Solving a Common Lightroom Image Quality Issue

Why Does the Image Quality Change When You Import Images into Lightroom? 



One issue that seems to perplex a lot of new Lightroom users, and is a popular topic of conversation on social media, is why your image thumbnails look really nice when you are importing them into Lightroom and then all of a sudden they refresh and become dull and flat looking.

Viewing image quality on the LCD Screen

Never Trust the Chimp!

There is a very straightforward answer to this question and a way that you can overcome it when importing your images. When you’re shooting images in RAW mode, the camera also creates a jpeg version of the image to present to you on your camera’s LCD monitor as its unable to display the RAW data.

At the same time your camera’s processor is creating the jpeg image for you to view, its also adjusting the image based on the Picture Style you have selected in the camera settings. The Picture Style will adjust a few parameters of the image including the amount of sharpness, the degree of contrast, the intensity and richness of the colours and the hues of the skin tones. In addition to presenting this jpeg image to your LDC screen for you to have a quick look at, the camera is also embedding this preview into the header field of the RAW image data. The preview that the camera has embedded into the RAW image data is the one that Lightroom uses to generate the initial Library previews.

So, what happens to this sharp, vivid preview? Why does it change and become flat looking after it loads? The image preview is adjusted based on the settings in the Lightroom Camera Calibration Panel.

Matching the Image Quality of Your Camera & Lightroom

Most likely, and by default, you will have the Adobe Standard selected as the current camera profile in the Camera Calibration Panel in the Develop Module. The Adobe Standard option is a camera profile that is provided as a calibration standard and as such gives the image the untouched RAW appearance with no sharpness, contrast, colour or skin tone adjustments applied.

You should also see an option in the Profile drop down box called Camera Standard. This profile is designed to match the default preview rendering you see when you first imported the image. Simply selecting this option should present you with an image that more closely represents what you saw on the Camera’s LCD when you took the image.

Camera Calibration Panel

You will also see additional profiles listed which are designed to match the other Picture Style profiles available in your camera. It is recommended however that you use one of the standard profiles, either the Adobe Standard or the Camera Standard option. Which ever profile you choose, it will provide the base lever starting point for your image editing.

So, if you are bothered by the change in the presentation of the image when you are importing them into Lightroom and you would prefer to see the embedded jpeg preview as your default Library thumbnail. Change the Camera Calibration Profile option to Camera Standard.

It is important to understand that these Camera Calibration Profile adjustments can only be made to RAW images. All other file formats will only have Embedded as an option in the drop down box.

The Camera Calibration Panel also provides some additional adjustments that can be used to correct issues introduced by your camera or if you simply want to develop your own default profile adjustments. The additional adjustments include a Shadows slider for correcting colour casts in the shadows. You are also presented with sliders to adjust the hue and saturation of the Red, Greens and Blues in the image.

Making it Automatic

Finally, if you find it a bit tedious to make these image quality adjustments each time you import new images into Lightroom, you can apply them as a default correct that is applied automatically every time you import images into your catalog. Simply make the selections and adjustments you want applied to every image in the Camera Calibration Panel then press and hold the ALT/Option key. The Reset button on the bottom of the Right Hand panel will change to Set Default.

Pressing the Set Default option will open a new dialog box that will allow you to apply these setting automatically each time you import new images by selecting the update to current setting option.

There you have it. A common Lightroom question explained with simple steps to overcome the change of image quality when you import your images into your Lightroom catalog. We’ve also covered how to get a more accurate image to display in your Camera’s LCD in our previous Blog post “Don’t Always Trust Your Camera’s LCD Screen“.


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Brian Bird
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