Unique Filenames Prevent Accidental Deletion

When dealing with thousands of images (as we tend to do) there is a very good chance that if you keep the file named as-is, at some point you'll end up with more than one file with the same name. I've had bad things happen to my own files in the past, and have heard of others having similar issues that what I’m about to show you could've stopped cold.

This is also a great way to keep your images organized.  A lot of photographers try to use “subjective” organization schemes.  Folders with names like: “people,” “places,” and “things” may seem at first like a logical idea.  These are inefficient and can break down over time.  What happens if you have an image of a person, holding a thing, in a place?  Where does that image belong?  Do you save three copies of it, one to each folder?  Organizing your photos by capture date is an objective method that we’ve found makes the most sense.  Your image management software (ie. Lightroom) will let you use keywords to make the files searchable.  People’s names, location names and object, adjectives, those are things that belong as keywords in your asset management software, NOT folder or file names.  We’ll do a key wording blog a bit later, first, let’s deal with the files.

Pretty much every camera on the market today uses a 4-digit numbering scheme to name files.  There are generally two naming modes, for Canon Cameras they are:

Continuous File Numbering: lets new files made on a fresh card start off where the last file numbers left off. (Nikon calls this "Sequential")    

Auto Reset: bad. (Nikon: "Normal")

If you use Auto Reset then each time you change the card (or reformat) the camera will start at file IMG_0001.JPG again, which means over time you'll have hundreds of files all called IMG_0001.JPG.

This wreaks havoc later if the files end up in the same folder or are used in the same job.  One file could end up overwriting the other, we see this happen to people almost daily.

If you set file naming to "Continuous," the camera will keep counting up until you get to file IMG_9999.JPG before it resets to IMG_0001.JPG.

DO NOT STOP HERE! I know you're thinking:

"But, now I'll only have duplicate file names every 10,000 images, that's not so bad." Yes it is!

We want unique file names, and we want to be organized so 5 years from now we can find that one particular shot we're looking for. Stick with me!

For renaming I use Adobe Lightroom, for PC users there is also a free program called A.F.5 Rename. Sounds appropriate no? It lets you quickly and easily rename 5 or 50,000 files any way you want.  OSX users can set up a custom Automator action to rename files, the action has to be customized for the particular file names your camera saves, so I won’t get into that in this post.  If you REALLY want to use Automator, contact us and we can set up a custom Automator App for you. 

Realistically you should be using Lightroom for image management, but I’ll go through the steps with A.F.5 for you disbelievers. 

The way I want to name the files is this: YYYY_MM_DD_XXXX.CR2

(or NEF or whatever extension your camera spits out.) By naming my images with the date and 4-digit number the ONLY way you'll have duplicate file names is if you shoot more than 10,000 images in one day.

I load the files into A.F.5 Rename and I have already set the program up with my
naming preferences. Under the first "Type" box select "ModDate" this tells the program to
look at the "Date Modified" property of the file and "Value" tells the program how you
want the ModDate displayed. yyyy_mm_dd_ will rename the file to the
4 digit year, 2 digit month and 2 digit day.

The underscore character helps keep the numbers spaced out so they're more readable.
The second "Type" box is set to "Right," this tells the program to look at the existing filename,
from right to left, to the right of the dot. The Value "4-1" tells the program to grab the 4 numbers in order (from right to left).

In the image above you can see the file IMG_2443.CR2 will be renamed 2008_01_31_2443.CR2

This part took me a while to get just right, all you have to do is copy the settings!

Once you have the settings exactly as I have above, go to A.F.5 Rename's "File" menu and
click "Save" give the setting a name (I chose Standard for mine) and the program will remember
these settings for you. Click the "Rename" button and you'll see the list of names swap places.
A.F.5 Rename will remember the filenames until you clear the list, or close the program,
so if things didn't go quite right, you can click "Rename" again to get the original filenames back.

In Lightroom, from Grid Mode (tap the G key), highlight the image/images to be renamed and under the “Library” menu, select “Rename Photo…” hit the dropdown menu and choose “Edit.”

Lightroom Library Menu

Set up the naming options as shown below:

Hit the dropdown again and choose “Save Current Settings as New Preset…”

Now you have your file naming preset set up to use on import or manually!

Lightroom and explorer folder structure

We’ve found the best way to store these renamed files is in folders by year, month, and day, just like the individual files, and for the same reason.  Computers want to organize files and folders by number and then letter, in organizing by number, you want to go from the largest unit, to the smallest.  Going largest to smallest helps keep things in order and will make the files easier to find.

We start out with a folder for each year:  2015
Inside the year folder are the month folders: 2015_01, 2015_02, 2015_03, etc.
In the monthly folders are folders for the days you shot: 2015_01_01, 2015_01_05, etc.

If you shoot across days, say 11pm one day to 2am the next, don’t be tempted to put all the images under one day, break them into the daily folders where they belong.  You want to use Lightroom for your organization scheme (key words, collections, etc.) the folders are just for storage!