Simple But Great Tip To Naming Your Photography Folders

There is no wrong or right way of naming the folders on your computer. It is really just a matter of preference and what works best in your workflow. Having been doing this for a number of years though I have experimented with quite a few different ways and this is by far the one I like best. Here's a quick video, less than 2 minutes long, that shares with you how I name my folders and why I chose to do it that way.

In short, I like to keep things in chronological order by date (YYYY-MM-DD), then category, then name of the clients. By doing it this way I am able to not only keep my files organized on my computer but it also makes a work queue for me in Lightroom so I know what job is up next to edit. Once I have finished with the job, I remove it from Lightroom and go right into the next job. As I said in the title, it's a simple tip, but definitely one that helps keep things organized and helps me stay on top of my editing workflow.

Fstoppers How to name your photography folders

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36 Comments

Absolutely. And for those who don't need the dashes to be able to "see" date at a glance, omit them and save two character's worth of space.

And do you really remove the photos/changes from your Lightroom catalog forever, or do you split them up into a separate catalog to be separately archived?

Trevor Dayley's picture

Great points on the date Chester. I tried doing it that way at one time and it felt too cluttered so I started adding in the dashes. As for the Lightroom catalog, I do actually remove them. But my workflow is quite different than most. I use the RAW files to get the proper exposure, white balance and color levels. Once that all looks good to me I export the files out to a ALL JPEG's folder built inside the folder structure for the client. Those get stored in a couple different places as backup. I then take the ALL JPEG's folder and run it through a batch process in Photoshop where it applies the toning to my images and saves those now enhanced photos in a different folder.

So in the end I have a folder with the good looking JPEGs that I can reference later if I ever need to, and the color toned "edited" images I give my clients. Once I have that, I don't mind deleting the RAW files (though I typically do it 3-6 months after a shoot just to be safe.) For that reason I don't mind removing folders from my "current edits" catalog in Lightroom. Hope that all makes sense.

John MacLean's picture

I'm of a totally different mindset. I NEVER throw away the RAW files, or in my case DNG files. And I try to stay in LR without having to deal with PS, unless it can't be done in LR. The beauty of RAW is I can re-process them down the road in new versions of software and come up with completely new and better looking images. JPGs are only created for export and never further edited. Different strokes for different folks!

I like your naming convention, but for me, one of the most powerful features of LR is keywording. I know where an image is in seconds, compared to my friends who use Bridge and can't find squat. But that's another topic! ;)

Same here, and I archive my RAW files. Because I am using a laptop I work off an external HDD that I regularly clone (for backup) onto duplicate drives. I switch to using a new drive every 2-3 years worth of photos/catalogs.

I start a new catalog each year or every major project. I also have a master catalog which serves as an index if I need to find a photos from across all the years and projects.

RAW files are sorted according to folders by year, keyworded and tagged to make it easy to find. Color, star and flag coded to make sure I can differentiate between selected work, rejected work, sets of photos for a pano stitch, etc.

Rob Durston's picture

Not sure why anyone would delete RAW/DNG files in a world where recordable media is sooooo cheap.
John makes a good point about re processing images down the road after new Adobe conversion engines are created; who can deny that their images from ten years ago don't look better with the most recent conversion engine?
Jpgs? That's a dirty word and should only be spoken when talking to clients ;)

That totally makes sense. Especially for a professional photographer handling archives of shoots for clients. For people storing their own personal archives, RAWs won't get thrown away unless one is insanely cheap about storage.

Even as a pro...I guess if I were you, I would dump the RAWs/catalogs out to hard drives that get put away in deep storage. But only because I imagine that, every once in a while -- even a long while -- someone will come back to you and want reprocessed images or something else for which having the RAW originals (and Lightroom edits) would be really helpful.

And I imagine that what you could charge for this service would easily pay for the hard drives necessary to store the originals, given the price of hard drives these days.

And you could just shove them into a box in the closet. A single banker's box could fit more drives than you'd need to store your entire life's work.

Just a thought...

Absolutely agree - keeping RAW files also forces me to keep only the best images and not make any compromises. I have a 24MP camera and every RAW file is HUGE, it really adds up after a photo shoot or event.

However I do tend to split the catalogs and store them alongside the RAW files, with a sub-folder for treated pictures where the final full-res JPEGs are placed. Also I make another folder in which I put a down-sized version of the final images for web.

Almost immediately after submission I back everything up and remove it from the workstation's hard drive. Keeps everything nice and clean.

