File Naming & Organization | Systems for Photographers

This post is one that I wish I had of read when I first started my business. During my first year as a photographer, there were a lot of things that occupied my time and energy. I was still learning how to use my camera properly, learning how to see light, messing around with editing software, learning the fundamentals of running a business, and doing a thousand things to get set up and legal. Honestly, the last thing on my mind was file naming for photographers. I had a few shoots here and there and just tossed the files onto my computer wherever seemed easiest. At that point, I could easily keep track of everything in my head and didn't feel the need to set up a proper system. But once I started shooting 20+ weddings a year, file organization became crucial. Files were getting harder and harder to find, and since I wasn't consistent, I had NO idea what my files might be named.

Honestly, this is still a bit of a struggle for me. I have a proper system in place now, but sometimes I still mess up and name files something totally random without even thinking about it. You'll see more of this when we get into the nuts and bolts of my system, but I just wanted to let you know that so you won't be discouraged. Organization is hard. It takes a lot of discipline to put things in their proper place and name them consistently, but I promise it's SO worth it!

Also, before we jump in, I want to acknowledge that I DO realize that my system isn't the most high tech or advanced. I'm aware that some photographers have much more complicated and intense systems than I do, but this works for me. If you're still learning and trying to figure out what works best for you, I'd encourage you to read lots of different sources and only latch onto the parts that work best for you. This is just what works for me, and I know I could always do better. :)

With that said, I store my client files on two identical external hard drives. One is a portable 2TB My Passport Western Digital Hard Drive, and the other is a desktop 3TB Hard Drive by Seagate. The portable drive goes with me to every wedding, and I try to back up all of our files on it by the end of the night.

Prior to the wedding, I have set up a folder system on both external hard drives to store our files. It looks something like this:

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This was my naming convention for 2013, and as you can see, it was 99% consistent (with the exception of November 9th's wedding. Oops.). I organize by client, not session, and name all of my folders "year-month-date GroomBride".

Inside each client's folder is a folder for their engagement, wedding, and Lightroom catalogue:

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These folders are named by the session date (year-month-date) and then the type of session it was. Inside each is a folder for the RAW files and the JPEGs:

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The RAW files that I shoot are named by "GroomsLastName-m(for married or "e" for engaged or "b" for bridals)-RAW". Luke's files go in a separate folder, denoted by the "ml" (married-lucas) in the folder name. The DNG files are named in the exact same way as the folder structure-- "GroomsLastName-m-raw-filesequence".

Once the files have been edited, they are exported as JPEGs and go in the JPEG folder. Within the JPEG folder are several sub-folders separating the files into different parts of the day. There is also a folder in the JPEG section with the images for Facebook and the blog.

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As far as importing and managing the files as I'm working on them goes, here's a quick step-by-step idea of how I manage my files while I'm working on them: 1. Create new Lightroom catalogue within the "LR" folder for my client. I always name it "weddingdate-groomslastname" 2. Import cards. I always initially import onto a folder on my computer's hard drive with the SAME naming conventions as previously outlined, and check "make second copy to" on the portable external hard drive. Once it's done, I manually copy everything over to hard drive #2, so while I'm working on the files, they're in three places at once. 3. Edit away. :) I always edit off of my computer's hard drive, with external hard drive #2 plugged in and creating Time Machine backups of my computer every 15 minutes. So if something terrible happens, I should never loose more than 15 minutes worth of work. Holla. 4. When I'm done editing, I'll save my JPEGs, sync the DNG and LR catalogue to my external drives, and delete the files off of my computer's hard drives. They're permanently archived on two external drives, and should one fail, I simply replace it and copy everything from the other hard drive onto it. 5. I deliver all of my client's files online, so there is an additional backup copy of the final, completed JPEGs online. Just in case.

With this file structure in place, I can easily find and manage my photographs and ensure I'm able to pull them up if the need arises. Having these files well organized and in two separate places reduces the risk that I ever loose any images from a client's session, and ensures that my brides and grooms are well taken care of!

If you are just starting out and haven't set a file naming system in place yet, I HIGHLY encourage you to do so! Not only will it save you from headaches and frustration in the future, but it will allow you to have a peace of mind about the safety of your images and free you up to spend more time doing the things that you love!