Lightroom workflow for multi-camera projects

How I manage and edit photos taken with two or more cameras in order to deliver sequentially numbered files whose order matches the real sequence of the shoot

I use prime lenses so I often carry two camera bodies, one with a 50mm or wide angle and the other with a longer lens. For weddings and conferences, there might be a second photographer also working with two cameras. And each camera may use several memory cards. But of course the client doesn’t care about focal lengths or camera brands. She wants a single folder of images showing the real sequence of events. The bridesmaid caught the bouquet after the bride tossed it. Uncle George was sober before he got snarling drunk.

Lightroom is a rich, sophisticated piece of software, so there are obviously several ways this could be achieved. But my preferred working methods impose some additional constraints:

  • I don’t want to rename files as I export them. For me, it’s important that the photos on my client’s hard drive have the same filenames as the ones in my Lightroom catalogue. If he comes back with a query about an image, I want to be able to identify it immediately and unambiguously from the filename.

  • I want to keep the images from each shoot in a single folder. My catalogue is large and complex enough without adding another layer of sub-folders.

1. Synchronise your watches!


Modern cameras keep pretty good time, but rarely perfect. After a month or two, most drift away from the real time by seconds, minutes or even hours. Just before the shoot, start by synchronising one of your cameras with your smartphone. Then synchronise each of the others with the first. Bring up the ‘Time zone and date’ display on the first phone so that you can see the seconds ticking. On the camera to be synchronised, go into ‘Time zone and date’ and then into ‘Date and time’. With seconds set at ‘00’, adjust minutes to the next minute, and then click ‘OK’ as the first camera arrives at that minute. Don’t forget to check that the time zone and the hour, day, month and year are correct, too!

2. Rename files as you import

I warn you in advance that we are going to rename our files again in Step 4, so you might wonder why we also need to rename them at the import stage. As a matter of principle, I always give every image a unique filename as it enters my Lightroom catalogue. Here we are dealing with multiple cameras, so there is always a risk that two cameras might assign the same filename to two different images and that one of them would be overwritten. If it ever happened, Sod’s Law decrees that the lost image would be the very best one of the entire shoot.

I give each image folder a sequential number (‘1234’), and I generally name the files in it by combining the name of the folder itself with second-level sequential numbering (‘1234-0001’, ‘1234-0002’, etc.). However, when I’m importing photos from a multi-camera shoot, because I will need to rename the files for a second time I add an ‘x’ to the end of the first part of the filename – ‘1234x-0001’, ‘1234x-0002’, etc.. (I’ll explain why a bit later. For now just believe me, it’s important.)

To import the photos from the first card used in the shoot, call up the Lightroom Import module and enter the name of the destination folder in the ‘Destination’ section of the configuration panel (on the right of the screen). In my case, this is ‘0509’. In the ‘File renaming’ section of the panel, check the ‘Rename files’ box. I have my renaming template set up as:

{Custom Text}-{Sequence # (0001)»}

My plan is that each file in the folder will in the end be named ‘0509-0001’, ‘0509-0002’, etc. However, as explained above, at this stage I am going to add an extra character, so I enter ‘0509x’ in the Custom Text field. At this point, the Import configuration panel appears as it is shown in the screenshot. Note that Lightroom shows the Sample filename as ‘0509x-0001’. This is exactly what I want.


3. Differentiate cameras in metadata

My overall objective is to be able to view, edit and export images in their correct sequence, with sequential filenames. But there will probably be some editing tasks – white balance adjustment, for example – that it will be quicker to perform on groups of photos from a single camera. To make sure that the overall sequence can easily be filtered by photographer and camera, for each card that I import I add an identifier (such as ‘Simon-D810-A’ or ‘Sarah-D5-A’) in the Keywords field of the ‘Apply During Import’ panel.

Having done this, we can go ahead and click on the ‘Import’ button to pull the images off the first card into our Lightroom catalogue.

4. Rinse and repeat

To import images from each of the other cards, go through exactly the same steps as for the first.

