Workflow Step-3 Image File Organization (cont.2)

Organization Preliminaries – Beginning at the Downloading

Discussing workflow is difficult because it’s such a huge topic. Entire books are written about virtually every step. I wrote my last book 25 years ago and don’t want to do another.

Rather than regurgitate material already available on image file organization, I’ve decided to walk you through the steps that I follow beginning with download. I’ll cover

  • Folder naming (done by download program)
  • File naming (download program)
  • Image screening ( image management program)
  • Image labeling ( image management program)
  • Image categorization (image management program)

In a later post, I’ll follow up by showing how the previous steps lead to fast and easy image file retrieval. Please note that I’ll be demonstrating these steps with specific programs – HOWEVER the generic steps being illustrated can be accomplished by many different programs. As they say, different strokes for different folks. Don’t get hung up on the specific implementation used by my preferred software. Think, instead, about what is being done –

  • Folders are being created and named
  • Files are being named
  • Images are being reviewed
  • Data, helpful for future file retrieval, is being associated with each image.

The thing that’s most important in what follows is understanding WHAT is being done – and not the HOW. Lots of programs capable of the “what” are out there (just with a different “how”) – understand the “what” and find a program(s) that suits your budget, style and needs.


In the sections that follow, click any image to enlarge it.


#1. Download – for downloading I use Downloader Pro. It takes care of my folder creation and naming as well as file naming (and much more if one chooses). There is just one manual step for me to perform (apart from putting the memory card in the card reader). I opted to be queried by DP for a “job code” to be appended to the new folder’s name. Without this prompt my folders follow a yymmdd format – and with it they are “yymmdd job code”. If you look at the examples below you will see that this morning’s download created a folder labeled 100925 frog. I was taking pictures in my container water garden which included a small frog. Adding the word frog to the date helps remind me of what I was doing (although, as you’ll see later, it’s certainly not critical in finding these photos years from now).

Image below – view of Downloader Pro after it detected the memory card in the card reader, started automatically, and asked for a job code for this download.

Image below – the new folder, 100925 (yymmdd), and the downloaded files created by DP (shown in my image data base program). To reach this point I placed my camera’s memory card in the card reader, typed frog and hit OK – nothing else, it’s 100% automatic (including adding a new parent folder, 2010-09 in this case, at the start of a new month). You have almost unlimited options for how you want your version of folder and file setup to be handled by DP – but just set it up once and it’s automatic from then on.

A few words about folder and file naming – there is no single right answer, it depends on what works for you.

Folders – like many people, I prefer a simple date oriented folder system for my images. Recently I began adding the job code since I often found myself looking at the previous month’s folders and wondering if I went to the mountains on the 13th or 14th. The question is easy enough to answer, but even easier if one folder had the word mountains after the date. Like lots of things, the process is evolutionary.

Files – unlike lots of people, I put everything except the kitchen sink in my image file names. One file from today’s download is named D300_100925_090522__DSC7366_orig.NEF (each file has a similar but different name). Let’s look at its parts –

  • D300 – the camera (of which I have three different models – plus three no longer with me) so this is useful information (without digging into the EXIF data)
  • 100925 – date the image was captured (useful to know this just by glancing at the title and useful for sorting), And, yes, at the moment the date is obvious since it’s the folder’s name where this image is located. However,  how about when the image goes off on its own somewhere, somehow, ….?
  • 090522 – the time that the image was captured (hhmmss) which is useful for sorting and sequencing
  • DSC7366 – the file name assigned by the D300 at capture
  • orig – a word I have Downloader Pro assign so that I know this is the original captured image file (as opposed to edited files); the negative so to speak
  • NEF – file type (such as JPEG, TIFF, RAW – NEF = Nikon RAW)

In a nutshell, the file name I’ve devised for the way that I work provides the data that I want at a single glance. Later, as the image undergoes editing and printing, I will append short codes to this original name which tell me what was done to the image file since the download. To illustrate, a later (edited) version of this file might be named –


  • nx tells me that the original file was processed in Capture NX
  • sep tells me that it was converted to B&W using Silver Efex Pro
  • qi12x18 tells me that QImage was use to create a 12×18 print
  • JPG goes without saying but, as an aside, I know that D300_100925_090522__DSC7366_orig_nx.NEF exists also. This latter file is very important because this version of the original RAW has every detail of the conversion from RAW to JPEG – and NX does it in a non-destructive manner so that I can always use this file to review (and change) each and every individual step used in the processing of the original RAW captured file. This is helpful in many ways such as taking advantage of new NX features that come along with new NX releases – old images can be rendered better than before.

ENOUGH FOR TODAY – next time we’ll continue on with the “frog shoot” and examine screening and labeling images.