Using Filename Templates in Lightroom - Digital Darkroom Academy

Using Filename Templates in Lightroom

Unless you’re familiar with the feature, you would probably be wondering what in the world are filename templates in Lightroom. I’ll start explaining it from it’s source: the digital camera.

Working with digital cameras, you must have noticed by now that they automatically generate filenames for photos. These filenames tend to show the sequence in which you took those photos and that isn’t exactly descriptive or useful information. While filenames are probably the last thing on anyone’s mind when copying or moving images, they do become a matter of concern when you have over hundreds of photos on your computer and there are more coming your way.

At some point the numbers in the camera will reach their upper limit and then you’ll have recurring filenames as well as the danger of similarly named files replacing each other. To avoid such a hassle and make working with photographs easier, it’s best to develop your own naming convention in the beginning rather than waiting until you’re neck deep in unorganized data.

This is where the File Renaming feature in Lightroom is put to use. It consists of different templates for filenames which can be used to efficiently rename files as you import or export them. There are a number of default templates which can be used as well as a Filename Template Editor which allows you to make your own unique templates.

Are filename templates in Lightroom really useful?

Simply renaming photos appears tedious and unnecessary however it makes managing them much more easier. You’ll be thankful for it in the long run.

There are a number of default filename templates present in Lightroom. With the help of these templates you can change filenames to include important information like a specific title, name, date, etc. You can also make combinations of information like a ‘Custom Name & Sequence’ or ‘Date & Filename’. In any case, this changes filenames from a string of random alphabets and numbers to a distinguishable, unique one.

The image below shows default filenames present in Lightroom.

filename templates in Lightroom

Every photographer develops their own system of organization. If none of the default templates seem sufficient, you can develop your own filename template as well!

Creating your own filename template may take a few minutes now but it will save you from repeating the same process every time you have new photos to sort through. You can create a number of different templates to use for different types of photography.

Let’s take the example of wedding photography. Using the Filename Template Editor you can create a unique template which you can use every time you do wedding photography. You can set the year in the beginning, then a Custom Text option where you insert the client’s (bride and groom) name, followed by the sequence or filename of the photographs. This way, no matter which wedding you take your camera to, your filenames will follow a similar pattern of organization but never clash.

Similarly, you can make templates for corporate events, product photography, nature photography and whatever takes your fancy. If mentioning the year is not necessary, you can put a Custom Text or Shoot Name option for Location, Client/Company Name or any other information which would easily distinguish the set of photos from any other set.

Ways to use Filename Templates in Lightroom

The Filename Template can be used when you want to rename your files during import, export and in the library module.

1. During Import

It’s always best to have everything organized before you begin any sort of work, so renaming files during import is a good way to start.

Point to Note: When you are importing your photos, the Filename Template will only be available when you select ‘Copy as DNG’ ‘Copy’ or ‘Move’ from the panel at the top. You won’t be able to rename files using the ‘Add’ button.

When you select any of the first three import options from the top panel, you will notice the File Renaming tab appear on the right hand side. You need to select the Rename File checkbox to be able to use the filename templates.

filename templates in Lightroom filename templates in Lightroom

In the image above you might have noticed that the selected filename template is ‘Date & Filename’, which means that all copied or moved photos will have the date of the photograph and the name given to it by the camera. At the bottom of the File Renaming tab you can see that Lightroom also provides a sample of what the new filename will look like.

From the Template dropdown menu, you can choose any of the default filename templates available or make a new one.

2. During Export

When you Export any images from the Library module, you can rename the photos before you hit that Export button on the dialog box which pops up.

The File Renaming tab in the Export dialog box is similar to the one in Import. You simply have to select the template you want to use from the dropdown menu. Here, again, you have the option to make your own template from the Edit button.

filename templates in Lightroom

3. In the Library Module

If you’ve already imported your files and suddenly remember you need to change your filenames, the situation is still salvageable. You can change filenames in the Library module.

  1. Make sure the files you want to rename are selected.
  2. Select Library on top the ribbon.
  3. From the dropdown menu, select Rename Photos.
    If you’re one for hotkeys, you can simply select your photos and then hit F2.

filename templates in Lightroom

A rather simple looking dialog box will appear on screen. This is your Filename Template. It’s no different from the one you use in Import and Export, containing all the default filename templates as well as the Edit option to make your own.

filename templates in Lightroom


Using the default Filename Templates

As you’ve already seen, the default filename templates in Lightroom are pretty straightforward and they’re just as easy to use. Depending on what you’ve photographed, they can be sufficient as well.

filename templates in Lightroom

1. Custom Name (x of y)

With this template you can add a custom name (which may be anything: the location name, your subject’s name, a shoot title, etc) while Lightroom fills in the second part ‘x of y’, which shows the number of the photo from the total.

