Photo files

Every photo in the Shotwell library corresponds to a file stored on your hard disk. Shotwell has several features which help you keep the Shotwell library and files on disk in sync.

Using a custom directory pattern

Shotwell allows you to specify how it names directories in your library. You can do this by changing the Directory Structure and Pattern settings in the Preferences dialog. You may use a preselected pattern, or choose Custom and type in your own.

The available symbols for the directory pattern begin with a % (percent sign). The values these symbols produce are locale-dependent, so what you see on your computer may vary from the examples below.





Year: full



Year: two digit



Day of the month with leading zero



Day name: full



Day name: abbreviated



Month number with leading zero



Month name: abbreviated



Month name: full



Hour: 12 hour format



Hour: 24 hour format









AM or PM


There are other symbols available; please check the manual for strftime by running the command man strftime if you need one that isn't listed here.

Automatically importing photos

Shotwell can automatically import new photos which appear in the library directory. (The library directory is usually the Pictures directory in your home directory; you can change its location in in the Preferences window.)

To enable auto-import, check the box Watch library directory for new files in the Preferences window.

Shotwell can also follow symbolic links inside automatically-imported directories.

Automatically renaming imported photos to lowercase

Shotwell can automatically change the filenames of imported photos to lowercase. To enable this, choose Edit ▸ Preferences, and in the Preferences window, check the Rename imported files to lowercase box.

Writing metadata on the fly

By default, Shotwell does not modify photo files, even when you edit photos or change their tags or titles. Shotwell records these changes in its own database only.

To change this behavior, you can enable the checkbox Write tags, titles and other metadata to photo files in the Preferences dialog. When this option is enabled, Shotwell will write the following metadata to most photo files whenever you change it in Shotwell:

  • titles

  • tags

  • ratings

  • rotation information

  • time/date

Shotwell stores this information in photo files in EXIF, IPTC and/or XMP format. Note that Shotwell can write only to photo files in JPEG, PNG and TIFF format, not to BMP photos, RAW photos or to video files.

Runtime monitoring

While Shotwell is running, it notices changes made to any photo file externally. When a photo file changes, Shotwell rereads the file and updates your view of the photo and metadata.

Note that Shotwell checks all photo files for changes at startup, but only photo files contained in the library directory are monitored in real time after startup. We hope to remove this limitation in a further release.