I think it’s important to give pictures unique file names at the beginning of the workflow to avoid possible confusion up the road.
A typical file name from digital camera looks something like this: IMG_1700.JPG. The number used in the file name is a counter which goes from 1 to 9999 and then starts again at one. This file naming convention allows only 10.000 unique file names and as that is a figure most photographers reach rather quickly the problem starts with photo number 10.001. That photo will be the second file with the name IMG_0001.JPG, so one might within one year have 3 different files with the same name.
When I import pictures from a memory card into my computer, I use the rename feature in Lightroom which makes it easy to create a custom file naming conventions, and it is a good idea to decide on one file name structure and keep that for future imports.
A unique file name structure can be very helpful when sending digital files to clients, family, friends etc. or when pictures are put on the net. People will base their request upon the file name and if more then one file has the same name the request will be difficult to fulfill, unless you have mind reading capabilities in addition to your photographic prowess.
I therefore use a file naming convention which starts with the date taken and add the file number generated from the camera as suffix. The above file name (IMG_1700.JPG) which was taken on the 18 of mars 2007 will therefore be named:
This convention makes my pictures unique as long as I don’t take more than 10.000 pictures in one day, and I doubt that day will come anytime soon. Well it might happen if I decide to buy a camera like the new Canon 1D Mark III which shoots 10 frames per second :-)
In the import photos dialog there is a combo box to select the predefined naming template to apply to the imported photos:
Select Edit… from this combo box to define a custom file naming template. Here is the template with the settings I use in my workflow:
The file name template is very flexible. It is possible to refer to EXIF data (almost all EXIF info populated by the camera can be used in the file naming;ISO, Focal length, Lens, Shutter time etc.) or write your own text (adding W for weddings, F for Family and so on). When my girlfriend and I are shooting with different cameras on the same day, I sometimes add the camera model at the end of the image name to make sure that dublicate file names will not be a problem.
I think this is a flexible and powerful function in Lightroom, and I highly recommend it.