You have the option to change the Start Number, too. You can see what the final name will look like in the sample at the bottom of the tab.

filename templates in Lightroom

2. Custom Name – Original File Number

True to its name, this template lets you use a custom name and then tacks the camera given original filename with it. It’s useful if you want to keep the original filenames with some personalization of your own.

In every template you’ll notice the ‘Extension’ option at the bottom as well. This will not affect your filename system. It only changes the extension from full capitals (uppercase) to all small letters (lowercase). It’s preferable to leave it as is.

filename templates in Lightroom

3. Custom Name – Sequence

This template lets you use a custom name and then allots a sequence number to each photo. It’s as straightforward as the template name. You can change the Start Number if you wish.

filename templates in Lightroom

The default filename templates don’t pack a lot of details in the filenames but for some instances this might be adequate.

4. Custom Name

As the template name suggests, all you need to do is type something in the Custom Text box. The images are automatically numbered as untitled.JPG, untitled-2.JPG, untitled-3.JPG, and so on.

filename templates in Lightroom

You will notice a little downward arrowhead on the Custom Text box. When you click it, you’ll be presented with all the text you’ve ever typed as custom text. This is convenient when you need to use the same name a dozen times. However, if you don’t need it anymore, a simple Clear List at the bottom of the dropdown menu clears the entire list.

filename templates in Lightroom

5. Date – Filename

Unfortunately, you can’t control anything in this template. It simply changes the filename so that there is a date added before the filename. The date is arranged in the pattern of year-month-date.

filename templates in Lightroom

6. Filename – Sequence

Apart from the Start Number, there isn’t anything that can be adjusted in this template. It’s one to avoid if you want to add meaningful information to your filenames.

However, that doesn’t diminish its use since it can be used to give sequence numbers.

filename templates in Lightroom

7. Filename

By default, this is the template Lightroom uses during import. It imports filenames as they are.

filename templates in Lightroom

8. Shoot Name – Original File Number

This template allows you to add a custom Shoot Name. The words in the original filename are replaced by the Shoot Name but the numbers are kept. For instance, for a shoot titled ‘Red Roof’ the filenames would change from IMG-0111.jpg to look like Red Roof-0111.jpg, Red Roof-0112.jpg, Red Roof-0113.jpg, and so on.

filename templates in Lightroom

9. Shoot Name – Sequence

Here, you can add a Shoot Name and the photos are then sequentially numbered. Like all templates with sequence numbers, you can also change the Start Number.

filename templates in Lightroom

It always helps to have a look at the Sample at the bottom of the tab if you’re a little unsure on which template to use.

Using the Filename Template Editor

Using the default Filename Templates can be feasible for some but it may not be sufficient if you feel limited by the options available. In such a case you have the freedom to build your own filename template with the Edit option in the template dropdown menu.

filename templates in Lightroom

The dialog box which pops up has a textbox and attributes divided into four major sections: Image Name, Numbering, Additional, and Custom. These attributes have dropdown menus with tokens you will be using to make your own filename template. You’ll notice that the attributes are all those which we have already seen in the default filename templates and then some.

Before you start making your own filename template you need to consider what is important to you in a filename. Be sure the filename is unique, such that

  • it is easy to organize
  • it is easy to find with just the filename
  • that the filename won’t repeat even if you take a photo with a similar subject. (Repeating filenames risk deletion if they’re collected in one folder)

The Filename Template Editor is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is click on a token from the options below and it will appear in the textbox. The order in which you select them and arrange them in the textbox will make up the shape of the template. You can add as many tokens as you want, in whichever order you wish. This makes file naming pretty flexible.

The History Book Technique

The method that I have come up with to name my files is different than the default ones you have available in the Filename Template Editor. I like to call this The History Book Technique.  I go into the detail of this in my course, The Complete Lightroom Course.

