This is a scheduled post, as I am in Swaziland and South Africa until 7th March, and will probably have no internet access. If you do comment, please don’t think I am ignoring you by not replying!
Online, debate still rages about the best way to organise images, and one of these debates usually boils down to whether to let your catalogue software (such as Lightroom) handle everything about your images, or to use some sort of a date or event based system.
I am somewhere in the middle. I use Lightroom for cataloguing, and do enter keywords and metadata, but I also like my file and folder names to be logical, as I am sure that one day I will unfortunately have to move away from Lightroom.
I only really shoot for myself, so don’t have a vast stock library to maintain, and I don’t shoot multiple clients in a short time frame. I feel my naming conventions are more aligned to those who shoot on occasion, rather than every day.
This has the benefit of being placed in date order by default, when you look at the folder, but the disadvantage that unless you know the exact date something was taken, then it makes it harder to find an image (outside of the catalogue software). One benefit of date based is that Lightroom (and other software) can create date based folders on import, thus removing one step from the ingestion process.
I will use date based folders when on a long trip, as the software I use for image ingestion when there are large volumes of images (Downloader Pro) makes it trivial to split downloaded images into not just dated folders, but folders based on shooting info such as camera model, file format etc.
These folders have the advantage that it is immediately clear that in a folder called CLAIRES BIRTHDAY you will find images relating to just that. However, what happens if there are 2 Claire’s? Then what happens when you go to the same 2 parties next year, and the day after. You will end up putting dates on stuff anyway, so it is much better, in my opinion, to start folder names with dates.
As a result of combining the above 2 methods, we end up with what I currently use. The method I use enables the folders to list in date order, but also for me to see at a glance what is within them.
Of course, for those who allow their catalogue software to manage everything, there is nothing to stop you just putting every single image in a folder called PHOTOS, and use keywords and metadata to sort and search within the software. The main 2 disadvantages with this are;
As with folder naming, there are several ways to go with file naming.
Whilst in theory you could leave the file names as they are when they come out of the camera, I urge you to change them to something at least vaguely intelligible. Searching through a folder with 10000 images, all starting with DSC_ is not going to be fun. Of course, good image management software, such as Lightroom, takes this sort of thing in its stride by reading the metadata and EXIF info to let it sort via the hidden file information.
CLAIRE.jpeg, CLAIRE AND HANNAH.jpeg work for some people, but as soon as you have multiple images in the same folder, then you need some sort of numbering system as well. Of course, if you combine English names with non-dated folders, you need to start thinking about having dates on the filenames, which leads me nicely on to how I name my files.
Date is self-explanatory, in the format YYYYMMDD it will enable any file I have taken to list in the correct date order, no matter how many other files happen to be in that folder.
Sequence ensures that all images shot on a certain date will display in the order they were shot, even if there were multiple images taken on the same second (using continuous shutter).
Subject allows for searching by subject, and enables me to ensure I am looking at the right images before opening them. I keep it very basic.
It is trivial to have Lightroom rename my files like this, I have the setup saved as a default. I ensure no spaces, and use underscores as a separator.
I feel that my file and folder naming offers me the best of both worlds.
I normally manage my images from within Lightroom, so make sure I use all the great features available within the software, such as smart collections, to make managing and grouping images a breeze.
However, by utilising dates and subjects within my folder and file names, I am also able to narrow down what I am looking for outside of the catalogue.
It may seem overkill having dated filenames within dated folders, but the dated folders are for locating a set of images, and the dated filenames ensure filenames are unique, and independent of being in a folder.
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