Folder and File Naming Conventions

by Michael Clark

In my recent private workshops and tutorials with fellow photographers, I have noticed that organization is a key issue. This not only relates to Lightroom but also to an overall Digital Asset Management system that you should institute right away if you haven't already. In this post, I'll share with you my methods and recommendations for naming folders and files.

Before we get into it, one thing I will mention is that when a folder is imported into Lightroom the name of the folder as it is on the referenced hard drive will be the name Lightroom uses when it is imported - i.e. in the Folders panel. This is important to understand for those of you who drag and drop the camera generated folders out of the DCIM folder without stripping out the images from the folder structure. [E.G. - For Nikon users it would be dragging the 100NCD2X folder and copying the entire folder and it's contents - the images - versus opening the 100NCD2X folder, selecting all of the images and copying those files to a new folder with a name relevant to the images.] If the images are downloaded as in the former example, you'll end up with very generic non-descriptive folder names that are the same as other folder names for different shoots.

I realize this may just be semantics but when you start loading several shoots into Lightroom it can become very difficult to figure out which file is which shoot. Confused yet?

So, to keep everything organized here is my downloading workflow, file and folder naming conventions. First, when I download images I always create a brand new folder on my desktop or external hard drive and name it with the following convention:

State and or country_location name_ monthyear (Example: newmexico_vallescaldera_0207)

Because of the nature of my work using a combination of geographic locations and dates seems to make the most sense for me. Notice I have picked a folder naming structure that is unique. I'll never again be in x location at xxyy date. If I do happen to shoot at the same location in the same month I can either create another folder with the day added in or I can just add those new images to the already existing folder. Most of my shoots are multi-day adventures and I lump all of the images into the same folder, then edit and rename the images.

You'll notice that for my work, in general the date and time the image was shot is of very little importance. For those of you that are photojournalists this isn't the case and you can modify my naming conventions to suit your needs.

Now, once I have downloaded all of my RAW files into a folder - with no sub folders - I do a quick edit, delete any out of focus or obviously unusable images and do a batch rename in Lightroom. My file naming convention is as follows:

myname_four letter geographic code_monthyear_sequential number. file extension
(Example: mclark_utmb_0406_0001.tif)

I use my name because most photo editors have hundreds of digital files on their computers and it makes it easier for them to see that they are working with my image. I've had mix ups in the past and I never got paid for usages until I caught the error - so that is why my name is at the beginning. Next comes a four letter code I've been using forever with all of my digital files. In the example above "utmb" translates to ut = Utah and mb = Moab. The month and the year follow that and create a unique filename, then the sequential number for each image. One word of caution, when you create your file naming convention keep the entire length to less than 32 characters including periods and file extensions. Less than 28 is even better. If you go over 32 then Bridge has difficulty reading the file and all kinds of problems arise.

So that is it. Both my folder and file names are completely unique and I don't have to worry about over writing files because I'll never again have an image from Moab, Utah shot in April 2006. The other nice feature of this file naming convention is that when I look at the file name of any image I know when it was shot and the location without having to delve into the metadata.

When I output tiffs or jpegs they go into a folder inside the main folder along with the RAW images and the XMP files as in the image below.

folder_structure_2.jpg

There are a million ways to name your folders and images - they all work well. Just be sure both your file and folder names are unique and you stick with whatever convention you create. Some forethought will go a long way towards organizing your image collection and allow you to find the image you need quickly.

And one last note - Lightroom's rename feature works great but the dialog box to rename your files is the most confusing thing in all of Lightroom. It used to be a very simple dialog in Beta 4.1 but it somehow got "fanicified" (a new word ) in Version 1.0 - and for the life of me every time I use it I get more confused on how exactly it is supposed to work. I hope Adobe can radically simplify this feature because it should not be a complicated matter and I don't see any reason it should be as complex as it is - just my opinion.

That's it for this Monday. I look forward to hearing your comments...

Adios, Michael Clark

12 Comments

Geoff
2007-04-24 14:37:23
Thanks Michael,


I am relatively new to digital photography (as in thinking of it as a career). I have just started with Lightroom and need to import all my existing photos. I realised that I needed a future proof naming convention so this article has helped a lot in that regard. One thing I am still a bit unsure about is the whole 'non destructive editing' thing (I am shooting in RAW). My concern is the integrity of my photos. I currently save my photos onto a NAS drive but am unsure as to where Lightroom saves the edits that I make (something to do with sidecar files?). If my PC dies a nasty death and nothing can be recovered from the internal disk, what happens to my edits? Are they up there on a cloud along with my computer? Does this mean that I should always export a copy of the finished article and any alternates i.e. B&W etc to protect them?


Sorry for the multitude of questions but I can't seem to find anything on this subject (other than a passing mention of these sidecar files).


Maybe you answer this in your 'workflow' document which I am just about to purchase ;)


Thanks


Geoff

Kim Guerrette
2007-04-24 15:58:21
Hi Michael,


I emailed you about this a few weeks ago. I wrote a similar post on my blog. I do a similar folder naming scheme to yours (country_location name_ monthyear), but a little different. I currently use a yyyy-mm-dd_event or location. However, if I were to use your convention of location first, date second, I would change the order of the date to yearmonth. I think this:


  • newmexico_vallescaldera_0602
  • newmexico_vallescaldera_0604
  • newmexico_vallescaldera_0612
  • newmexico_vallescaldera_0702
  • newmexico_vallescaldera_0704

looks nicer and is easier to locate files than this:

  • newmexico_vallescaldera_0206
  • newmexico_vallescaldera_0207
  • newmexico_vallescaldera_0406
  • newmexico_vallescaldera_0407
  • newmexico_vallescaldera_1206

In other words, it seems more logical to sort by year first, then month, then day. As a natural extension, I would add day to the end, year-month-day.


