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Depending on what software one uses to import the photos from memory card onto the hard drive, it is possible to have a wide variety of naming strategies. Most of the default file naming mechanisms will end up being very limiting. It is imperative that one comes up with a suitable naming strategy early on, rather than trying to rename tens of thousands of files later on (within the confines of whatever image management / catalog software they are using!). I had to correct the naming of several thousand photos, and it certainly took considerable effort. The earlier a strategy is adopted, the better. That being said, what are the features of a good naming strategy?
- Uniqueness. There will be times when you will want to move files between folders, and occasionally from multiple folders into a single folder (eg. creating a set of web-only versions). In all of these scenarios, having a file with the same name will cause something to be overwritten! Having a file name that is unique on its own, rather than relying on the folder hierarchy above it, will save many hassles in the future.
- Dated. Outside of organizing across some particular content characteristic (eg. pictures from an event or of a particular person), the most common way people like to organize and retrieve their photos is on date / chronological order. Having the numerical date exist in the filename offers many advantages. Of course, for images in which the date is unclear, zero-out the unknown portions (eg. day, day & month or day, month & year).
- Linked to photo numbers (scans only). Including the original roll and photo numbers that came with your exposed negatives allows easy back-reference to the negatives later on.
- Folder hierarchy. As your collection grows, it is imperative that you adopt some hierarchical arrangement of folders. This will depend entirely on how many photos you take per day/month/year.
The following shows an example of the final strategy, incorporating a mixture of digital photos, scanned photos, edited versions and photos from other photographers. Please see the sections below for details on the file naming and folder hierarchy details.
E:\ Pictures\ 2004\ 2004-01-10\ 20040110_r3201_14.jpg 20040110_r3201_15.jpg 20040110_r3201_15-e.jpg 20040110_jv_r1033_24.bmp 20040110_0556.JPG 20040110_0557.JPG 20040110_0557-e.psd 20040110_0557-s.jpg ...
|Sample file and folder hierarchy|
As described in more detail under the file naming strategy section below, I treat other people's files in the following way:
- Digital photos from others - Rename file with EXIF date pattern but use the optional photographer ID code in the filenames.
- Film scans from others - Attempt to rename with approximate date pattern and roll plus photo number, but also insert optional photographer ID.
- Non-photos from others - Store either in the dated subfolder for the year/month or else put in the general 0000 year folder to represent non-dated entities. Preserve the original file name (so long as it doesn't start off with the 8-digit prefix). These are what I call uncontrolled files.