When Order Matters

by Tim Grey | November 21, 2012

Organized filesPerhaps I’m biased, having “grown up” in a film photography world. Back then, more often then not sharing images meant putting slides into slide pages, with twenty images per page. And I actually spent time thinking about which order the images would be presented in and how they appeared overall as a group.

I happen to know that I’m not the only one who thinks about this sort of thing, as demonstrated by a question posed recently in my free Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter. Here’s what the reader asked:

After I edit and arrange images in Adobe Bridge, when I go to export them to my desktop or directly to a thumb drive for transport to another computer the order I created is not maintained but reverts to original order. Very frustrating. What is the solution?

This problem is not unique to Adobe Bridge, though Bridge can be particularly annoying when it comes to sort order since it doesn’t include an option to sort by capture time. But I digress…

The order in which images appear outside of Bridge, of course, can’t be directly controlled by Bridge, as I indicated at the start of my answer:

The order in which images (or any files) appear is really dependent upon the software (or operating system) being used to view the files. In other words, there isn’t an inherent sort based on the files themselves, but rather based on specific file criteria.

In most cases the default sort order is filename, and that points to a relatively easy solution for ensuring (to the extent possible) that the images will be sorted in the order you intend is to rename the photos once you have sorted them.

The solution is actually rather straightforward, and can be implemented in just about any image-management application. The key is to first sort the images in the order you want them, and then rename the images so the numbered sequence of the filenames matches the intended order. This is best done with copies of the original images, of course. In the case of Adobe Bridge that can mean starting off with copies of your originals, or you can make use of the Image Processor in Photoshop to create those copies for you. If you happen to be using Lightroom, the files can be renamed upon Export.

Keep in mind that in both Bridge and Lightroom (among other applications) you can drag image thumbnails around to change the order to a custom order. So, I typically start by sorting images based on whatever criteria is closest to what I’m looking for, and then drag and drop images around to fine-tune the order.

You can then rename the images. In Adobe Bridge that is done by choosing Tools > Batch Rename from the menu. As I elaborated in my original answer:

Assuming you are working with copies of your original images you can choose the “Rename in same folder” option in the Destination Folder section. Then create a filename structure, generally by including a Text item that provides a description of the photos, as well as a Sequence
Number to ensure unique filenames. You can then click Rename to process the renaming for your photos, so they are now renamed in order based on the sort order you created.

Having renamed the files with a numbering sequence that matches your preferred presentation order, you can share the files with a reasonable degree of confidence that
they will be displayed in the correct order, since in most cases the display order defaults to filename.

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Adobe Bridge screenshot

About the Author

Tim Grey is an educator in digital photography and imaging, offering clear guidance on complex subjects through his writing and speaking.

Tim has written more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has published dozens of video training courses, has had hundreds of articles published in magazines such as Digital Photo Pro and Outdoor Photographer, among others. For more than a dozen years he has been publishing the daily Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, answering questions from photographers, and produces the related Ask Tim Grey Podcast. He also publishes the monthly Pixology electronic magazine, and publishes video training courses through Tim teaches through workshops, seminars, and appearances at major events around the country and around the world.

Tim can be reached via email at

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