I have a 32GB SD card, and I find that I run out of space on the card sooner than I'd like. Can I get Lightroom to delete the photos from the SD card after they have been copied to the Mac? Not just moved to the Trash, but deleted, to recover space. I don't find such an option.

Yes, this means that if my Mac corrupts its hard disc, I'm more likely to lose my photos, but I don't see any other option, short of buying a 64GB SD card or carrying multiple cards with me. (I do own multiple cards, but they are all slower than my primary card.)


  • Can LR reclaim space on the SD card when I copy photos out of it?

  • How would you suggest I deal with this situation?

EDIT: Sorry, I had left out an important piece of information -- I convert to DNG while importing, and LR has a "Copy as DNG" option, but no "Move as DNG" option. I could do a "Move" followed by a conversion to DNG, but I find the Copy as DNG easier.

Footnote: My Mac did corrupt its hard disc once, losing everything on it (full-disk encryption meant that I couldn't connect it to another Mac and copy the data out). But my SD card got corrupted once, as well, so I don't know whether my photos would be safer on the SD card or on the Mac. It's probably the same thing either way.

Footnote 2: In an ideal world, the photos would just be marked as copied (or moved to the /.Trashes directory on the SD card), and the camera would automatically delete them to reclaim space as needed. This is like the Windows recycle bin. Unfortunately, I see that only on Windows, not on the Mac, to say nothing of my camera.

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    Have you tried using the "Move" rather than "Copy" option in the Lightroom Import tool? When you move, the images SHOULD be deleted from the memory card.
    – jrista
    Dec 16, 2013 at 2:02
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    Regarding hard disc corruption...you should have an automated backup running, preferably backing up your critical data to an external hard drive or NAS device. I've lost five hard dives (four WD and one Seagate...will NEVER buy another WD again) in the last two years, so I purchased a NetGear ReadyNAS NVX, stuffed four 2Tb (8Tb total) Hitachi/Toshiba drives (DAMN GOOD DRIVES...180mb/s sustained transfer, high reliability) in it with X-RAID (dynamic RAID), and let my automated backups do their thing. I never worry about failed hard drives anymore.
    – jrista
    Dec 16, 2013 at 2:28
  • I do put of my critical stuff in Dropbox. Unfortunately, RAW files are too big to sync to the cloud, for me. I periodically backup my Macbook to an external drive and to multiple desktops, once in several months. So I have a general backup strategy I am happy with, and that strikes a good balance between convenience and safety of data. I don't think leaving a NAS device plugged in and running 24/7 is good for the drive or the data in it, given the power fluctuations in India. Dec 16, 2013 at 3:59
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    Im pretty sure move is only when you do it on your harddrive. You can only pick copy from the flash cards. Dec 28, 2013 at 19:41
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    @jdlugosz: The Ready-NAS with X-RAID does regular scrubbing, which goes through all the data on the entire array and checks it out, reorganizes and optimizes it. So, there can't be silent corruption...the system is always checking itself, identifying bad blocks, and moving data. If a block on one drive is bad, it can always be rebuilt with parity.
    – jrista
    Oct 28, 2014 at 1:26

4 Answers 4


I'm the bearer of bad news: Despite what other have suggested, the answer to your question is NO. Lightroom (3,4 and 5) does not support Moving images from SD card.

See P39 of the Lightroom 5 manual:

In the top center of the import window, specify how you want to add the photos to the catalog:

  • Copy as DNG Copies camera raw files to the folder you choose and converts them to the Digital Negative (DNG) format.
  • Copy Copies the photo files to the folder you choose, including any sidecar files.
  • Move Moves the photo files to the folder you choose, including any sidecar files. Files are removed from their current location.
  • Add Keeps the photo files in their current location.

Note: The Move and Add options are not available when importing from a camera card.

Having explored a bit on the Mac side, I think I have a way for you to get what you want. It involves the Mac's Image Capture and AutoImporter tools.

The workflow basically runs like this: Use Image Capture app to specify that AutoImporter is to open when the SD card is inserted. You can then configure AutoImporter to move the pictures to a specified folder, and remove the originals from the card. You need to get at the AutoImporter preferences to do this.

Now, when you insert a card with images, they're automatically copied to the desired folder and removed from the card. No user intervention required - and when Autoimporter deletes the originals from the card they are really gone. They're not in Lightroom yet, but that's easy.

Eject the card. Now use Lightroom's importer to move or add the images to the catalog, doing all the clever things that it can do along the way.

Note: I have tested this but don't use this approach for real. I live on the 'bootcamp' side of my Mac, so have the similar problems.

