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Tips for File Renaming Success in Lightroom

This article is about how to build a useable file renaming strategy, and how to implement it in Lightroom. Your standard camera names are generally pretty boring. IMG this or DSC that, or even P0235425653. If you’re not using continuous naming you might even end up with hundreds of IMG_0001 files. Don’t laugh, I was there once upon a time after reading some terrible advice on camera settings.

If you’re using Lightroom, renaming is really straightforward and accessible from quite a few places in the application.

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Before we talk about how to rename your files, let’s talk about what you should name them. First and foremost, each photo should have a unique name. There are two number sets that can pretty much ensure this. The first is the date the photo was taken, and the second is the sequence number the camera creates (assuming you do use a continuous camera naming system). Mixed together these give each file a unique name. You’d need to shoot 10,000 images in a day to get two identical names with this structure. You could just use this method and nothing else, but a series of numbers, while great for sorting, is generally meaningless to most people.

File naming in lightroom 2Some photographers use those number sets and their initials to get the filename. It’s enough to create that unique pattern. A string of numbers doesn’t tell you what’s in the file though, even with some initials. For this reason, I use a custom text field that I change with each shoot that I import. In Custom Text field I put a little description of the shoot. That way even outside Lightroom I can tell the contents of the file just from the name. It also gives me additional search terms I can use when looking for a file. Let’s look at how to set this up.

File naming template in Import

Renaming in Lightroom uses a mix of tokens and direct text in the box. The Dialog for creating File Naming Templates can be called up from a variety of places in Lightroom. The first place you see it is in the Import Dialog box when using one of the following settings: Move, Copy or Copy as DNG. It’s on the right hand side in the appropriately named File Renaming panel. As well as the type of File Naming, you can choose Custom Text/Shoot Name, a Start Number, and whether the file extension is upper or lower case.

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File naming in Lightroom depends on Templates, so click on the Template list and choose Edit from the bottom of the list (shown above). This opens the Filename Template Editor (below). At the top we see the current Template, or in a typically Lightroom fashion, it’s called a Preset here, versus being called a Template in Import. The contents of this list matches the one you saw in Import from the Template dropdown. Note that the Filename Template Editor is not exactly the same in each location you can use it in Lightroom. You’d think it would be, but nope, it’s not.

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Note this is the box you will see in the Import dialog popup. If you access rename files from the Library module it looks slightly different.

Next is the text box where the template is built. Any item you click from the list below will be added to the box, in the order you click them. You can also type directly into the box. Remember that text typed directly into the box will be added to all filenames, so use it sparingly (above there is only a hyphen added between tokens Custom Text and Sequence # to separate them).

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Below this are the tokens, split into sections of similar information. Image name has two options, Filename and Filename number suffix. The latter refers to the string of numbers at the end of the current filename (not necessarily the original file numbers). Note: When you use Edit in the Library version of renaming, you also get Folder Name as an option.

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Numbering has far more options. In each case you can choose an option with leading zeros. It’s good practice to include enough of these so your sorting looks okay. For example, Image1 is followed by Image10, then Image2 if you have no leading zero in the file name. For most things three leading zeros is enough.

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Import refers to the number of imports and can be set in the Catalog Settings dialog (under the Edit menu on PC, Lightroom menu on Mac), as can Image. Image itself refers to the number of images imported into Lightroom. Sequence creates a new sequence each time, with the start number set in the renaming panel (except on Export). Total refers to the number of images that are being imported at that time.

File naming in lightroom 8Next is the Additional Section. For the Date, you can opt for any combination of year, month, day, hour, minute or second. Personally I go for the YYYYMMDD version, though you could choose Year YY, Month MM and Date DD as as shorter year set. Using this at the start of the name puts all the photos in a dated chronological order when when sorting by name.

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The 2nd part of Additional is a metadata list (above). It contains things like the camera serial number and file dimensions.

Custom lets you add text that can change between imports. Shoot Name is available only in the Import menu. Shoot related naming is not available using Auto Import.

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When you’ve entered the tokens you can either click Done, to have the settings apply as Custom Settings or you can go back to the Presets menu, where you now have additional options. If you started off by editing an existing Preset (e.g. Filename) you can Save you settings as a new Preset, Update the Current Preset, or restore the default presets.

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If you select a Preset and don’t edit it, you get the options to Delete or Rename the preset (below) instead of the Update option. That covers the mechanics of creating a File Naming Template.

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My method:

My preferred renaming method is: {YYYYMMDD}_{Custom Text}_{Original Filename Suffix}. The items in {} are the tokens from the Date, Custom Text and Filename menus (see right). The underscores are written directly into the textbook between the tokens. You may prefer to use a dash instead. I use underscores, because the Web module changes dashes into underscores.

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This keeps files in order by set based on the Date and Custom text, the Suffix then keeps the sequence. You can use any naming system you like, of course. The important thing is that you use the same naming consistently. When I first started using this kind of renaming system, I had the Custom Text first, but it turned out to be a pain for sorting. Generally when I look through a shoot now, I visually ignore the date part of the name and look at the custom text if I’m just browsing. I don’t need to see it generally, but it helps the sort.

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This is how my file naming looks

Renaming inside the Library Module

As well as renaming on Import, you can batch rename inside Library by pressing the F2 key. This brings up a really basic dialog where you can select or edit a preset, change the Custom Text, or the Start Number if you’ve chosen a sequence. When you select Edit from the Preset list, the Filename Template Editor has a slightly different set of options to that of the editor inside of Import.

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We’ve looked at Image Name. The other main differences are the Sequence menu now has Date as well and the Additional section is now called Metadata with a 2nd set of Metadata, in this case IPTC metadata. Other than that, it works identically to in Import.

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Renaming on Export

You can also rename when Exporting. In the Export Dialog, File Naming is usually the second option. It’s similar to the other instances where you can select or edit a file naming preset, add Custom Text or choose a Start Number. In this case the Filename Template Editor is the same as the one available in the Library module.

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So that’s a look at how to choose a suitable naming system in Lightroom, and how to create a filename template to match it. How do you do your file names? What structure do you find works best for sorting and finding images later? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sean McCormack
Sean McCormack

is an official Fuji X Photographer and Adobe Community Professional based in Galway in Ireland. He’s been shooting for almost 20 years and loves portraits, landscapes, and travel when he gets a chance. He’s written a few books on Lightroom.

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