File Organization & Naming

I don’t know about you, but I have LOTS of photos.  When I say LOTS, I mean that I’ve passed the one million mark, and I only shoot part-time.  Think of all the full-time, working photographers out there who must have millions or even tens of millions of image files.  When you have to handle that many files, being organized, having the right file management system, and keeping a dependable backup system – I’ll save our chat about backup options for another post – are absolute necessities.  Even if organization is not your forte (i.e. Container Store?  There’s a store for…containers?!?), here are some simple things you can do to keep your files manageable:

Give Your Files Meaningful Names
The native file name out of a Canon camera looks like this:

_MG_xxxx  OR  IMG_xxxx

and if you’re using a Nikon, I’m sure you’re familiar with this:


But after a few photo shoots, you’re probably going to have duplicate filenames (because that’s what some cameras do when they have been re-formatted or reset, depending upon your custom settings), and unless you’re in the habit of uploading your files into separate folders or directories immediately after a photo shoot, you’ll soon end up with eight different images with the name “IMG_4557” floating around in your hard drive.  Make life easier.  If you add meaning to your file names, you’ll find that searching and organizing them later will be a breeze.  For example, include the date and project name:

year_month_date_client_project_number =  2010_09_01_johndoe_headshot_001

You can even shorten it a bit by removing the underscores in the date:

20100901_johndoe_headshot_00 OR  100901_johndoe_headshot_001

Notice that I did not use capital letters or spaces.  Generally speaking, using capital letters in your file names is poor practice since some software applications are case sensitive, and spaces are painful for web browsers and search engines.  Better to play it safe and stick to lowercase and underscores.

Remember Your File-Naming System
You just finished renaming your files and you’re ready to organize! Huzzah!  But, uh-oh.  You see this:


And now you’re stumped.  Was that Mr. Doe’s headshot session from October 9, 2001 or January 9, 2010 or September 10, 2001?!?

Have a practical file-naming system, but make sure you know and stick with the same sequence of year/month/date.  Another tip: Don’t leave off those zeroes when dealing with single digits.  September should be “09” not “9” and the 3rd should read “03” not “3”.  Remember Y2K?  Not including that “0” will only add to the confusion to your numerical system as the years and decades go by.

I know what you’re thinking…Using a year/month/date file-naming system is so BORING and CONVENTIONAL.  I’m a CREATIVE!  I’m a FREE-SPIRIT!  I want to name my files after the astrological pattern of the third moon rising over Saturn! Before you give in to your inner flower child, think of this advantage:  If you organize your images and folders in a practical manner (for instance, years and months), it will drastically decrease the time that you spend searching for your files and give you more time to work with the image creatively (and ponder the meaning of life).  So your folder structure might look like (FYI, these are fake folders, just for the purpose of this post).  And notice the digits that precede the name of the month…

Also, as a professional selling your services, it is inevitable that you will deal with people who may not share your, um, mindset.  Using a chronological system will offer that other “non-creative” person (client, vendor, colleague, etc.) information about the image and make it easier for them to handle accordingly.  Easier = Satisfied client/vendor/colleague = More work and $$ for you!

You can also use keywords to tag your images, but this could lead to problems with inconsistency, especially if you have multiple people (e.g. an intern, personal assistant, butler) assisting you with the task.  I’ve spoken to colleagues who have worked at the big stock houses like Getty and Corbis, and it seems that consistent keywording is a source of trouble, even for them.  Having a structured, meaningful file-naming system can be an easy way to organize and search, without dealing with the potential headaches of keywording.

Quick Recap:
*Consistent File Name Structure/Syntax
*Meaningful and Practical Naming System
*No Spaces
*No Capital Letters

These are my tried-and-true file organizational tips that I’ve picked up from spending way too much time searching.  If you have your own tips to share, let’s hear them!

2 Responses to “File Organization & Naming”

  1. Yvonne

    OK, I’ll bite…. I’ve been using capital letters in my titles. No good? What are the reasons? I’m pretty careful otherwise, but I’ve been capitalizing my initials and my two-word subjects, such as YMuller101121_1234FriedEggs. It sounds like this could be a disaster for me… I’m glad that you mentioned it.
    Thanks, Yvonne

    • darrensabino

      Yvonne, if you ask any computer programmer, they’ll tell you that caps are just bad news. If you’re consistent, it’s typically fine. But your clients can easily overlook capital letters and can be a frustrating experience if they don’t notice it. You know what I mean?



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