Photography studio, gallery and training complex

Photo Files: What’s In A Name?

Like any photographer nowadays, I’m rapidly amassing a growing mountain of hard drives to store the growing mountain of image files I produce. When delivering Photoshop tuition I am frequently surprised at the number of people who accidentally over-write precious image files or, just as bad, can’t find the file they’re after.

I have a system – and it’s by no means rocket science – for naming my image files so that they can easily be found, even without viewing the thumbnail image. You may well be doing this already, but if not, this is my little tip…

Folders:  Before you even begin with file names, arrange and name your image folders in a way that makes sense to you. Then every time you upload new images from your camera, stick to the same system.

Prefixes:  It’s possible, nay easy, to rename a whole camera-full of images via Photoshop, Bridge etc in minutes, changing the file prefix from the factory-set “DSC_” (or whatever) to something more meaningful and relevant, such as “JOHN_”. I rarely bother though, unless my client is to see or recieve the final images. I’ve set the prefix on my camera to “DJR_” (my initials) anyway, but because the images are stored in folders on my computer with relevant names like “JOHN APRIL 2011” I already know what images that folder will contain.

Suffix Codes:  Now this is where I have my own, fairly unique system of codes. I often make at least 6 versions from the same original image – either because I’m playing about with different effects and settings, or because they’re destined for different end uses. Put simply, every time I make a change to my original image in post-production, I add a short suffix code to the file name when saving so that I can tell which version of the image is which simply by the file name. You might choose different ones but here’s some of my codes…

  • bw = black and white
  • bord = has a border added
  • hc = high contrast
  • sep = sepia
  • web = sized for web
  • 8×10 = sized for specific sized print output, in this case 8″ x 10″
  • crop = an alternative cropped version
  • diff = diffusion filter added
  • fin = final, best version
  • vert = a vertical crop from a horizontal file 
  • wm = watermarked

Make sense? So, if my original file was called “DJR_009” and I make a monochrome version with a border, sized for upload to the net, it might become “DJR_009 bw bord web”.

DJR_3102 crop bord wm fin web

I NEVER overwrite my valuable original files because I’ve got into the habit of adding a suffix every time I make a change in post-production. I can also pick out the file version I want just from a list of file names. Yes, it means I use more memory, but I’d rather that than lose my originals. Anyone else do this?

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3 responses

  1. Sally Crane

    This is an interesting topic. I label my images in a very similar way (quite possibly learned from you!) and it’s a good system for preserving the original as you say. The biggest challenge I am having is how many of those original files to keep and the number of RAW files I am accumulating which is quickly becoming a storage nightmare!
    So my question is how do you decide which files to keep and which to delete?

    June 7, 2011 at 11:17 am

    • That’s the million dollar question, Sally. I start with the definite no-hopers and periodically review what I have left in my folders. Work I’ve done for clients is deleted after about 18 months, or earlier if they already have the digital images themselves. except if theres anything i think will be useful for my websites etc (assuming I have relevant permissions).

      I find I look back unfavourably on older work anyway and so editing gets easier after time.

      June 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm

  2. Lisa Lester

    Meeeeeee.
    can you see a theme here :op

    June 9, 2011 at 9:26 am

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