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!

Finding Inspiration

In “Did the Web Kill the Art of Photography”, I mused that “we were at one time (or still are?) terrible photographers.”  So how do you graduate to higher levels of photography? Easy, you shoot photos every chance you get, develop your skills, try new techniques, and perfect your eye.

Here’s the caveat.  You have to shoot the photos YOU want to shoot and the photos YOU enjoy shooting.  Don’t let others dictate what you should enjoy shooting or what photos they think would bring the most success.  Accept constructive criticism, but be mindful of who is giving you that criticism.  Do they have relevant experience? Do you respect their opinion?  The criticism of your art/design professor or mentor should hold more value than the casual comment of your ex or college roommate who majored in managerial accounting.

What if you don’t know what you want to shoot?  What if you’re having a difficult time honing in on your particular interests and all you can say for sure is that you’re a photographer, and you like to shoot, um, photos?  Discovering what inspires you involves a bit of legwork.  Do your research. Pay close attention to all the images you encounter and save them if you can.  You know that aunt of yours who hasn’t thrown out a single possession since 1972?  Channel that pack-rat energy and become an image collector of sorts.  Then, study them.  Analyze them.  Try to figure out how a photo was lit.  If it was a magazine shoot, there might be behind-the-scenes videos on the web.  Observe the process and take notes.  Don’t straight up copy what you see, but draw out what vibes/moods are being communicated in the image.

Some photographers and art directors like pinning images on a wall or board.  Recently, I’ve been going through old magazines and tearing out images that I find appealing or create a mood that I enjoy.  Recently, I’ve been doing some house cleaning and recycling some old magazines over the past 5 years. The photo below is a wall of some tear sheets in my apartment.

This is a great exercise for visual stimulation.  And, since I tend to find most of my inspiration on the web, I save all electronic images into different folders on my computer, separated into categories like style, sports, couples, fashion, etc. for future reference.  The more you evaluate what makes an image speak to you, the more refined your visual palette will become.  Pretty soon, you’ll know exactly what YOU want out of your photography.

And, remember to specialize!  So when you land an assignment, you’ll get a subject/shot that you’ll enjoy shooting.

What’s Your Story?

Recently, I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort to splash around in the networking pool to help promote my brand.  Author and public speaker, Seth Godin says, “…that marketers tell stories. We tell them to clients, prospects, bosses, suppliers, partners and voters. If the stories resonate and spread and seduce, then we succeed.”

My story is that I’m an aerospace engineer turned photographer, but I often wonder if that’s enough to leave a lasting impression.  Will my story stick with my audience?  Have I made interesting conversation that sparks curiosity?  If not, how can I put a seductive spin on my story without coming off as grandiose or a down-right liar?  And after all that effort, will they like me?  Sounds like the questions I ask myself when I’m on a first date!  To think of it, networking is a lot like dating.  You never know who you’ll meet and how that person could change your life unless you give it chance.  I should take my own advice when it comes to dating. I’ve been single for how long now!?!  Sorry, that’s irrelevant.

A lot of people find networking to be very uncomfortable, especially if you don’t have the gift of gab or a natural instinct to socialize.  But, if you’re in the business of promoting your business, then gird your loins and learn to put yourself out there.  It will be awkward at first, but the more you do it, the more you’ll get the hang of it (again, like dating!).  Here’s a tip: If social situations are really unbearable for you, ease your way into the networking scene by bringing a friend who has a knack for approaching strangers with confidence and grace.  And if your friend is attractive, that helps too.  And don’t forget to dress appropriately.  You don’t want to make a first impression with a potential client in your gym clothes or PJs (unless, of course, they’re that kind of client).

In my networking experience, I’ve found that people like to talk…a lot.  So if you’re brave enough to step out from behind your camera and start networking, ask questions.  Have them tell you their story.  That way, all you have to do is listen, and people will actually remember you for being interested in what they have to say.  And who knows?  Maybe after all that listening, you’ll find that you’re able to share your perspectives sans nervous stuttering.

So, what’s your deal?  Do you have an interesting journey into photography?  I’m all ears.