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
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.
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