One workaround I can think of is:
(1) Import all photos to a single folder.
(2) Select all and apply the "Change to file's creation date" operation
(3) Remove this folder from the catalog, and then re-import all of the photos into the date-structured folders.
This is a bit of a hack but I think it'll work. Would be good to know if there's something easier though. Perhaps a way to apply the "change-to-file's-creation-date" operation during the import, right before the destination folder is chosen? Or just a general fix for why the timezone-ignoring issue.
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Most likely, the camera is encoding the capture date/time and its time zone in a way that doesn't conform to standards. (The EXIF industry standard doesn't define any way for cameras to record time zone.) If you upload a sample problem pic to Dropbox (or similar), I'll take a look, and from that I'll probably be able to suggest a workaround that doesn't rely on file create dates (which is fragile).
I changed the timezone on the camera a few times and of course now the problem isn't reproducing. I'll keep trying to see if I can get it to happen again. It may have been some difference between importing from the camera itself vs an intermediary folder.
In the meantime, is there a good explanation of how Lightroom determines "Capture Time"? If I google "lightroom capture time" I just get articles on how to set it.
And thank you John for your help!
how Lightroom determines "Capture Time"?
For metadata in general, LR follows the industry standard from the Metadata Working Group. For capture date, LR looks at the EXIF metadata field DateTimeOriginal, which all digital cameras add to photos. (There are various complications if the photo is missing that field and/or there is XMP metadata stored in the photo.)