Good File Names & Folder Structure

Just a quick blog post about how to create good filenames, that computers understand and keep your files organised. Plus organising your folders into logical names so that you can find anything on your computer quickly. This is so important for photographers, especially wedding photographers who may be shooting 30 plus weddings every year.

Once you have a good file and folder structure, keeping track of all those thousands of images using the power of Lightroom is so much easier.

Folder Structure

File Names & Folder Names

A good filename should be able to identify a file easily, at any time in the future. We all started out in our early days calling files by names that made sense to us at the time. Calling the files Partner one name, Partner two name for example. Only to find that the next time we had a couple with the same names as a previous couple. What then? Partner 1 a, Partner 2a etc. Madness.

Also, computers don’t list things in human logic. They list them in computer logic. If you write folder names January, February, March a computer won’t understand that you want January to come before February. Because in a computers mind, the F of February comes before the J of January in the alphabet.

This is the same with numbers and dates. If you write todays date 7th October 2022 as 70422, then another date as 81021 (8th October 21), in a humans mind we know the 2021 date comes before the 2022 date. But in a computers logic, it’s the other way around. The bigger number starting with the 8 comes after the date with the 7.

How can we get around this?

Reverse dates! If we simply reverse a date. Today is 7/4/22 (7th April), to Year, Month, Day – 220407 then dates will always be in order.

211008 (8th Oct 21) will always come before 220407 (7th Apr 22)

NB the zero’s are important, they are preserved as they are not at the start of the number.

So for every wedding or shoot I do, I’m normally only doing one shoot per day, that shoot has a new folder with the reverse date as it’s name. After the reverse date, I can add anything else I’d like to reference. Normally for a wedding, this is the couple’s names. A typical name for a wedding for me would be

211230 Kathryn & Liam

All the files inside the folder would start with 211230 – so if I find any file on my computer with that number, I know it should be in that folder and I know exactly the date that file was shot, without even opening the image up.

File Names


Now we know that having a reverse date at the start will keep all of the files shot on a certain date in one place and in order, what would be the next way of ordering the files. Logically at a wedding, why not use Time. So the 2nd part of my filenames is the time the image was shot.

211128-110939-xxxx

This image was shot on the 28th November 2021 at 11.09am and 39 seconds.

What if I want to move an image. Say I shot a photo of the venue at 11.30am, but wanted it to appear before the 11.09 image? Well, I simply use the the LR command Metadata, Edit Capture Time and I change the time stamp of the image to be 11.00am for example. Then I use LR Library/Rename Photo again, to rename the image so that it will always fall where I want it to.

The final part of my file name is the original file number from when the image was taken. The one the camera assigned to it. There’s no reason to change this and it means I can always go back to the original card if I needed to and find that original image by searching for that original file number. If there are two images with the same number, it’s not an issue, because the first part of the image, the date and time are almost certainly going to be different. In over 22 years I think I’ve only ever once come across a file with the same number shot at precisely at the same time on the same date! and I might even be dreaming that.

I’ve used this system for over 20 years. It’s rock solid and just works. I think I may have originally gotten the idea from a famous book called the DAM Book by Peter Krogh, one of the world’s experts on Digital Asset Management. Well worth reading, even though it was written many years ago, the ideas are still very relevant.

Changing a File Name

How do we change the file name? The easiest way I find it to use Lightroom’s built in tools. Library menu/Rename Photo

I use the following structure to rename every single file from a shoot with the format Date/Time/Number, it takes seconds to do and is far more useful than the original filename that the camera supplied. BTW The original filename will always be visible still in the Metadata panel of LR.

Lightroom File Rename

Lightroom Catalogues

Lightroom File Structure

Lightroom from the beginning was designed as a database, one huge catalogue, where you store all of your images. You then tag images, using keywords, so that you can use those keywords to find the images in the future. Find all images from one wedding venue for instance.

However many wedding photographers, like myself, prefer to keep a separate new catalogue for each job we do. The logic of this is when you are working on one wedding, you don’t want the distraction of lots of old images popping up confusing things. And god forbid that you’d export a wedding only to later find you’d included someone else’s images in the final set, without noticing. So for years I’ve used a new catalogue for each wedding (shoot/session). That catalogue lives on the fastest drive I have available. At the moment, that’s the internal NVMe of my iMac. You want to be able to utilise the full speed of the drive, to get the catalogue to work fast. Where the images are stored is a different matter. LR (Lightroom) doesn’t access the actual images during most of your LR processing. It only makes changes in the database. The images aren’t touched unless you are doing something like, Import, Export, Preview building, Metadata saves or DNG conversion. So my working images live on a separate drive, outside the Mac.

Once the job is complete, all of the final set of images, including the raws and client JPG’s are moved to one of my Archive Drives. These are external USB drives. That’s the final copy of the wedding/shoot. Which is then also backed up to a Drobo, my external backup drives (bare drives kept off-site) and eventually to the cloud via Backblaze.

The next step though is an important one. Now I’ve finished with that wedding catalogue, I want to have easy access to those images in the future. So I import it into my main Master Catalogue. One catalogue that contains every image I’ve ever shot, starting with my first digital images in 1999. It currently contains over 400,000 images. I wish I’d tagged the images better over the years with keywords, but sometimes I go in and add some in small batches. Because the images are now all in my archive drives, the file structure can easily be seen, by year, by the various shoots etc.

The original catalogue for the shoot gets stored in the same folder as the images for that shoot. But I never really need to reference it, as all the images are now available in my Master Catalogue. Making it easy to find images for using in blogs, competitions etc.

Importing One Catalogue into the Master Catalogue

Use Menu – File/Import from another catalogue

It’s as simple as that. That will then show you the images to be imported and once imported, you now have access to all those images. Remember though, if you make any changes here in the Master, they will not be reflected in the original catalogue that you’ve stored with the images. This shouldn’t really ever matter, as you won’t likely be editing the original catalogue again, once the job has been delivered.

Plus, if you save the Metadata changes to file, you can already open up the old cat. and use Read Metadata from file, to bring the changes up to date in the old cat.

I hope you found this information useful – feel free to leave me any comments or questions below.

Paul

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