File Renaming Strategy


Today’s Question: How would you rename the images in a single folder when those images come from different cameras and/or are a mix of different file formats? For example, I just came back from a week long trip to Wyoming and captured images using my iPhone and my DSLR in RAW format, JPEG format, and RAW + JPEG formats. That being the case, I have a bunch of different out-of-the-camera file names and various file formats.

Tim’s Quick Answer: My preference is to use the exact same file-renaming strategy for all images within a given folder, regardless of which camera was used or what file types I may have captured. In short, whatever naming structure makes sense for one file format should still make sense for other file formats. If that isn’t the case, it is probably time to re-evaluate your file renaming strategy.

More Detail: For example, I generally use custom text and a sequence number as the structure for the filenames for my photos. The custom text generally relates to the trip or subject matter, and the sequence number is simply a way to ensure each photo gets a unique filename. So, for example, a visit to Rome in 2015 might result in a filename such as “Rome_2015_0001.cr2”.

When you rename photos, the filename extension (such as “cr2” above or “jpg” for a JPEG capture) will be retained. My approach is to sort the photos by capture time and then rename with a sequence number so the sequence number will reflect the capture order. In other words, sorting by filename will be the same as sorting by capture time.

If you want to include other metadata values in the filenames, that would obviously create a different result in terms of the actual filename structure. But that filename structure would still work across a wide variety of file formats and cameras. Perhaps you include the camera serial number in the filename, for example, so you can easily identify photos from one camera versus another. As long as a sequence number is included as part of your filename structure, you’ll still have unique filenames for all images.

I personally don’t feel the need to segregate or otherwise organize photos based on the file type or the camera that was used. The file type, for example, is simply another piece of metadata. To be sure, there may be times that I don’t want to see my JPEG captures, for example. But I can easily filter based on that. So my approach is to have a single filename structure for a given set of photos (generally for all photos within a single folder), and use other metadata values as needed to locate the specific images I’m looking for.

For example, in some cases I’m looking for my highest quality images from a trip, and those are most likely going to be RAW captures from my digital SLR. So I could simply filter based on the camera model, or filter based on the RAW capture format, or a variety of other criteria. But I prefer to have a single filename structure with a sequence number that correlates to capture order, to simplify my workflow for renaming photos without giving up any flexibility in my workflow in the process.