In Search of the Perfect Photo Naming Convention

July - 2012

Since starting to shoot digitally in 2001, I've changed the way I name photo files several times. The fancy term is "Naming Convention1". Recently, I've adopted a new one based off these five requirements:

  1. Each image has a unique base filename2.
  2. The base filename3 always has the same number of characters to prevent sorting issues.
  3. The base filename is (relatively) easy to read.
  4. The base filename should encourage all images to group together in their folders.
  5. The base filename contains useful info to aid in searching.

Straight out of the camera, filenames look something like this:

IMG_1235.CR2 IMG_1236.CR2 IMG_1237.CR2 IMG_1238.CR2 IMG_1239.CR2

This fails the first requirement for unique base filenames. After shot "IMG_9999" is taken, the counter resets like the odometer on a car. The next shot is "IMG_0001". That name will have already been used at least once.

With the default name crossed off the list of the possibilities, I started experimenting with conventions that include my initial and some date/time info. This is based of the metadata for the file. To provide some examples of that I tried, the following legend applies

Code | Description --------|-------------- YYYY | Four digit year MM | Two digit month (with leading zeros) DD | Two digit day (with leading zeros)

Example Notes

aws-YYYYMMDDxhhmmssxx-cc.ext aws-20120530x0857

I turned to Photo Mechanic and Lightroom to try renaming with their ingestion tools.


The problem is happens after you take the shot for "IMG_9999". Like the odometer on a car, the counter resets and the next image is "IMG_0001".

the counter starts over at "IMG_0001".


  1. Naming convention - The Wikipedia page that includes several examples of naming conventions.

  2. Why is having a unique filename important? It does two things. First, it makes sure that you never accidentally overwrite an image with a different one of the same name. Second, it makes it simple to search for the filename to find it again in an archive.

  3. By "base filename", I mean everything before the file type extension. For example, with a default camera filename like "IMG_1235.CR2", the base filename is "IMG_1235" and the file type extension is ".CR2". The reason it's important for the base filename to be unique is to prevent confusion from having the same one for two different extensions, like: "IMG_1235.CR2" and "IMG_1235.JPG". It's unlikely, but possible that the ".CR2" and the ".JPG" could different images.

Copied from nvAlt, needs to be integrated.

In Search of the Perfect Naming Convention

The acronym for

Naming conventions that you've tried;


YYYYMMDDhhmmss.ext YYYYMMDDhhmmssxx.ext

Other ones you tried

aws-20100925-img-23204880.cr2 aws-20100925x23204880.cr2 aws-20100925-23204880.cr2





76910009.JPG 76910010.JPG 76910011.JPG

20080301-tl-wedding-1128.CR2 aws-20080327-open-mic-0002.CR2


IMG_1707.jpg (default from camera)


20010721_170855.jpg 20010721_170857.jpg 20010721_170858.jpg

Softball/raw_burning/20050606_183912a.crw Softball/raw_burning/20050606_183912a.thm Softball/raw_burning/20050606_183930a.crw Softball/raw_burning/20050606_183930a.thm

raw_0012/Blue Ground Undergrass 20060812/20060812-0019.cr2 raw_0012/Blue Ground Undergrass 20060812/20060812-0020.cr2 raw_0012/Blue Ground Undergrass 20060812/20060812-0021.cr2 raw_0012/Blue Ground Undergrass 20060812/20060812-0022.cr2

See also:

To this, I can relate: