Updated: October 16, 2018 | Contains affiliate links

Is it a good idea to rename your image files?


When reading professional photographers blogs and websites I keep coming across this question: is it a good idea to rename your digital pictures files or leave them with the original file name assigned by the camera automatically? The question seems to be a subtle one and the apparent reason for the debate is not immediately obvious. In this article I will be focusing on clearing the issues and identifying the terms.

Is your camera set to unique names for your images?

I can’t say that I have investigated every camera out there, but there is a pretty safe assumption to say that your digital camera has a setting that would assign a unique name to each image. This sounds more complicated that it actually is. Let me explain.

Since I’m a dedicated Canon camera user I will use some of the Canon terms. Canon cameras allow you to choose three different modes for naming your pictures: Continuous, Auto reset and Manual Reset.

Continuous: The file numbering continues in sequence even after the card is replaced. Even after you replace the card, the file numbering continues in sequence up to 9999. (again this is for Canon cameras). Essentially, the first 10,000 pictures on a card will all get unique image numbers, regardless of the date when the picture was taken.

Auto reset: Resets the file numbering to 0001 whenever the card is replaced. This means that every time your replace the card in your camera your image files will be named starting with IMG_0001 and so on until you take the card out.

Manual reset: Well this pretty much allows the user to determine when to reset the numbering. When you reset the file numbering manually, a new folder is created automatically and the file numbering of images saved to that folder starts from 0001.

I always use continuous file numbering to make sure that I have unique file names…well at least up to 10,000. Why are unique file names important? Read on…

Why are unique names for your files important?

The short answer is as follows: unique names for your images help you identify each image. The more complicated and more practical answer is that unique names allow you to distinguish the images shot on different days. If you don’t have unique names and use some sort of automatic reset you will run into duplicate names problems when transferring images shot on the same day on top of existing images from the same day. Let me be more specific.

Let’s say you’re shooting 5 images on July 20, 2010. The Canon camera creates one folder for all the images for one day:


Let’s say you download these pictures to your camera into a folder for that day: 2010-07-20. Then you delete the pictures from the card and put the card back in the camera.

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Then you go out and shoot some more pictures in the same day. Your camera will create the same structure:


So, guess what happens when you want to transfer these pictures in the same folder? Well, you’re right…they have the same name and you have to do some renaming first in order to make it work.

This scenario can get even more complicated if you have more cameras that you’re using that same day and they’re all set on some sort of auto reset. You can only imagine the confusion and frustration.

Should you ever rename your pictures?

Some would argue that you should never rename your pictures, but I think there are very practical reasons why you should rename your pictures. I rename my pictures and I find it very helpful. Let me tell you how I rename my pictures:

I use the following formula: YYYY-MM-DD-[camera file name]. For example, because I use Canon cameras, my files end up being named something like this: 2010-07-20-IMG_1234.

What are the advantages of this naming convention?

Here are my practical reasons for renaming my digital pictures:

  1. It’s very useful to have the date when the picture was taken in the image file name.
  2. Including the unique name created by my camera ensures that my images will definitely have unique names. I have never shot 10,000 images in one single day and I’m not planning to do this at all! I’m safe as far as unique file names are concerned.

Practical rules for renaming your picture files

Some professional photographers include their name in the file name, which is a great idea if you’re submitting your pictures to magazines or online sites where you need to get paid for your images. You can create all kinds of naming conventions as long as you keep things useful things in mind:

  1. Whatever naming convention you’re using, make sure it can be done automatically by software when you transfer your pictures from your camera to your computer. If you think you can just simply rename them one by one by hand…well, you wouldn’t have the time to do it…trust me! It will take you way too much time and you will give up.
  2. Whatever data you include in the file name, make sure that the first piece of data in the file name is something that will help you identify the pictures quickly. What comes in front of the file name will be the criterion used by your computer’s operating system to sort your files…so it’s important. Date will work for most people I believe, but maybe time of day might make sense for you as well.
  3. Try including the original file name in the naming convention so that you make sure that each image will have a unique name. This will come in very handy many times.

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