(The Fourth of) Ten Simple Steps to a Faster Workflow in Lightroom

The fourth step is a follow on to the last one: Pick a format for naming your images, rename them after deleting all the throw aways, and never, ever deviate from your chosen format.

When you take an image, the camera assigns the image file a filename, e.g., _DSC5645.NEF and IMG_7689.CR2, and, when you import images, Lightroom uses the camera given filename for the name of the image. However, _DSC5645.NEF and IMG_7689.CR2 tell us nothing about the images; in fact, the filenames are meaningless outside of some other organizational talisman, e.g., a properly named folder. This is why it is important to name your images in some meaningful way.

A filename doesn’t need to tell you everything about the image but it does need to tell you enough to know the general subject matter, e.g., London rather than the Tower of London, and where to locate it. As before with folder names, if you name your images consistently following some standard format, you will have an easier time finding your images later.

My format is fairly simple and flows directly from how I name folders. My images are saved in a folder named with the date the images were taken and a short description, e.g., 2014-05-16_Mom’s 80th Birthday. I rename images, after importing, sorting, and deleting all the throw aways, with the date the images were taken, a short description (always the same as the folder name), my last name, and a sequence number to make each filename unique, e.g., 2014-05-16_Mom’s 80th Birthday_Zwit_0034.nef. As with folder names, the filename is created by using the four-digit year and two digit month and day the image was taken followed by a short description of the subject of the images; the hyphens and underscore are added for readability.

What this does for me is:

  1. By glancing at the filename, I instantly know something about the image, i.e., the date the image was taken and subject of the image.
  2. I can easily locate the folder containing the original image because the name of the file begins with the folder name. (I never change the name of an image when I export them from Lightroom; otherwise, this chain is broken and it can be difficult to find an image.)
  3. My last name in the filename tells people who took the image. This is important if you send images out to editors or others who may use your images; they can see who took the image immediately. It also helps to protect your images (albeit easily circumvented by renaming the file.)
  4. Assuming I had the images sorted in chronological order when I renamed them, the images sort in the correct chronological order, e.g., 2014-05-15_Mom’s 80th Birthday_Zwit_0034.nef will be followed by 2014-05-15_Mom’s 80th Birthday_Zwit_0035.nef. (Computers sort differently than humans and that is why we use four numbers for the year and always use two digits for the month and day, e.g., June 19, 2014, is 2014-06-19, and November 9, 2014, is 2014-11-09.)

It isn’t important whether you use this scheme or another. What is important is that you develop a scheme and use it without fail. As with naming folders, whatever scheme you choose must do two things: (1) be easy to follow and (2) make it easier to find your images.

Once you select a naming scheme, you can create a preset that will automate renaming your images by doing the following:

  1. Click on F2 or go to Library > Rename Photos…
  2. Click on the File Naming drop-down menu and click on Edit… See Image 1 below.
  3. In the Filename Template Editor (See Image 2 below), first clear the current preset from the text box at the top of the window and then select the appropriate tags that will make up your template (If you want to add a description to the filename as I do, insert the Custom Text tag at the appropriate location; when you go to use this template, Lightroom will allow you to enter the description without having to edit the template. Also, if you use a sequence number to make the names unique, pad it with at least three zeros, i.e., select the sequence tag “0001” or “00001.”)
  4. Once the preset is created, you MUST save the template by clicking on the File Naming drop-down menu and clicking on Save Current Settings as a New Preset…
  5. Enter a name for the new preset
  6. Click Done
File Naming drop-down menu

Figure 1: Rename window with the File Naming drop-down menu. The Edit… option is at the bottom of the drop-down menu.

Filename Preset Window

Figure 2: Filename Template Editor with Brian’s Standard Filename template displayed in the text box at the top of the window.

Rename Photos window

Figure 3: Rename window with the Standard Filename template selected. Note that custom text, in this case a description, can be added when this template is selected; if a template doesn’t contain a Custom Text tag, you can’t enter custom text.

Once the template is complete, renaming the images can be done quickly and easily as follows:

  1.  Select all the images by using the shortcut Ctrl/Cmd + A
  2. Click on F2 or go to Library > Rename Photos…
  3.  Choose a template for renaming the images from the File Naming drop-down menu
  4. Add custom text, if any, and change the sequence number if necessary
  5. Click on OK (the wording of this button is different on a Mac)

If you name your folders and files consistently and in way that makes them easier to find, you will be able to retrieve specific images quicker than if you leave the file names as they come out of the camera. And, the great thing about Lightroom is that you can automate renaming the image files with a template. So, there really isn’t any excuse for not being able to find any image quickly.

– Brian

Editor’s Note: In early May, Brian started a series of ten posts each outlining one or more simple but small things you can do to speed up your Lightroom workflow. This is the fourth post in that series; the first post was about how to efficiently manipulate Lightroom’s interface to reduce clutter; the second about the improving your efficiency inside Lightroom by using context menus; and the third about how to name folders.

This entry was written by School of Creative Photography and published on May 27, 2014 at 3:45 pm. It’s filed under Editing Images and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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