. A lot of what I have learned has been trial-and-error and watching Youtube videos (this one was pretty helpful for today’s post). So I’m not an expert, but I have been using this program for awhile.

First thing’s first: What is Lightroom?

If you’re new to photo editing, you might be wondering about the difference between Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. So let’s start there.

Both of these programs can be used for photo editing, but in different ways. Photoshop offers a ton of tools to really manipulate images—you can add text, you can cut out the background, you can design a logo, you can do pretty much anything. I think of Photoshop as a graphic designer’s playground.

Lightroom, on the other hand, is more streamlined for photography. It focuses on organization, brightness, color, and texture. If you use Instagram, you’ll probably be familiar with a lot of the standard tools: exposure, contrast, saturation, etc.

Personally, I never use Photoshop. I don’t know enough about it to be able to use it effectively. I edit my photos in Lightroom, and if I need to add text or do anything extra, I usually take it to Picmonkey, which I find to be pretty user-friendly. (But we’ll save Picmonkey for another time.)

When you open Lightroom, you might be a little overwhelmed at first. There are a lot of things to look at and click on. But first, notice the menu in the top right-hand corner.


There are a lot of options here, but I only ever use Library and Develop. I’ll be focusing on Library today, and will do a future post on Develop.

Lightroom 6 Library Tools

Library is where you will import, organize, and export your photos. Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll see:

1. Navigator
This pane will let you display the image how you want it. You can fit it to the screen, fill the screen, or zoom in and out. There are more options if you click the up and down arrows to the very right. You can add a zoom wheel to the bottom of the picture if you want to (between 8 and 9). And you can also click on the picture inside the navigator pane and drag to the specific part you want to see.

2. Catalog
I honestly don’t use the Catalog very much, but it’s a fast way to get back to the images you just uploaded in case you switch to something else. It’s also where your quick collection images will display.

3. Folders
This is where your images will go after Import, and where you will find them on your computer. I organize mine by date, which I think is Lightroom’s default, but you don’t have to do it that way. You can create folders by theme or name them whatever you want. If you ever have trouble finding the photos on your computer after you export, then go back here to see what folder you saved them under.

4. Collections
I hardly ever use this pane, but it can be useful if you want to further organize your photos within Lightroom. Like if you want to organize by keywords, or have smaller folders of the best shots in a photoshoot, then this is your place. Keep in mind that this just organizes/groups your photos within Lightroom; it doesn’t change their actual location on your computer.

5. Import
This is the first thing you’ll use if you want to bring photos in. Sometimes, the import dialogue box will automatically come up whenever you insert a memory card, so you won’t actually to click this button every time. But it’s nice to know where it is.

Here’s what it will look like when you import photos:

The left side of this dialogue box, titled Source, shows you where the imported pictures are coming from. If the right photos aren’t coming up, you can go through your devices and folders to find what you’re looking for. At the very top of this box, you have a few different options about how you want to copy these into Lightroom. I recommend “Copy as DNG,” which will keep the photos from your device into Lightroom. The original photos are left on your device. This also converts to DNG, which can be helpful. If you don’t want it to convert to DNG, then you can just select Copy. You can also deselect images if you don’t wish to import them.

The right size gives you options on where to put the photos (which will later show up as Folders), as well as options such as renaming photos, applying keywords, applying presets, and automatically deselecting photos that are already in Lightroom. When you have everything as you want it, press the Import key in the bottom right, which will take you back to the Library window.

6. Export
Exporting is probably the thing I’ve researched the most. Lightroom works a little different than editing software like Picmonkey. It automatically saves the edits you make within the program, but not on your computer. And you can’t just click “save” and be done with it. One of Lightroom’s strengths is that it does pretty much everything possible to preserve the original photos that you import, so you can’t just save over the original file. You have to export your edits as a new file.

In this dialogue box, you can decide where you want to export (I usually do a subfolder of where the original photos are), rename your files, set video format and quality, adjust image format, color space, and quality (I usually do JPEG and sRGB for online images), resize, sharpen (which I usually skip because I sharpen in the editor), remove metadata, add a watermark, and choose what to do after export.

7. View Modes
Here you can view all photos in a grid, view single photos (called loupe view), compare two photos, select photos to view in a grid, and view faces. I usually just stick to the first two options, but the others can be useful depending on what you’re trying to do.

