Monday, August 8, 2011

Using Nikon's File Naming and File Number Sequence in a Clever Way

File naming on the Shooting Menu allows you to control the first three letters of the file name for each of your images. The default is DSC, but you can change it to any three alphanumeric characters provided by the camera.

I'm sure that you can come up with all sorts of clever ways to use these first three images to personalize the storage of your image files. Each member of my family with Nikon DSLRs use their initials in the first three characters of the image file. Later it is obvious who took each picture. You may have something else in mind now that you are learning about the File naming system.

The camera defaults to using the following File naming for your images:
  • sRGB color space: DSC_1234
  • Adobe RGB color space: _DSC1234
According to which Color space you are using, the camera adds an underscore character to the end of the three DSC characters in sRGB, or to the beginning in Adobe RGB, as shown in figure 1, image 2—where I've already renamed the first three characters of the file name to my initials DY, according to the method discussed in this article.

Figure 1 – File naming on a Nikon D300S's Shooting Menu
Here are the steps to set up your custom File naming characters (figure 1):

  1. Select File naming from the Shooting Menu.
  2. Use the Multi Selector to scroll through the numbers and letters to find the characters you want to use.
  3. Press the Multi selector center button to select and insert a character (the buttons used may vary with some Nikons, see your camera's user's manual).
  4. To correct an error, hold down the checkered Thumbnail/playback zoom out button and use the Multi Selector to scroll to the character you want to remove. Use the garbage can Delete button to delete the bad character.
  5. Press the OK button to save your three new custom characters. They will now appear at the beginning of each new image file name.
Now you've customized your camera so that the image names it creates reflects your personal needs.

I use this feature on my camera in a special way. Since the camera can count images in a File number sequence that continues from 0001 to 9999, I use File naming to help me personalize my images. The camera cannot count images higher than 9999. Instead, it rolls back over to 0001 for the 10,000th image. (See Custom setting d Shooting/display > File number sequence, usually Custom setting d7 or d8, discussed in the next section of this article.)

When I first got my camera, I changed the three default characters from DSC to 1DY. The “1” tells me how many times my camera has passed 9999 images, and “DY” are my initials, thereby helping me protect the copyright of my image in case it is ever stolen and misused.

Since the camera’s image File number sequence (see next section) counter rolls back over to 0001 when you exceed 9999 images, you need a way to keep from accidentally overwriting images from the first set of 9999 images you took. I use this method:
  • First 9999 images: 1DY_0001 through 1DY_9999
  • Second 9999 images: 2DY_0001 through 2DY_9999
  • Third 9999 images: 3DY_0001 through 3DY_9999
See how simple that is. The above numbers show a range of 30,000 images. Since many Nikons are tested to over 100,000 images (some more), you will surely need to use a counting system like this one. My system only works up to 89991 images (9999 x 9). If you wanted to start your camera at “0” instead (0DY9999), you could count up to 99990 images.

If Nikon would ever give us just one extra digit in our image counter, we could count in sequences of just under 100,000 images, instead of 10,000 images. I suppose that many of us will have traded on up to the next Nikon DSLR before we reach enough images that this really becomes a constraint. On my Nikon D2X that I've used since 2004, I’m now close to 40,000 images.

This is merely the way I'm using this useful feature in my D300S, D7000, D90, and D2X. If my method doesn’t work for your needs, you could use the three characters to classify your image names in all sorts of creative ways.

File Number Sequence Used with File Naming

A related function to File naming is Custom setting d Shooting/display > File number sequence (usually d7 or d8). This Custom setting function works along with File naming to let you control how your image files are named. If File number sequence is set to Off, the camera will reset the 4-digit number—after the first three custom characters in File naming—to 0001 each time you format your camera’s memory card. I set File number sequence to On as soon as I got my camera so that it would remember the sequence all the way up to 9999 images. I want to know exactly how many pictures I've taken over time.

To enable File number sequence, set it to On using the following Custom Setting Menu screens (figure 2).

Figure 2 – File number sequence on a Nikon D300S's Custom Setting Menu (Custom setting number may vary on various Nikons, but usually are near d7)
Here are the steps and screens used to configure File number sequence (figure 2):

  1. Select d Shooting/display from the Custom Setting Menu and scroll to the right (see figure 2, image 1).
  2. Highlight File number sequence and scroll to the right (see figure 2, image 2).
  3. Choose one of the three choices on the list. In figure 2, image 3, On has been selected. 
  4. Press the OK button to lock in the setting.

My Recommendation: I discussed how I use these three custom characters in the beginning of this article. You may want to use all three of your initials, or some other numbers or letters. Some will even leave these three letters at their default of DSC. I recommend at least using your initials so that you can easily identify these images as yours. With my family of four Nikon shooters it sure makes it easier for me! If you use my method, just be sure to watch for the images to roll over 9999 so that you can rename the first character for the next sequence of 9999 images.

I heartily recommend that you set File number sequence to On. After much experience with Nikon DSLR cameras, and many years of storing thousands of files, I’ve found that the fewer number of files with similar image numbers, the better. Why take a change on accidentally overwriting the last shooting session when copying files on your computer, just because they have the same image numbers?

Additionally, I like to know how many pictures I’ve taken with each camera. Since I use the Shooting Menu > File naming function to add three letters reflecting the current number of times my camera has rolled over 9999 images (e.g., _1DY9999.NEF, _2DY9999.NEF, or _3DY9999.NEF), I’m better able to determine how many images I’ve taken with the camera. I just have to be careful to change the 1DY to 2DY when the image File number sequence rolls over from 9999 to 0001.

Keep on capturing time...

Darrell Young


  1. Thanks for your post. I’m on the road and forgot how to zero my Nikon sequence counter. I reset my counter each year and rename my files with the following leader JKN©-NS-12-xxxxxx (Initials, Copyright, Reference Letters, Year, # Sequence from the camera). I use A Better Finder Rename 8 for Mac OSX ( to rename all my files before importing referenced files into Aperture 3. Happy New Year!

  2. I love your file naming plan. For the second time around, I would move the number to the second position, and the third time around to the 3rd position. So, D1Y and DY1... That will give you three times as many numbers.