Renaming photos in Lightroom lets your replace the generic filenames used by your camera with names that are more relevant or useful to you.
Why is this useful? I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look at what happens if you don’t rename your files.
I have owned three Canon EOS cameras in total and used several others. Each uses the same naming system. They start at IMG_0001.CR2 (.CR2 is the file extension for the Canon’s Raw file format) and go through in order to IMG_9999.CR2. Then they cycle back round to IMG_0001.CR2 and the process starts again.
The end result is that I have multiple Raw files sharing the same name. For example, a search for IMG_0100.CR2 in the folder containing my Raw files shows that I have eight different files with that name.
Is that a big deal? I don’t really think so. Lightroom can handle it, I can handle it and it hasn’t had any negative effect on my workflow whatsoever. So don’t feel that you have to change if, like me, you are happy working this way.
Benefits of renaming photos in Lightroom
However, there are advantages to be gained by renaming your Raw files. Professional and semi-pro photographers gain the most as it gives you chance to set up a naming system that suits you and your business needs. It may be helpful to include your name, the client’s name, the date, the name of the shoot or some other variable in the file name to help you locate the images later. And by later I really do mean later – don’t be surprised if people contact you enquiring about photos years or decades after a shoot.
If two or more photographers use the same camera, or work for the same studio, you could use filenames as an easy way to see who took a particular photo. Include the photographer’s name in the filename at import to avoid confusion.
When you use a system that generates a unique name for each photo, you will avoid a situation where a client may ask for a copy of a specific image, and you don’t know which one he means because you have several images that share the same name.
It looks more professional to send clients photos with names like andrewsgibson-20170501-yourphotoshoot-oo1.jpg than 0001.jpg. It may also prevent the clients themselves becoming confused – what if they have ten different photo files with the same name on their system, each one from a different photographer or photo shoot? It’s hard to avoid confusion when that happens.
Naturally, you can rename your files at the export stage rather than the import stage, and if they are for a client you may prefer to rename them this way. I will look at this in more detail in the second part of this article.
Some file renaming techniques
I thought it would be interesting to see how other photographers approach the task of renaming files. Let’s take a look at some examples (I’ve linked to the articles so you can go and read them in full).
File renaming technique 1
Matthew Campagna at The Turning Gate recommends file renaming according to the following formula.
So you end up with something like this.
- andrewsgibson – my name
- 20131012 – date in this order. year, month, day
- jaineportraits – brief description of shoot
- 0001 – the first photo in the sequence
You can read Matthew’s article about this, and why he arrived at this file naming structure, here.
File renaming technique 2
Scott Kelby recommends a slightly simpler file renaming method.
Note the use of a two digit year, the ommission of the day and the three digit counter. This would generate a filename something like this.
You can read Scott’s article here.
File renaming technique 3
Martin Evening recommends the following sequence.
Giving a filename something like this.
Read the article here.
File renaming technique 4
Gavin Gough recommends this method in his book The Photographer’s Workflow (out of print).
So you end up with something like this.
This is another simple method that ensures the photos will be stored in the order that they are taken. Just make sure that the time is set correctly on your camera to avoid confusion, especially if you have changed time zones or the clocks have gone forwards or back.
Gavin also suggests an alternative.
So you end up with something like this.
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How to rename photos in Lightroom
There are three places where you can rename photos in Lightroom.
• When you import them into the Lightroom Catalog.
• After you have imported them into the Lightroom Catalog.
• When you export them.
There are good reasons why you might use any of these methods. Let’s take a look at them.
1. How to rename photos when you import them into Lightroom
Let’s start by looking at how you rename Raw files when you import them into Lightroom. This method assumes that you are copying the files from one location (such as your camera’s memory card) and saving them in another, like an external hard drive (i.e you have selected Copy as DNG, Copy or Move in the Import window). If you want to rename files that you are simply adding to Lightroom, then you can use the next method.
1. Go to the File Renaming panel in the Import window (it’s on the right-hand side) and tick the Rename Files box.
2. Go to the Template drop-down menu and select one of the file renaming presets.
3. Here I selected a simple example, Date-Filename. This option simply adds the date to the original file name. This is an easy way to ensure that every Raw file has a unique name.
Lightroom displays a sample file name at the bottom of the File Renaming panel to show you what your renamed files will look like.
4. If you select a preset such as Custom Name-Sequence, Lightroom prompts you to enter the name of the shoot in the Custom Text field. However, this preset doesn’t automatically prevent duplicate file names. That would only happen if you entered a unique name for each shoot.
