Lightroom Workflow: Filenames on Import

To be honest, I haven’t given filenames much thought since, I organize my photo files in separate folders or subdirectories and duplicate names (if any) didn’t really pose a problem. However, I have found myself struggling when adding titles to my photos when uploading them to my website and online portfolios. Spending inordinate amounts of time trying to craft creative, catchy, and artsy sounding titles for each image was not an efficient use of my time; and really, how many ways can you title a shot of a Northern Cardinal?  Yet, I knew I would not be satisfied with several hundred photos all titled Northern Cardinal.  See title examples for the following images.

Northern Cardinal - facing left
Northern Cardinal – facing left
Northern Cardinal on Feeder
Northern Cardinal on Feeder

Then, I viewed an informative webinar conducted by Kathy Adams Clark, which provided useful insight into naming schemes, titles, and online portfolios.  I will share how I have adapted Kathy’s process but first I’d like to thank The North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) for providing such useful resources for their members. If you are a nature photographer, I urge you to explore nanpa.org and consider joining.

The filenames assigned to the photos by my camera are meaningless to me, yet I used to feel they could serve as some sort of unique identifier should I need to search for a photo. The rationale presented in Kathy’s webinar caused me to question my half-baked logic. First, how would I know what to enter as search criteria if I wanted to locate a photo strictly based on filename? Searching by filename using my current system might be useful if I had the image file (with it’s original filename) on my website and needed to locate it on my local computer. Second, how would I know my search returned the correct file? It is very likely I could locate the desired image as well as all other images with the same filename. My Canon camera has a four digit sequence number and it rolls over after 9999. With a Lightroom® catalog containing over 136,000 files, the potential for multiples of the same filename is very real! I began to see the value of renaming my photo files. In some ways, I felt I had come full circle because the next question was, you guessed it, what to name them.

Kathy presented her naming scheme and her rationale, which has worked well for her for several years. Her scheme seemed logical to me and I so love logic! However, she uses Adobe Bridge to organize her photos while I use Lightroom. Therefore, I could not simply adopt her process. I am not arguing for one method over the other here–just pointing out that they differ.

The naming scheme I landed on initially was Subject CFH_Sequence#. I set about to incorporate renaming into my Lightroom workflow when I ran into an issue (feature design) causing me to change my naming scheme. If you utilize sequential numbering in Adobe Bridge, it retains the sequence number assigned to the last photo of the previous import and will use this as the starting number for the next import. Not so for Lightroom, which retains the number you entered for beginning the sequence of the previous import; making every import sequence effectively starting with the same number. Not a problem if the rest of the filename is unique but it was not going to work for me. Remember Northern Cardinal?

After more testing, I finally landed on this scheme: Subject CFHYY####; where Subject is the name I type in for the primary subject of the photo, CFH are my initials, YY is the two digit year the photo was captured, i.e. 17 for 2017, and #### are the last four digits of the original filename assigned by the camera to the photo. This results in filenames which look like Northern Cardinal CFH170039. Now that I had the scheme I had to incorporate it into my workflow.

Using the Filename Template Editor, I created a preset that I can use when importing photo files into the Lightroom catalog to rename my photo files to match the chosen scheme. The following image displays my preset information. You can find the Filename Template Editor in the File Renaming panel on the right side of the import window. Check Rename Files to make the Template selection menu available.  Choose Edit to open the Template Editor (see the following image). Lightroom Template Editor

You can also access the Filename Template Editor by selecting Library > Rename Photo, and then choosing Edit in the File Naming area of the dialog box.

I feel pretty good about this scheme and the near impossibility of duplicate filenames as I doubt I will ever shoot 10,000 images of the same subject in the same year. Additionally, I no longer have to struggle with artsy titles for my online portfolios as the filename is used in place of a title. This eliminates the need for me to edit each photo and add a title; which saves a significant amount of time.

Strip of 4 cardinal photos names Northern Cardinal CFH128083-87

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