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How to Open RAW Files in Lightroom

Published: 06/05/2021

For superior quality images and comprehensive editing, photographers prefer to shoot in RAW format. Especially in real estate photography, more details can be preserved in a RAW image as compared to other image formats. Figuring out how to open RAW files in Lightroom will help you deliver high-quality images besides improving your editing workflow.

How to Open RAW Files in Lightroom Classic CC

Images in RAW format retain the highest amount of data which ultimately eases up the post-production process in Lightroom. This is the reason why most photographers shoot in RAW and then import their images either in the original format or converted as DNG, which is the standard format by Adobe.

RAW files aren't modified or compressed like other image formats. This also means that the file is untouched, and no procedure has yet been performed on the image by the computer. The process of opening RAW files in Lightroom Classic involves steps that ensure that your image will be named, handled, and stored properly before you start editing it. 

Later on, you can export the image by converting it into a smaller-sized format depending upon your intent to use it. Understand the import options available for RAW images in Lightroom and utilize them to the fullest by following the steps below.

  1. Open Lightroom Classic CC on your computer.
  2. Plug in the source, which has your RAW files stored in it, to your computer. It can be a camera supported by your version of Lightroom, memory card, or your external hard drive.
  3. If the option is enabled in the Preferences tab, Lightroom will automatically show the option to import. If not, you can first go to Edit (Windows) or Lightroom menu (Mac) and select preferences. In the General tab, click on the checkbox to Show import dialog when the memory card is detected.
Lightroom import options

Select Files to Import

  1. Click on Import, and all your thumbnails will be shown in the grid view.
  2. Any images that you have already imported will appear greyed out.
  3. Click on Uncheck all, and begin checking the RAW images you want to import.

Choose the Appropriate Image Transfer Option

On the top center section of the Import dialog, you will see four options that determine the import method of your RAW files. 

Lightroom image transfer options
  • The first option is Copy as DNG. Choosing this option will directly import your RAW image as DNG format into Lightroom. DNG is Adobe's standard file format which is much smaller in size than RAW. 
  • The next option is Copy, which will simply copy the files from the source and paste them into Lightroom, retaining the original RAW format.
  • The Move option is when you want to remove the original files from the source as you transfer them into Lightroom's catalog.
  • The last option Add, which is selected by default. This will not remove the file from your camera, memory card, or external drive and work with its preview in Lightroom.

File Handling of Raw Image

The File Handling tab on the right panel is something you must not ignore. Pick the desired option from this section to signal Lightroom how it should handle your RAW image.

First, you should select a preview quality from the drop-down menu. We recommend choosing standard previews. Check the option to build smart previews to process the file with ease. 

Check the option to Don't Import Suspected Duplicates for a mess-free workflow during image processing. If you are moving the RAW files, you can tick the option to make a second copy and save it somewhere on your hard drive. 

Lightroom File Handling tab

File Naming of RAW Image

Before opening the RAW file, you can rename it in this section for better organization. You can choose a template to name the file by selecting image format, capture date, and any specific detail as a part of the name. It will help to identify and search your RAW files later on.

Apply During Import Settings of RAW Image

This panel is packed with options to apply various types of information to your RAW image. In Apply during Import, you can:

Applying data for your RAW image file

File Destination of Raw Image

Last, use the destination panel to select a storage place for your imported RAW files. The option to choose a destination is enabled for files that are either copied or moved into Lightroom. 

If you click on the plus icon besides Destination, it will give you an option to create a new folder. Alternatively, you can choose a folder from the dropdown menu. Select the "into subfolder" option to store your files in a subfolder.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is It Better To Use RAW Files?

It is much better to use RAW files because they give you an unmatched quality of images. As a higher amount of data is preserved, processing these images is possible in a better way which explains why most photographers prefer to shoot in RAW. You have more opportunities to edit the photo, such as the exposure adjustment, contrast, white balance, and color.

Why Do We Need to Convert RAW Files?

When you are exporting the image after processing, you will need to convert it into a compressed format, ideally JPEG because you cannot use RAW files for print or posting on the web and social media.

What if Lightroom Doesn't Open My RAW Files?

If Lightroom isn’t opening your RAW file, you may be using a camera that is yet not supported by your current Lightroom version. Lightroom won’t recognize RAW files captured by cameras that are released after its update. 

How Do I Verify Which Version of Lightroom I Have?

To check your Lightroom version, go up to the Help menu and select System Info. You will be able to see the version number of your software. 

Does Lightroom Change RAW Files Upon Editing?

Lightroom’s functionality is based on non-destructive editing. This means that any changes it makes to an image are not embedded into the RAW file. All the alterations will be saved as a set of instructions using the preview. 


Reading the above tutorial, you may perceive Lightroom’s way of opening RAW images as somewhat elaborate. However, the truth is that the process is highly intuitive, giving you complete control over how to handle your RAW file. After importing the files, you can go ahead and edit them using the feature-packed Develop module of Lightroom.