It's All About The Light

Fotographixs

What's In A Name

Have you ever gone looking for an image on your computer and can't remember the name? Did you name it something meaningful at the time you stored it, but not sure what the name is now? Or perhaps you have a directory full of files with names like image-002.jpg, CRW_3209.crw, or something else just as cryptic.

Naming one’s photographic image files is a necessary, but time consuming, process when it comes to dealing with your digital library. It makes handling and storage of your images much easier. I’ve had conversations with folks who are just starting out in digital photography and are having problems in keeping up with their images.

Some folks just dump all of their images into the Pictures folder on their PC then spend forever sifting through them and trying to find a particular image. Other’s actually try and sort their images into folders such as Aunt Junes Wedding, Junior’s Graduations, Sally and the Puppies, and so on. Good start, but then the actual image may get misfiled and not make any sense when viewing that particular folder/directory. Heaven help you if you get some images from friends and family and they happen to have the same camera that uses the same default naming scheme as yours. If you are not careful, you will write over your images with these copies.

As you should start to see, naming your images is an important first step in managing your photo collection. If you just use the default names that your camera assigns your images, you will start running into duplicate image names within a relatively short amount of time. Especially if you are a prolific photographer. Most cameras only allow for 9999 image then they start over from 0001.

 What I’m going to discuss is my method of naming my digital files. This is not necessarily the best method for you. It is only the method that I currently use. Of course, I may change my method at some future date if I find something that I feel provides me with a better method of managing my images. Bottom line, you have to be able to find the image you are looking for and that takes some sort of organization. 

I feel that this organization starts with how you name your images. Basically you need to make sure that your images have a unique name regardless of how many images you have. You also need to make sure that your images can be identified as yours and not someone else’s. I share computers and network storage with my wife. We often photograph the same subject at the same time. We just have different styles. 

 I use a basic 3 part naming scheme. 

 The first part identifies the image as mine. I use my initials: JHN 

I then use the date the image was shot in a year-moth-date format: 2010-09-26. I do it in this format so that the images will be sorted in date order. I initially store my images in folders based on the date but when I’m putting a show or presentation together the copies may get dumped into a working folder. It helps that the images get sorted by date. 

The third part is a sequence number. It just makes sense to sequence your images. I use a 3 digit number starting with 001. I know wedding photographer who will shot well over 1000 images per wedding. Plus they will have one or more assistants shooting as well. If you are prolific, then you may wish to start your numbering scheme with 4 significant spaces. e.g. --0001. Personally, I have never manages to shot more than 999 images in a single day so I keep it to 3 significant digits. 

So my file names will look like: JHN-2010-09-26--001.DNG Now, this provides me with a unique name that will not be duplicated. Just so you know, my wife’s files are KBM-2010-09-26--001.JPG and are not confused with any of mine. Of course we keep separate directories/folder for our respective images, but there are times that we need to combine images for presentations or shows. 

Now, this name is not what one would call descriptive. It is not meant to be. I use Adobe Lightroom for the management of my images. In Lightroom I will provide more metadata such as title and description of the images that I work on and will present. I’ll probably cover this aspect at a later date in another article. I strongly recommend that you use some sort of management tool for maintaining your photographic collection. There are several very good programs for managing your collections. Like I said, I personally use Adobe’s Lightroom. It is available for both the Mac and the PC. Apple’s Aperture is another popular program but only available on the Mac. 

I purposefully keep my file names short. It makes it easier to sift through the file collections and easier to back up. I also have a knack for recalling approximately when I shot a particular set of images. 

Speaking of backing up, do it! Another neat advantage of using the date in your file names is that it is easier to backup to a permanent archive images after a certain amount of time. By having your files organized by date you can see when it is time to move older, dated, images to a permanent archive. Also, when you need to pull something from a backup, chances are that you will have an approximate date and the fact that you used the date as part of your file name will help you locate the image. 

Now, if you shoot more than one location on a given date, you may want to add some sort of description to your basic file name. For example, I start the day off shooting along the Mills River road leading up through the Pisgah Forest. From there we travel along route 276 back to Brevard and shot at several locations along the route. I may finish up shooting in the town of Brevard. All of these images are shot on the same day but it might be nice to further define the files as to where they were shot. Perhaps something like: JHN-2010-09-25--001 Mills River.DNG   JHN-2010-09-25--021 rt276.DNG JHN-2010-09-25--121 Brevard.DNG This is just one way of adding some information to your images to help you organize them. There are as many different ways of naming your image files as there are people out there making images. 

This article is not intended to be a definitive study in naming convention. I only wanted to share the particular method that I use. Naming your images is only the first step in managing your total photo collection. My next article will deal with the physical organization on my images outside of Lightroom. If you have some different means of naming your images, please share them and let’s have some meaningful discussion on the various merits of the various naming conventions.