The only things you need to change in the Import configuration panel are:

  1. Start Number in the File Renaming section – set the start number to one higher than that of the last image from the previous card

  2. Keywords in the Apply During Import section (if necessary)


One word of warning. Next time you import anything into your Lightroom catalogue, you’ll need to remember to delete the Keywords text and set the Start Number back to 1.

5. Reorder and rename files

Now the contents of the folder, sorted in ascending (A-Z) order of filename, look something like the first table below. (In this simple example, the folder only contains 12 images shot with two different cameras. But the method would work exactly the same if it contained 5,000 images shot with six different cameras.)


Changing the filenames in the way we want takes two steps. Both are performed in Lightroom’s Library module. First, we sort the folder in ascending (A-Z) order of Capture Time.


The contents of the folder will now look like this:


We are now ready to rename the files. Press Ctrl-A to select all the files in the folder, then open the Metadata section of the right-hand panel. Right at the top of the section, you should see that the File Name field is marked as < mixed >. This makes sense, since we have selected multiple files, each with a different filename. If you hover the pointer over the button at the right of the field, the ‘Batch Rename’ message will appear in a pop-up. Click on the button to bring up the Rename dialogue box.

Make sure that the File Naming settings are exactly the same as those you used earlier in the Import module. In my case, this is:

{Custom Text}-{Sequence # (0001)»}

In the Custom Text field, I enter ‘0509’ and the example shows me the first filename ‘0509-0001.jpg’, which is exactly what I want. Go ahead and click OK. Lightroom now renames the first of the selected files – the one with the earliest capture date – as ‘0509-0001’, the next as ‘0509-0002’, and so on until it reaches the last file. Depending on the number of files and the speed of the drive on which the files are stored, this could take a few minutes. The contents of the folder should now look like this:


(The reason we added an ‘x’ to the filenames in step 2 is to avoid the possibility of a clash between the original naming scheme and the new one. In the example shown in the tables, if we had not used the ‘x’, Lightroom would have proceeded as follows, and would quickly have got into trouble:

  • rename 0509-0007 to 0509-0001 – okay

  • rename 0509-0001 to 0509-0002 – unable to rename file (because a file named 0509-0002 already exists in the folder)

The ‘x’ ensures that Lightroom will never find the filename that it is supposed to give a file ‘already occupied’ by another.)

We have now achieved what we set out to do. However the files in my folder are sorted or filtered, any export (as long as I don’t rename the files again when I export them) will produce files whose filenames match to the second the order in which the photos were taken.

6. Filter by metadata to speed up editing

As I said earlier, there may well be times when you want to be able to apply changes to a number of the images shot with one camera. Sarah was shooting in the tungsten light of the reception room while I was still outside shooting the guests arriving under natural light. But now that I have aligned filenames with capture times, the two sets of images are completely mixed together.

This is where the camera keywords that we inserted in step 3 as we were importing the files from each card come into their own. In the Library module, in the Library Filter bar at the top of the screen click on Text and enter the keyword for the camera concerned in the search field.


It should now be easy to work on groups of images that need the same white balance, exposure or saturation adjustment.

To remove the filter in the Develop module, just select ‘Filters Off’ in the drop-down list at the right of the Filter bar (bottom right of the screen). Alternatively, return to the Library module and simply delete your keyword from the search field in the Filter bar.

Manual focus

I was recently asked to shoot the rehearsal of a dance performance at La Raffinerie in Molenbeek (Brussels). The studio was windowless and the piece is choreographed – for three dancers, a musician and a reader – with almost no lighting except low spotlights of varying intensity on three sides. The Nikon D810's autofocus is supposed to be miraculous in low light, but in light that low it really didn't work at all. The dancers were in contuous movement and I couldn't afford to wait while my lens hunted up and down for something it could get a grip on, so I switched to manual.

I found it strangely liberating. Often, there was not even enough light for me to judge the focus in the viewfinder. But I was making choices, and sometimes I deliberately chose to soften the focus on what would normally be considered the subject.