I started doing this 2 years ago. best thing i could ever do.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Been doing this for YEARS at this point. I've never had an issue with organization since and LR has made my life even better.

Noam Galai's picture

For each year I have a folder with things i shot that year. naming: NAME OF EVENT, LOCATION, DATE. So for example: "Michael Jackson Concert, Madison Square Garden, 24.7.99"

Robert Hall's picture

did you just namedrop in comments?

Noam Galai's picture

not a real shoot ;) just example...

I've been following a similar tip from George Jardine for a few years now :
Library/YYYY/YYYY-MM-DD Who? What? Where?/

It works perfectly.

YYYY/MM/DD event. works for great me.

Damn, whenever I think I finally organized my library in LR, you post something new and I start from ZERO :(

Same here T_T

Nick Viton's picture

I started using YYYYMMDD since someone pointed out it the ISO standard.

Thank you so much i was not aware of this feature in light room never really payed attention to that side.

I think i may be confusing my self here, but Trevor or anyone else who can help, just as he has those too parent folders there (2013 Files and Active Edits) are those disk partitions or is it something done in lightroom.

I gave up on naming what seems like years ago. Just the date is fine for me.

This is SO genius, and yet, I have NEVER thought to do it. Duh! Maybe I need some more education in Lightroom workflow! ;-) Thanks for this, Trevor!

To save space, I use this system: "YYMMDD_ShootName". I also add a dash to the start of the title upon importing into Lightroom; the dash is removed once the set has been processed and exported. This helps me keep track of which photos are still to be processed when I'm jumping between shoots (as the dash brings them to the top of the list).
I also create a new parent folder for each quarter to minimise clutter.

I like your idea of adding a dash (or other non-alphabet character) preceding the name. smart!

I'm still looking for a good document management software for photos and images.

When i was in Engineering we used to use a PDM (Solidworks PDM Enterprise) software that let you check documents in, check them out to work with, keep revision control, indexing, the ability to show relations between objects and even associate "generic" documents to any object. In this way you know how all the photos relate to one another and you can put allot of data behind a pic.

Let's say you want to use a particular photo to retouch an ad or make it consistent with your website. You may have taken it 3 years ago and don't remember anything more than it had a red car in the background. Since then you have taken thousands of products and can't find it among your 12 external hard drives and thousands of folders.

A good document management software will let you find it and see all the ads you used it in over that year or view all the expenses and itinerary for that project. So that is what I'm looking for. Does something like this exist in the graphic art / photography world.

Thanks, Still looking.

photomechanic is pretty good

Absolutely. In fact I rename every image as "YYYYMMDD - Description (Client / Project / Subject) - Original Four-digit File Number" e.g. "20130623 - Michael Jackson portrait session 3 - 4352.NEF".

That way i get a foolproof, unique, sortable name; and clients have a four digit number that they can use to quickly refer to images during subsequent discussions (that number will usually be unique for the photos from a particular shoot). E.g. "Please send us 4352, 4376 and 4387 in full-res."

I never discard my RAW files (why would you do that?!) and maintain the same file name even for the resulting TIF or JPG, unless I have a good reason not to. All this, plus good keywording and stars / coloured tags (in Lightroom / Photo Mechanic) and boom, sorted. Folders become irrelevant for searching, though still useful for organising storage.

Agreed for the same reasons. Very similar with I do except: Category / Year-Month-Day-Names

Been doing this for 10 years... best format for folder naming based on our client data base being sorted by last names... MMDDYYYY(followed by brides last initial and groom's last initial) brides last name groom's last name... example: 092713HG Hann Galbraith This has worked flawlessly for ever... RAW IS backed up to disc, processed, with jpegs stored on hdd and disc.

I use subfolders for the categories, takes away the middle part of your formula ;)

Duh! I've been doing this since day-one of digital for me (around 2000.) The one thing I have learned in over 45 years of photography is that dates are the most important thing about a photo. You can look at a photo and probably create a caption or description but you cannot tell the date it was shot (unless you have a date/time stamp in the image) unless you wrote it on the negative sleeve or the back of the contact sheet or print. So why not do the same with digital when you put images in a folder. Name the folder with the date. What I do that is a little different from what is shown here is that I used a combo of underlines and dashes re:" 2013_09_29-SundayPixInthePark". This has to do with what we call in the sorting business "delimiters." The dash "delimits" the date from the description and makes it easier if you ever wanted to create a spread sheet or database with the date separate from the description.

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