If you’ve ever opened a history book to it’s table of contents, you would notice that all the chapters are arranged according to their dates. You would have the year(s) first, then it would also mention the name of that particular period of history. For instance,

1300 – 1700: Renaissance

1685 – 1815: Age of Enlightenment

1760 – 1840: Industrial Revolution

It starts with the date and is then followed by the name of that period. I recommend using a very similar naming convention for your folders and files. This is what my folder name looks like:

YYYYMMDD – Client Name – Project Name

It starts with the date, then goes on to include a description of what is to be found in the folder. If you’re not shooting for a client, you can skip the client’s name from that. So, then, it’ll just be the date and then the project name. With this naming pattern, my folders are chronologically arranged in my hard drive and they are easier to track down.

My filenames are similar, they just have a 4-digit number at the end of it. So, a filename’s template looks something like this:

YYYYMMDD – Client Name – Project Name – 0001.RAW

It’s always useful to have a date, custom/shoot name and sequence in your filename. This creates a unique filename which has no chance of having a twin filename anywhere on the PC. The Client Name can be skipped if you’re not working for clients, but the date and project name should stay in the same order: YYMMDD – Project name  for folders and YYMMDD – Project name  – File Sequence for filenames.




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Making your own Filename Templates in Lightroom

Using The History Book Technique, we’ll be creating a customized filename template.

When you open the Filename Template Editor, the textbox will have some text by default. Since you’re making your own template you should remove this to clear the textbox.

Keeping this order (YYYYMMDD – Client Name – Project Name – File Sequence) in mind, let’s make the filename template.

1. Since the date takes up the first spot on the template, look for the YYYYMMDD format from the options provided in the dropdown. Once you’ve found it, select it and click the ‘Insert’ button.

filename templates in Lightroom

The token selected is in the year-month-date format. It should appear in the textbox looking like this:

filename templates in Lightroom

Directly above the textbox is a sample of what the filename template will look like when used. As you develop the template, the sample keeps track of it and continuously shows you what the filename will look like.

2. Before you add any other token, add a hyphen/dash to create space between two different pieces of information. Otherwise you’ll find yourself trying to read a clutter of a filename.

3. Unlike the other attributes, there are no dropdown menus for the Custom section. Simply click on Insert for the Custom Text, add a hyphen/dash, and then the Shoot Name.

filename templates in Lightroom

The Custom Text can have the client’s name and the Shoot Name can be whatever project you’re working on for the client. If you’re not working for a client, you can use the Custom Text to add different information like Location etc, or skip adding one of the two if you really feel like you don’t need them.

4. It’s best to attach the Numbering tokens at the end of the filename. Also preferential is using a Sequence with 4 digits. This is a sort of safety net since numbers will restart once they’ve hit the maximum count. If you’ve selected a 2 or 3 digit token and reach the maximum of 99 or 999, the renaming will begin again from 001 and you might be in trouble.

filename templates in Lightroom

By now, your textbox will look like this (you can check how your filename looks like in the sample above the textbox):

filename templates in Lightroom

5. Once you’re satisfied with your filename template, you need to save it as a Preset. To save it, click on the Preset dropdown and select Save Current Settings as New Preset…

filename templates in Lightroom

If you ever want to come back and change this template, you can do so by selecting the Update Preset option at the bottom of the dropdown. For now, you need to name your new preset.

filename templates in Lightroom

Naming them according to the tokens you’ve chosen is a good way to keep track of your personalized filename templates, especially if you intend to make more than one. For this one, you can go with the History Book Technique.

Select Create when you’re finished!

When you select your new preset to use as a filename template, you’ll find it in the File Renaming tab under whichever name you made for it.

filename templates in Lightroom

6. For now, all the information in the textbox is somehow editable. You can make up a custom name, shoot name, and even control which number the sequence starts from.

This is completely optional, but if you want to add something which becomes a permanent part of the filename template, for instance, your name or initials, you will have to type it manually in the Filename Template Editor textbox. It’s always preferable to have such information at the head of the template.

In this template, ABC has been added as made up initials. You can see in the sample that they appear exactly as they were written.

filename templates in Lightroom

You will notice it even in the File Renaming tab:

filename templates in Lightroom

This can be a pretty useful feature especially when you’re uploading your photography online. This way the filename carries your name no matter which PC it lands in.


Now that you’re well aware of the different ways you can use filename templates in Lightroom to rename your files, I recommend using The History Book Technique to name your files to keep them organized and easy to find. If there’s another way that you would like to name your files, you can do that too. Let me know in the comments section how you’ve been naming your files up until now.

Shajee Aijazi

Shajee Aijazi is the founder of Digital Darkroom Academy. He helps people speed up their post-processing workflow and organize their photos in a way that they don't have to waste time managing it and they can focus on creating great looking images.

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