  • Thanks, Roddy, but a) I don't want yet another copy of my photos to manage and b) I don't always import photos from my SD card into Lightroom. I do so only for photos taken on my NEX, not my point-and-shoot. Dec 29, 2013 at 1:49
  • @KartickVaddadi - Understood about the P+S vs. NEX : I can't see a way around that unless the auto-importer can somehow only recognize the NEX cards. You might like to have a look at Adobe's standalone DNG converter, as that can integrate with the image Capture app. Still not sure if original RAWs get deleted that way, though...
    – Roddy
    Dec 29, 2013 at 19:54
  • I appreciate you trying to help, Roddy, but I think this is all too complex :) It's simpler for me to import the photos into Lightroom using Copy as DNG, and then manually delete the photos from the SD card. Dec 30, 2013 at 6:32
  • @KartickVaddadi Yeah, I agree. For DNG conversion this is getting too messy. I wouldn't want RAW originals deleted until I'd verified that the DNGs were good, anyway.
    – Roddy
    Dec 31, 2013 at 11:14

Since the beginning of using Lightroom (version 3) I use the following procedure:

When I am making a memory card copy to the computer I tend to do it in four steps like this:

  • Copy all files from the SD/CF card to a specific folder for all imports
  • Put back the SD/CF card into the camera / unplug the camera (if using USB cable)
  • Backup all imported files to an external HardDisk or a NAS
  • Format the card from the camera

Lightroom can remember which files was already transferred between two transfers, but with my procedure I am sure all my pictures are properly backuped, not transferred twice in different folders and I can start a new session with an empty memory card from the camera.

I always formatted the card from the camera and I never had any issue with corrupted file system.

I know it is not the perfect solution for everyone but it works well for me.

  • No, Lightroom won't 'move' files from SD cards - Only copy.
    – Roddy
    Dec 27, 2013 at 23:53
  • But on the top option from the import menu there are "Copy as DNG, Copy, Move, Add" I expect the move to delete from the source (camera plugged or SD card)
    – рüффп
    Dec 28, 2013 at 9:00
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    Yes, the option's there = but for import from SD cards or cameras it's disabled. Try it and see.
    – Roddy
    Dec 28, 2013 at 13:02
  • I never tried, and I said probably like others said. I am always doing the above procedure, copying not moving, and the formatting (of CF/SD) from the camera to be sure the file system is not corrupted or different from a computer to the camera.
    – рüффп
    Dec 28, 2013 at 15:40
  • @Roddy, you are right, probably that's why it droves me to this procedure I am using now.
    – рüффп
    Dec 28, 2013 at 20:10

I had the exact same issue which I found frustrating. This is the workaround I used on a mac to make it import and delete the images on the card on insert. Once you set it up it's extremely convenient. https://youtu.be/LhMRgEUeICY


To my knowledge, there is no way to have Lightroom delete anything off of a memory card after the fact. If you imported and used copy rather than move, then you are on the hook yourself to delete the images off your memory card.

This can also be delt with via a little bit of workflow management. Lightroom's import tool is fairly robust and full of features. You have the option making a backup copy of your imported photos as part of the import process, by specifying a secondary directory. You could set this to a folder on an external drive, for example, and always have a safe backup of your work. Personally, I try to always make it a rule to import everything off of my memory cards when I first import them. I often make multiple passes, importing chunks of similar photos with pre-assigned tags, appropriate name sequences, and possibly applying some user edit profiles. I may have anywhere from one to ten different batches of photos to import off of a 16Gb or 32Gb CF card. Once I have imported everything, I pop it into my camera, and delete the whole card from there, while I start working on the next.

I would also note that I personally believe regularly formatting SD or CF cards is a potential source of premature writelock. Memory card data cells only have a limited number of writes, after which the card effectively becomes read only. Formatting has the tendency to touch every data cell, so I only ever delete. I've filled and deleted my CF cards many dozens of times each, and never had any issues or performance drop, where as in the same time frame, most of the local photographers I know who always do a full format have had to replace a few SD or CF cards due to failures. I recommend you format infrequently, and choose to delete instead, in order to preserve the longevity of your memory cards (given that you noted a concern about data corruption.)

  • Thanks, jrista. I don't format my cards at all, because a) I have never felt a need to, and b) leaving the filesystem in place means that I have a greater chance of recovering deleted files (not files moved to the /Trashes directory, but actually deleted). Besides, I thought formatting writes to only a small fraction of the storage device. It doesn't zero out every block on the device. Dec 16, 2013 at 3:58
  • I updated the question to clarify the DNG stuff. Dec 16, 2013 at 4:02
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    I don't think low-level format is a good idea, or needed for a long time now. Yes, creating a filesystem touches only a fixed set of blocks, but these are remapped by the controller. If you write block 0 ten times, it ends up at different physical blocks, for exactly this reason -- flash has limited write cycles. When I said that I don't like formatting cards because leaving the filesystem intact gives me a higher chance of recovering files, I assume that's orthogonal to the longevity issue. Dec 16, 2013 at 6:23
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    @jrista, Lightroom 5 (and previous version too, I think) will NOT "move" images it imports from Sd cards. The "Move" option is greyed out. Only Copy/Copy as DNG are available. This is really irritating 'feature' IMO.
    – Roddy
    Dec 27, 2013 at 23:51
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    "Move" is not available for me when importing from SD card (unlocked), USB flash drive, or iPhone 5. Using Lr 5.3, Windows 7.
    – coneslayer
    Dec 29, 2013 at 17:09

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