Organizing image files is something that we don’t really do on a daily basis, yet something that, as photographers, we’ve done over the years, on a more or less consistent basis. Chances are that, over time, our way of thinking about how best to organize image files and folders has also changed.
Hence, every once in a while, it’s a good idea to revisit our image file naming convention, as well as our file/folder organization, to improve our continuously growing image database.
So, here’s my take, in particular on organizing or rather reorganizing tens of thousands of images:
Think about what works best for you and what makes sense to you. Would it be easier to search for files if they’re organized by date (chronologically) or by name or image purpose (Places, Portraits, Events, Assignments, etc.)? Think about that, and then create image folders and subfolders, accordingly.
If organized first chronologically, and then by name, your folder/subfolder structure might look something like this:
- a 2019 folder might not include a COVID-19 subfolder, because there was no coronavirus pandemic in 2019 (for the most part, or we were not aware of it at that time)
- a 2019 folder might include more subfolders under Places, because travel was possible up until last year’s quarantine
- for consistency, use the same folder/subfolder structure, and adjust it accordingly for folders 2020, 2019, 2018, etc.
- for very old image files and/or scanned images, create a separate folder, and name it YYYY_and_older or YYYY_Older_Scans (something along those lines)
If organized by name/purpose, the folder/subfolder structure would look a bit different and perhaps more complicated:
As with everything else, when coming up with a naming convention for RAW files (digital negatives), again, consistency is key. Many photographers use a version of:
YYYYMMDD: year, month, day when the image was taken
NAME: it depends on the photo shoot; it can be a PLACE, SUBJECT NAME, ASSIGNMENT NAME
PLACE: Hawaii, NOLA, etc.
SUBJECT NAME: the name of the person you photograph (JOHN DOE), the name of the object/group of objects you photograph (PETS, WEATHER), etc.
ASSIGNMENT NAME: this might work best when photographing for an assignment or with a photo project/essay in mind
INITIALS: photographer’s initials or, if working under a photo business, initials of that business (I find this as optional, but to each it’s own)
NUMBER: the number at the end of the RAW image file, as displayed in the original filename
If I do a photo shoot in Hawaii, a renamed RAW filename would look something like this:
That shows that it’s the first image I took on January 28, 2021, in Hawaii, with a Nikon camera. (Note: a filename of an image taken with a Canon would have a different file extension; same goes for Sony and others)
If I want to include more information in the image filename, then the filename might look something like this:
And so on.
NOTE: when coming up with naming conventions for RAW files, I find it easier to use only the year. The full date is already included in the image file metadata. Using only the year (four digits, YYYY) in the naming convention and no initials makes it easier to identify other info about the file, at first glance, while browsing through files and folders. In my opinion.
When it comes to metadata, include it as you organize your files and folders. This comes in handy later on when you try to find a specific file searching by metadata. When including metadata, it’s a good idea to start with the obvious, with general keywords describing the place, subject, purpose of photoshoot (especially if shooting for clients), etc. You can also create metadata templates then apply those templates to specific images or groups of images, etc. Don’t forget the Copyright notice!
Already edited images:
Now, when it comes to edited images, submitted images, and so on:
If the files and folders make sense and are easy to be found, leave them as is. Make sure that everything is in the folder/subfolder it belongs to. Also, another idea would be to create special subfolders (PSD, JPG, LR, for example) and sort the edited image files by Photoshop files, high res JPG files, and low res JPG files. It makes for an easier file search.
I believe that organizing or reorganizing our image files and any files for that matter is a must. Make sure that however you decide to go about it, it does make sense and works for you.
Happy photographing and happy organizing!
Hope this finds you well, and, as always, thanks for stopping by!