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File Name Convention

How you name your image files is important. It is far more important for many more reasons than I think most people realize. Adhering to a convention when naming your files can help you to locate specific images, organize your images, identify ownership of your images, correlate various renditions of your images in various locations, factor into search engine optimization, assist in client proofing and image sales, and more.

And while file names tie into the use of TTG web engines in a number of ways, which shall be discussed, this is not an article only for TTG users; this is an article for all Lightroom users, and all digital photographers.

First things first; let’s take a field trip. Open a new browser window and perform a Google image search for _MG_0001.jpg and/or IMG_0001.jpg, which are common default file names produced by many makes of digital camera. There’s no telling what you’ll find. And I think this illustrates the importance of always renaming your own image files, lest you become lost in this mash of anonymous, often poor quality imagery.

Now, open your Library and search for the same. If you find even a single image still retaining its default file name from the camera, then you haven’t been doing a good enough job managing your files. I know I’m guilty. Are you?

Naturally, every photographer will follow different rules for naming their files. In the course of this article, I will outline and provide support for my own reasoning in naming files. This is the way I think is best, though opinions may vary and you are welcome to disagree. My rules attempt to take into account various factors such as computer operating systems’ file handling, file handing on the web, file name consistency in various locations, file identification, Lightroom behavior and more.

As Lightroom users, the first thing we must take into account is Lightroom’s handling of file names. This is a consideration comprising two parts. The first, is our file handling preferences; the second is exporting from the Web module and will be discussed below. In Lightroom’s Preferences, go to the File Handling tab and locate the options for “File Name Generation”. Pictured below are my recommendations for how to setup these options.

By setting our File Name Generation rules this way, we give ourselves a sort of insurance against pilot error when naming files in the future. And this leads us to our first rule of file naming:

1. Do not use spaces or special characters in your file names.

Considerations taken into account by this rule include file sorting, Lightroom’s Web export behavior and web use.

Spaces or special characters in file names can cause a number of problems in sorting, web use and more. Lightroom recognizes this, and strips file names of spaces and special characters on export from the Web module, replacing them with underscores ( _ ). Rather than relying on Lightroom to do this on export, though, we should name the files in our Library so that Lightroom will have no reason to rename them for the web. This will ensure that your image file names on the web match perfectly the image file names in your Library, making it easier to move back and forth between the two, and also ensuring that you can make the most of your web galleries.

To accomplish this, avoid spaces and special characters when naming your files; use underscores where separation is necessary. Do not use dashes, exclamation points, parentheses, slashes, etc. Example file names might look like mc20070108Identifier001.jpg or mc_20070108_Identifier_001.jpg.

If your files are named correctly, the file names of the exported web gallery images will match the file names in your Library.

With matching file names across the board, it’s easy to isolate files in your library in accordance with the feedback collected by the client proofing features in many TTG galleries. Feedback comes into your mailbox as a comma-separated list of files for each category of feedback (all selections in a list, all 5-rated images in a list, etc.).

You can copy this list of comma-separated files and paste it into Lightroom’s Text filter to isolate the specified images in your Library. The filter should be set to Text | Filename | Contains, as pictured below.

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