8. Flagging, Rating, Color Label
These are three different functions, but I’ve grouped them together because they all kinda share the same purpose. Each of these allows you to distinguish between your pictures and mark which ones are better than others.

Flagging is useful whenever you first go through photos to determine which ones are picks and rejects. The picks will appear with a flag (image 5 below), and the rejects will be shaded out (image 7 and 11). This makes it easier to know which photos to spend your time on.

I honestly don’t ever use ratings, so I don’t have a good example of how to use them. The concept is pretty self-explanatory, though—you can give each picture a star rating. It’s just not something that’s ever been helpful to me. Let me know if you use it, though!

I do use the color rating all the time. I find that the color outline stands out more in the grid view, making it easier to identify the photos. And if I have a lot of photos in a shoot that I need to differentiate, I tend to do it this way. In the example below, I used red to mark the best shots, yellow for the okay shots, green for other photos I took the same day but were unrelated to the photoshoot, and the purple were the bloopers (I like to give clients a folder of the funny photos).

Using colors also makes exporting easier because you can sort your grid view by color instead of time, then just export everything at once without having to scroll and manually choose one by one.

9. Toolbar Content
If you want to display more buttons on the toolbar, this arrow is the way to do it. It might be helpful to add a zoom here rather than using the Navigation pane. You can also add rotate buttons (pictured), grid lines, slideshow, etc. Note that this toolbar can be customized separately both in grid view and loupe view. The grid view adds a toolbar option called “painter,” which lets you quickly and easily “spray” on designations like keywords and color ratings.

10. Image Carousel
If you’re in loupe view, this image carousel (I’m not sure what the official name is) can help you navigate. You can easily switch between images and mark them as “quick selection” by hovering over the image and clicking the circle in the upper right-hand corner. (You can also mark quick selection in grid view.) This carousel mostly gets in my way, though, so I hide it by pressing the down arrow at the very bottom middle of the program. If you want to quickly access it, just hover your mouse over the bottom part of your screen.

11. Keywording
I honestly don’t use keywords very often, but it can be helpful if you’re trying to find photos on a specific topic (like when I need a photo of Rex for the “rex report” section of my monthly wrap-up posts).

12. Quick Develop
I’ve honestly never used this before, but I think it’s neat that there’s an option to do a quick edit on your photos as you go without having to switch back and forth between the Library and Develop windows, especially if all your photos are relatively similar. But for most of your editing, you’ll want to go into the Develop window for more functionality. I’ll go through all of that in a future post.

13. Histogram
I never really look at this (most of the time I keep it hidden), but it’s useful if you’re trying to find information about your capture time.

Another pane that’s not pictured: Publish Services. It’s located on the lower left side of the screen. You can use this to quickly publish to places like Facebook or Flickr. I use it sometimes for Facebook, but I find that it’s kind of glitchy.

And that pretty much sums up the Library window! The great thing about Lightroom is that it offers you a variety of options, but you can get by just fine without having to use them. One person might really like collections, or star ratings, or keywords, or face recognition, but I hardly ever use them. And some might find color labels to be a waste of time, but I find them extremely helpful. It all depends on your personal style and your own preferences for organization.

To continue with the basics overview, I’ll be doing a similar post to this one on the Develop window. There are a lot of things to go through there. Let me know if there’s anything particular you want me to focus on!

After that, I’ll probably have a post of an editing walkthrough so you can see my exact process from start to finish.

Let me know if you found this helpful and if you have any suggestions for future topics!

currently listening to: Spirits by The Strumbellas

Do you use Lightroom 6? 
Which feature is your favorite? Do you use any that I skipped over?


  1. SW
    June 11, 2017

    Wow you explain this so well! I love how organized this post is. And I love that picture of your dog. 🙂 Btw, what kind of computer do you use for photo editing?


    1. Emily Seals
      June 11, 2017

      Thank you! It took a long time to organize and get all the screenshots to display correctly. XD

      I have a Dell with Intel Core i7 and an added solid state drive. And I use an Acer monitor. (My husband is majoring in computer engineering, so he pretty much picked out everything. I just gave my seal of approval.)
      Here’s a link to the computer:
      And the monitor:

      I definitely don’t think a desktop is necessary to run Lightroom successfully; I was just tired of my laptop. It does handle Lightroom really well, though.

      For pictures, I use a Canon Rebel T1i, but I’ve been saving up to upgrade because it’s old as dirt.


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