Having a well-organised photo library is essential, especially as your collection of photographs grows. I’ve had a few organisation schemes over the past 13 years and by a little trial and error I have found what works for me. The following advice is geared towards Lightroom, but the theory can be put into practice with any application that allows to you organise images into folders.
Folder Naming and Structure
My folder structure is pretty simple. I have a folder for each year: 2011, 2012, 2013 etc. Inside each year folder I have folders for each month of the year named numerically and with the name of the month: 01 January, 02 February etc. I put the number before the month’s name because otherwise April would come first.
Inside the month folders I have separate folders for each film roll and camera import. The folders where the image files are stored are named according to the date they were imported, camera used, and if film was used the film type. So a typical folder name will look like this: 12-11-09-lomo-lca-portra. The first part is the date, camera (lomo-lca) and film type (portra). The date is always year-month-day because that way when the computer sorts them the folders will always be listed in date order.
Renaming image files
I also rename my image files because as you shoot more and more it is conceivable that you will have images that will have the same name because file numbers roll over after you shoot 10,000 photos on a digital camera. That sounds like a lot but if you start shooting time lapses you can get through 10k of images no problem. I rename my files to match the folder name they are in and add the original file number on the end. That way file names are guaranteed to be unique. A generic file name of IMG_1345.jpg will become something like 12-04-10-eos-5D-1345.jpg. If you used film and it was scanned by the lab it is even more important to rename files as every time a 35mm film is scanned you will receive a CD with the same 36 file names. I also label the negative sheet with the folder name where the scans are stored in my library. That way my physical filing system matches what’s on my hard drive. If in the future I need to scan one of the negatives at a higher resolution, I will be able to find the negative really easily just by knowing the file name.
There are two options when it comes to batch renaming files in Lightroom. Files can be renamed on import or once they’re in the library. If you do it on import click “Rename Files” on the import screen, then from the “Template” drop down menu choose “Edit” to make a new renaming preset.
In the Filename Template Editor you can start to put together your custom file name using the drop downs and insert buttons. Once you’re done you can save it as a preset by clicking the top drop down menu and choosing “Save Current Preset as New Preset”.
Once you have made a preset you can easily reuse it on your next import by selecting it from the File Renaming dialog on the left of the import screen.
To rename files once they are imported select files that you want to rename in the Lightroom library and click on Library > Rename Files. From this dialog choose one of your previously saved file name templates or make a new one. There is also a handy option to rename them by combining the folder name that they are in and their original file number.
Using the file names outside your Lightroom library
Using this naming system I can tell what camera or film were used to take a shot and roughly what date a picture was taken just by looking at its file name. For this reason whenever I upload an image to the web, whether it be Flickr or Tumblr, I’ll always add the original file name as a tag. If a Flickr image is tagged with the original file name it means that if someone refers to an image online I can very quickly get to the original file in the Lightroom library. This is very handy if they need a higher quality or an edited version.
Folders and Collections
Knowing the difference between the “Folders” and “Collections” is a really important thing to get you head around if you want to stay super organized in Lightroom. Folders are where your image files are physically stored; the folder structure in “Folders” is mirrored on your hard drive and if you move or rename something in “Folders” it happens in the operating system too.
When deciding on a filing system there is always a temptation to name a folder of images something like “Germany 2012” because the images were taken in Germany, but sometimes you will be shooting a mixture of projects and subjects on one memory card or film. When you import those images what are you going to call the folder? I find it best to have a rigid filing system for each import and then use collections to file your images in a more meaningful way. For example, you could have a collection for “animals” and “cows”, if you took a photo of a cow would you add the image to both collections? When moving an image to collections in Lightroom you’re not actually copying it anywhere, Lightroom just makes a new reference to that image, so added one image to multiple collections wont eat up any extra hard drive space. I am not going to go into much detail into how I use collections in this article as I want to concentrate on the organization of folders.
If you think you are going to implement this new system, great. Start with your next import and don’t look back and you can look forward to having a super simple library. You may think; “What do I do about all the images that are already on my system?” Well, you may notice in my library that before 2005 there is one folder called 2000 – 2004, and if I am going to be totally honest this folder hides a multitude of sins of previous filing systems. I have not gone back and changed them to anything new. If I had infinite time I might, but I don’t.