5. If you select the Edit option from the Template menu Lightroom takes you to the Filename Template Editor. You can use this window to customize the way that Lightroom renames your files. If you want to use any of the techniques discussed in the first part of the article, this is the place to do it.
6. The Filename Template Editor automatically loads the last selected preset (Custom Name-Sequence in this case). You can either adapt that preset or clear it by clicking on the tabs in the white rectangle one-by-one and using the Backspace key to delete them. You should also delete any punctuation marks (i.e ‘-’ or ‘_’) between tabs.
7. Let’s say you want to use a simple file name structure, such as this one.
You can do that by using the drop-down menus to add the appropriate tabs, like this.
Note that you have to enter punctuation marks such as the underscore ‘_’ yourself, and that you should never use a space in a file name.
8. Once the preset is set up to your satisfaction, go to the Preset menu at the top and select the Save Current Settings as New Preset option.
9. Give the preset a name. Lightroom adds it to the Template menu. Now, next time you import new images, you can use the same preset to ensure consistency.
10. Back in the File Renaming panel, type in the Shoot Name (or any other custom text) if required. You can also change the Start Number if you want to by clicking on it and entering a new value.
Reasons for renaming files at the import stage
The main one that I can think of is to ensure that you have no duplicate file names on your hard drives. It may also be useful to have the date and shoot name in the file name so you can see at a glance when the photo was taken, and what the subject is.
However, if you supply files to clients, you may prefer to rename them at the export stage so the exported files run in sequence (i.e filename-0001.jpg, filename-0002.jpg etc. rather than filename-0010.jpg, filename-0017.jpg).
2. How to rename files already imported into the Lightroom Catalog
If you copy your Raw files to your hard drive, then use the Add option in the Import window to import them into your Lightroom Catalog, you can only rename those files after they have been imported. This also applies to photos that you have previously imported, and decided to rename. Here’s how you do it.
1. If you want to rename files that you have just imported into Lightroom, the quickest way is to go to the Catalog panel (it’s in the left-hand panels) and click on Previous Import. Go to Grid View (press ‘G’ key if you are not there already) and then go to Edit > Select All. Otherwise, just select the appropriate Folder or Collection.
2. Go to Library > Rename Photos. In the next window select a file renaming preset from the drop-down menu.
3. The options include any custom presets you may have made. However, you will notice that some of the options are different. For example, the Shoot Name tab is no longer available. So I had to customize the preset I made earlier by using the Custom Text tab instead. There are also more ways to rename files using metadata.
Press the OK button when you’re ready to go.
Reasons for renaming files in Lightroom
The main one is that it is the only way you can rename files already imported into Lightroom. Another is that, if you are supplying photos to a client, you may choose to rename them here after deciding which images from the shoot make the cut. That way they will be named sequentially without any gaps.
You may also rename files this way if your client has a specific naming method they want you to use. This is common when it comes to clients such as picture libraries and magazines.
3. How to rename files at export
The final way to rename your files is when you export them.
1. Select the files you want to export and go to File > Export. Go to the File Naming tab, tick the Rename to: box and select a preset from the menu. You can edit a preset or choose a custom preset. The Filename Template Editor gives you the same options as the previous method of renaming files already imported into Lightroom.
2. Press the Export button when you are ready to begin the export.
Reasons for renaming files at export
A caveat – bear in mind that if you change the names of your files when you export them, you will end up with a new set of files with different names.
For example, let’s say you took 100 photos during a shoot, then renamed them during or after the image import. You would have 100 Raw files named something like this.
1310_Island-Bay_001.dng to 1310_Island-Bay_1oo.dng
As the main purpose of Lightroom is to convert Raw files into photo files, upon export the extensions, but not the filenames themselves, would change.
1310_Island-Bay_001.jpg to 1310_Island-Bay_100.jpg
That makes it easy to match the filenames of your exported JPEG files with those of your Raw files if you need to.
But if you change the filenames at export, it becomes much more difficult to match them to the corresponding Raw files.
Why rename files at export? One reason is that different clients may require different file naming structures. Let’s say you send a set of photos to a picture library, then another time you send them to a magazine, and that both clients have different file naming requirements. Leaving file naming to the export stage gives you the option of renaming your files according to your needs at the time.
Another reason could simply be that you are exporting files that you never renamed before, and want to rename them with something more meaningful than the numbers given to them by your camera.
Hopefully, looking at the file naming workflows of other photographers gives you some ideas for how you might like to rename your files in the future. For what it’s worth, once you decide on a method, I don’t think there’s any value and going back and renaming older photos that you have already imported into Lightroom. Life is too short! But once you have decided on the way forward you can implement it for future shoots.