On Organizing Image Files

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:

Visible light spectrum. Test shoot. ©Alina Oswald.

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.

Example:

If organized first chronologically, and then by name, your folder/subfolder structure might look something like this:

2021
People
Portraits
Editorials
Events

Places
U.S.
COVID-19

NOTES:

  • 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:

Example:

PeoplePortraitsClient 1
Client 2
Client 3
Date
Date
Date
EditorialsClient 1
Client 2
Client 3
Date
Date
Date
EventsClient 1
Client 2
Client 3
Date
Date
Date
AdvertisingClient 1
Client 2
Client 3
Date
Date
Date

RAW files

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_NAME_INITIALS_NUMBER

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

Example:

If I do a photo shoot in Hawaii, a renamed RAW filename would look something like this:

20210128_Hawaii_ao_0001.NEF

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:

20210128_Hawaii_BigIsland_ao_0001.NEF

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.

IT Helpdesk Work – A Snapshot. ©Alina Oswald.

Metadata

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!

Alina Oswald

4 thoughts

    1. Hello Klaus,

      Appreciate your kind words. I just wanted to share a few ideas regarding how to best organize image files. That also helps with workflow, metadata, all that behind-the-scenes work that we do when we don’t actually photograph. It can get quite complex and confusing. I’ve started reorganizing my files and copying them to a new hard drive, and, what can I say…it’s a work in progress. Thanks again, very much. Thank you, again. Hope all is well. Stay safe! All the best, Alina

      Like

  1. Nice to see you, Alina! Thanks for allowing us to look at your method of arranging images. My way of classifying and structuring images is stronger than the average.

    Like

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for your note. In my post about organizing image files, I tried to give a general idea, a starting point, based on my method and based on other photographers’ methods. It’s not mine, alone, and not in all its details. One can always add more to that, of course. Over the years I’ve found that post-production workflow (including image file organization) can change, if only ever so slightly, but, in general, it has to do with whatever works for each one of us, as photographers. Thanks again for visiting.

      Like

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