There are about as many ways of naming images and organizing and storing them, as there are people taking pictures. Choosing the right approach from the onset, will make managing the images much easier, than having to work with multiple file naming schemes.

Having tried several approaches, I’ve finally settled on a very simple system (and spent a long time renaming all images accordingly).

The quick version

  1. Rename all image to the date they were taken, such as "YYYYMMDD-HHMMSS"
  2. Add a version number, such as filename-v1, to new file versions (e.g. retouched images)
  3. Store images in a dated folder structure corresponding to the capture date, such as "\ YYYY \ YYYY-MM \ YYYY-MM-DD"
  4. Get an image organizer such as Apple Aperture, Apple Iphoto, Google Picasa (free), etc. to manage your images

In short this is what a section of my folder structure looks like:

The Slightly Longer Version

The purpose of a filename is to uniquely identify a file, and nothing else. If more meaning is added to the filename, such as who, what, and where, an image was taken, this will invariably create situations, where the chosen file naming scheme doesn’t work.

Some would, correctly, observe that even the suggested naming scheme is adding information to the filename, irrelevant to uniquely identifying a file, and in fact the suggested naming scheme does create problems. If two people, e.g. two people on vacation together, take a picture within the same second, and they later decide to pool their images, there will be a clash of filenames.

The solution to this, is to either add a sequence number for each file taken within the same second, or add the milliseconds when the image was taken. The first approach works well when the images are first pooled and then renamed, where as the latter approach works best if they are the images are pooled after they are renamed - but still leaves a (much smaller) chance, that two images have the same name.

As the screenshot shows, I’ve chosen the latter approach. I started with sequence numbers, but that becomes a real hassle when you have to pool images over a period of time, e.g. when collecting images from a wedding or a party, hence I decided, I’d rather deal manually with the rare instances where two images have the same capture time down to the millisecond.

This system is consistent, easy to manage, can be implemented with little effort by almost all image organizers (they’ll do all the renaming for you), and is always suitable regardless of the occasion. To quickly be able to locate specific images information about the images (meta data) must be added in some other way, and I haven’t addressed that here (other than assuming it was there to be viewed in the filebrowser).

I’ll soon follow up with a more detailed post, about how to setup a workflow to best capture all relevant information and meta data, at the time images are imported.

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11 May 2007