Organizing Your Images
by Wren McMains
Transfer Images from Camera Card to an "Originals" folder.
- I find keeping originals organized chronologically works well.
- I keep my folder names short (see long version for my reasons).
- A few years ago I recommended limiting the overall size of these folders to what fits on DVD (or CD before that), but current images are so big that no longer makes sense.
- Now I create new a folder for each "season", major trip, etc. Actually two folders for each "season", one for RAW files and one for original JPGs. Somewhere between 5 and 15 folders of each type for year is probably about right.
Rename during the copy using a naming convention you like, but one that guarantees all names will be unique.
- Keep the names of the original files short.
- Names like DSC_2199 aren't very useful, everyone with a Nikon camera has images with names like that. When you see an image with a name like this you have no idea where it came from.
- I recommend using your initials as part of the name.
- Use a convention that allows unique names if you take over 10,000 pictures or you buy a new camera.
- FastStone and Lightroom are great for this step because they have a powerful "rename during download" features.
- (Even if you don't use FastStone, skim this link because it shows examples of several naming conventions, one of which might work for you.) Click for screen shots of using FastStone download and rename and Suggestions for Naming from the long version.
(Optional) Tag images by adding keywords.
- When people talk about tagging images they may be referring to either adding keywords or to rating images.
- Keywords allow you to search for images in a large image database based on individual or combinations of keywords which describe the image.
- This is also a good time to store your Copyright in the image file if your camera hasn't done it for you automatically.
- When adding keywords be sure you use software that stores the keywords inside the images, not in the program's database. You never want to become wed to a particular program, something better will always come along.
- For more on keywords, see the long version.
(Optional) Batch conversion of RAW images.
- I shoot RAW 99.4% of the time, but like having JPG images because they're quicker to review and for a lot of website work are all I need. I highly recommend shooting in RAW; its sure nice to have the RAW version when you need it. For the details of this process, see Batch RAW Conversion in the long version.
- Now good cameras have large buffers and write so fast that I shoot both RAW and JPG. Most of my cameras even have two cards so you can put RAW on one and JPG on the other, but I prefer to put them on the same card and let the camera switch to the second card automatically when the first fills. Since I want the RAW and JPG images to end up in different folders, you can use filter features in both FastStone and Lightroom to download them separately, putting in different folders. However, I find it faster to just download and rename them all at once into the same folder and then move one type to the other folder.
View the images and tag (rate) any you like; the ones worth showing someone else, or maybe printing. (Note that we use the word tag in two ways: (1) keyword tagging (which you add multiple words to the image which describe it ... Lightroom, Bridge, the Operating System's Indexing System, etc. can all use these keywords to find particular images later), and (2) assigning ratings or categories to an image.)
- Lightroom and Adobe Bridge allow you to tag images using a 5 star rating system and/or "colors" to which you assign your own meaning.
- FastStone just allows you to tag your favorites.
- Click for screen shots of using FastStone tagging.
Copy the "tagged" (highly rated) images to a subject folder.
- For the subject folders use names that makes sense to you and describe the shoot.
- I also organize my subject folders by year, but depending on what you shoot another organization structure may make more sense for you ... by organization structure I mean you don't want to have to look through hundreds of folders to find the folder you're looking for, you want to group the folders for each shoot under other folders which have names that describe the entire group.
- Don't worry much about this, it's easy to change this structure later. (Unlike the names of original images which you should never change.)
- Personally I avoid names with spaces and special characters in them, I find that if I use a capitol letter at the start of each word, or use a hyphen or underscore as a word break, it's easy to read the name and I won't have trouble later when using the name for files and folders on the internet (or in certain programs I like to use).
- For example, I might have subject folders like: SusansBirthday, WashingtonDC-May2008, John_Smith, etc.
- Although I group my subject folders by year, you might have groups like: Portraits2008, Blue_Herons, Travel, Family-2008, or whatever makes sense based on what you shoot.
Only edit images in your subject folders, this protects the original images. The exception to this rule is if you ONLY edit RAW files, you can edit in the original folder and move (or copy) the edited version to the subject folder.
Subject folders, with only your best, edited images are wonderful. It's very easy to show images in these folder to someone ... or run an automatic slide-show since only your best images are there. These subject folders are small, relative to all your original images and their variations, so keep them on yet another drive (maybe an internal drive if you keep your originals on other drives). If you use Lightroom, Export your best, edited images to these subject folders.
Another thing you might want to consider is automatically resizing the images as you copy them to a subject folder. Any images you are showing someone (as opposed to printing) need not be more than 1920 pixels wide (at least for the last 10 years, maybe someday there will be even higher resolution monitors). If you do this the subject folders will be only one twentieth or less of the size. This means you can put LOTS of them on an internal drive of quickly copy all the images in a folder to a thumb drive to show on another computer.
- When creating variations, I always keep the original image name as part of the new name. This allows me to find the original version of any image should the need arise in the future.
- I like to keep only one copy of each image in the subject folder; this makes it easy to show someone the images without their having to look at several variations. I keep PSD versions and any variations in a sub-folder where I can easily find them in the future.
I know there is all kinds of software that organize your images for you without your "doing anything", but ...
- If you organize into folder structures that make sense to you and you know the locations of these folders you never have trouble backing up and/or loosing images.
- Avoid software that builds a database of keywords without storing the keywords in the image files ... you'll loose all your work when you find better software to use and now you'll also have the problem of backing up this database as well as your images.
- Note: Photoshop and Lightroom store the keywords and ratings for RAW files in an associated XMP file. When moving or copying files, be sure you keep these files together. FastStone does not know about XMP files so do NOT use it to move or copy RAW files.
- Backup your images, especially the originals.
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