Do you store all country_location_date folders in one flat folder? I would guess that the top level folder would get fairly large fairly quickly. It might get ugly trying to find something without the use of Lightroom. It may not matter to you though, it is personal preference afterall. That said, I switched to a location/date folder structure. For example,


NewMexico-VallesCaldera/2007-02/


I really like the idea of using your name and the date in the file name. It makes a lot of sense having a unique name for your files.


Thanks,

Michael Clark
2007-04-24 17:02:03
Kim -


Thanks for the note. Whichever way works for you looks good. One thing I would recommend is that you not use forward slashes (/) or dashes (-) as some hard drives and computers have issues with these. As you say, it is all personal preference and they all work as long as the file names are unique.


And searching for images I can use Spotlight (mac) or Lightroom or even Bridge (CS3) because all of my images are keyworded.


In terms of folder structures. Each shoot gets its own folder and then processed selects from that shoot are stored in folders labled Tiff, Jpeg, etc. as in the image above in the blog post. when I am looking for images I am usually searching for a geographic location so date is pretty much irrelevant to my search criteria.


If I get to the point that I am shooting for more photojournalism type clients I think I would then ad the yearmonthday as you suggested. All good stuff. Keeping organized is half the battle.

Kim Guerrette
2007-04-25 07:44:43
Thanks for responding Michael. Good info. I didn't know that some HDDs have problems with dashes (-). As for the forward slashes (/), I was referring to my folder structure. But, you bring up a good point, never use them in your file name.


Spotlight has saved my butt a few times. But, I haven't messed around with Bridge yet (I skipped CS2). I just purchased CS3 last week, so I'll be playing soon.


Thanks,

Michael Clark
2007-04-25 16:32:28
Geoff -


Sorry my last response never got posted. So here it is again.


To safeguard your images, always import them as referenced files (default for Version 1.0) and make sure you check the box in the Lightroom preferences that says "Automatically write changes into XMP". This will write a .xmp file that will show up right under the original file in the folder where you saved the images. And it will record any and all changes you make to every image so that if your computer crashes you can reload the images into Lightroom and it will read this xmp file so that the images have all the same settings as before the mishap.


Might also be a good idea to back up your Lightroom cache as well. I don't know where it is on PC's but the help menu should guide you to find it. Hope this helps.

Geoff
2007-04-25 23:36:48
Thanks for posting your reply again, v.much appreciated.


I have switched on the XMP option now which I can't believe was off by default. If the XMP files are only created for RAW images, why would you not want this option on by default and thus the changes stored separately. As for backing up, I think I'll stick to my own solutions as Lightroom's backup options are a bit naff (only allowing backups on startup of the application which seems somewhat upended and contrary to most workflows).


Speaking of which, thanks again for the Lightroom Workflow pdf. I am working through it right now and it's all good stuff so far!


Geoff

Alan Ingham
2007-04-29 13:19:57
Sorry, but I just can't agree with your thinking regards ALWAYS having xmp files generated - this is just a waste of HD space and is not necessary. All the info contained in xmp files is ALSO saved within the database file - there is no option, one cannot turn it off or disable it. My own personal recommendation would be to export xmp files on an image by image basis as and when required, after all it is only required by other applications that desire this data and can't for obvious reasons read Lightrooms database file. Just my opinion of course.
Geoff
2007-04-29 18:26:08
Alan
We are aware that the edits are also saved in the database but we were discussing the best way to protect these edits. Personaly I like to make sure ALL my data is stored 'off computer', such as external storage (my NAS drive). Thus if your PC fails you can 'rebuild' your library from your backup images and your backup xmp files. You could of course just backup the database, but with the images and xmp files stored 'off computer' any edits I make are instantly backed up to my NAS drive. As an extra precaution I backup my NAS to another NAS drive (would prefer if this was done by mirroring but my hardware doesn't support this). The only thing I don't yet do, which I am going to include in my workflow, is backup to DVD too for an offsite copy.


Geoff

Robert DiVito
2007-06-04 11:31:34
Hello and thanks for the info. Just a quick questions. How do your organize into folders when multiple shoots/locations etc, are on one card? For example, if I am on a shoot with people but happen to take some interesting architectural images, then back to the people photos, how do you organize that in lightroom so you can easily find those images later?


thanks in advance.


Robert
Toronto, Canada

Michael Clark
2007-06-04 12:13:20
Robert -


I would just make seperate folders for each subject before I import them into Lightroom. Or you can create a new folder in Lightroom by clicking on the (+) icon above the folder menu and name that folder architectural images....then select the images you want to move itno that folder and move them. That should work. Hope this helps.

Robert DiVito
2007-06-04 13:49:42
Thanks for the reply Michael. Your options are exactly what I am trying to decide with.


1. Do I import the "shoot" (with all its different types of photos) into one folder on my hard drive therby archiving by date shot as the overiding criteria. Then import into LR and create virtual folders to catagorize?


2. Do I create all these catagorical file folders on my HD and organize into those catagories before importing into LR.


Which of these options do you prefer?


many thanks,


Robert

Chelsea
2007-08-06 08:34:05
Does anyone know of good sources for file naming conventions of digital assets that are going to be stored/searchable in a DAM software, i.e. Extensis? Though the metadata will allow thorough search, I yield to the experts on what could happen if a uniform naming convention isn't instituted before assets are uploaded to the system. My thinking is that "type" wouldn't matter, department of origin could be good, and date might be safe...but your input, if you have any, would be nice.