What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
– Shakespeare

The meaning of that quote is pretty clear: it doesn’t matter what you call something it’s what it looks like, (or smells like), that is important.  But is that really the case in photography?

What’s in a name?

In photography, the names that we give our images can be important. I am not talking about titles for images such as the image below which has the title of “I am an individual” I am referring to the topic of file names. Having a clear and thought out file naming convention can really help you in the long run.

Let me give you an example: a few years ago I received a telephone call from someone trying to track down the family of an old lady who had died. In her home, they found a photograph that I had taken.  It showed a young couple and their children. The person who called me thought the image might be relatives of the old lady and wondered if I could identify the family. I was able to tell the person on the phone to read out the reference number on the back of the photo.  The reference number was in fact the filename for the image. Because I have a standard naming convention which maps to where I store the images I was able to bring up the image on my computer while I was still on the phone. I was then able to describe the image I had on the screen so that we both knew we were talking about the same photograph.  Next because I use a standard filing convention, the folder that the image was in was named with the name of the family that I had photographed and I was able to tell the person on the phone their name. Unfortunately, in this case, it wasn’t relatives of the woman who died it was relatives of her next door neighbour.

However, what this example shows is that having a good naming convention will enable you to find images quickly when you need to.

Another reason for have a good naming convention is to ensure that you do not have duplicate filenames.  If you are leaving your images with the names produced by the camera you will start to get duplicate names, and withing a few years you may have several images called img0123.jpg on your system.  This may not be a problem but if you ever wanted to sell images via a stock library, the library is likely to insist that every image you submit has a unique filename.

So, what naming convention do I use?

Here is the format I use:


All my images start with the date: year (YY) month (MM) day (DD). I also have a job code (j). This is a single letter.  A for the first Job of the day, B for the second job of the day and so on. I also use a single letter to represent either the camera (C) I was using or the name of the photographer when I hire a second photographer to shoot alongside me or on my behalf. The final part of the naming convention (nnnnn) is a sequence number this is the number generated by the camera when the image was taken.

This is by no means the only possible naming convention that a photographer could use. Some photographers do not use date based naming conventions.  Instead, they may use a naming convention based on the type of work they are doing or location where they are shooting.

I prefer a date based naming convention. This is because it guarantees it will be unique. If you name your files based on the client’s name it can get complex if you have two Smiths for example.

Filing Convention?

Filing conventions are very much related to file name conventions. This refers to the name of the folder you store your images in.

The convention I recommend is a year\month\day folder structure.  Create a top level folder for all your images called “photos” or “images”.  The first folder will be the year, for example: 2017 The next level down will be the month, for example: 2017-02 The final level will be the date, for example 2017-02-10.   The good news if you use Lightroom is that it can create folders that follow this pattern as you import your images.

Once all the files are imported, I also recommend adding a short description to the end of the folder name.  (In my case I also add the job code at the end).  Here’s what is should all look like:

Here’s what is should all look like:

           \2016-12-25A [Christmas Day]
           \2016-12-31A [Madiera]
           \2016-12-31B [New Years Eve]
           \2017-01-02A [Lisbon]
           \2017-01-25A [Garrick Play]
           \2017-02-03A [Beat the Clock Event]
           \2017-02-07A [Power of Grey Event]

One final thing

Whatever filing and naming convention you settle on, one other thing to keep in mind when deciding on your own naming convention. Think about how many characters you need to use in the filename. This is because when displaying images in Lightroom’s library module there are only so many characters that can be displayed on the thumbnail display.  I used to work with one photographer who had a very long file names. When his images were imported into Lightroom, all his images appeared to have the same name because Lightroom could not display the rightmost characters.

Want to know more?  I’ll be going into this in much more detail tomorrow at this event: Introduction to Digital Image Management and Editing [CR006]

Until next time, keep making great images,