Filing your Photographs – Keep it Neat – Digital Photography Tip of the Week

I have been active with computers for many years, and much of that I was also active in photography. Organization of my personal space, work space and life are all pretty haphazard, but my photography has always been very organized. I started in photography many years ago, and soon after began developing my own 35mm black and white film, and later, bulk loading it as well. I have binders filled with negatives, all neatly organized. Each sleeve of negatives neatly labeled with the date of exposure, date of development, the developer I used as well as the concentration and time of development. When I added transparencies (slides) to my film arsenal, I begin cataloging those the same way. When I finally moved into the digital photography realm, my experience with computers paid off. I could now file all of my digital images in such a way that they were neat and organized, even if the rest of my computer wasn’t.I previously wrote about software that will help you organize your photos by adding keywords to them so that you could easily search for a particular subject But what about the files themselves? For many people, this is solved by using the software that came with your camera. Once the camera is connected to the computer, your digital photos are automatically downloaded to a predetermined location on your hard drive, often located under the My Documents/My Pictures folder. I like to keep my photos separate from anything else I do. My photographs are organized using the following directory structure:


As you can see, I organize my photographs by date of capture. I retain the original file names that the camera assigned them, otherwise I would have to spend extra time renaming them, even if using an automated software package to do so. Additionally, I have not been able to arrive at a naming convention that will fully explain each photo, or set of photos, that would be consistent with all others. This is why I make use of the tagging function found in many software packages.

To get my photos into the directories, I work manually. I use a compact flash card reader which is provides faster transfer than directly connecting my camera to my computer. I sort my files on my CF Reader by date, then create a new folder under the current year on my hard drive for each new date.I use the date format YYYYMMDD which visually lets me sort the directories in order regardless of when they were created. I usually transfer my photos after each shoot, so even after a trip, I have only a few folders to create. I then copy all the photographs on my compact flash card to it’s appropriate directory on the computer and repeat the process for each of the new dates on the card.

Once all of my photos are copied to the computer, I then remove the compact flash card from my reader and verify that I can read the photos I have copied over. At this point I now have two copies of my photos, one on the hard drive, and one on the memory card. When I am sure that everything has copied successfully, I can then put the card back in the camera and format it.

This process seems a little confusing, but my files are all neatly organized, and it really takes very little time. I have just begun to test Adobe’s new product, Lightroom, and have found that software has an image downloader that works exactly the same way as my manual method, but also allows for adding keywords as part of the import process and for those who wish to do it, renaming of files at the same time.

Keeping your digital photographs organized can help you retrieve them quickly when the time comes. My method may not suit your needs but does use a few key points:

  1. keep you photos seperate from other images
  2. keep different shoots or events seperated on disk
  3. use a filing system that is intuitive to you
  4. make sure your images have been copied over to your computer before formatting your memory card.

I hope this long winded tip has helped a few people file their digital photographs.

The digital photography tip of the week is written by the PCIN Assistant Editor, Chris Empey. Chris is a long time photographer and is currently the president of the Niagara Falls Camera Club. You can see more of his photography at his Photo of the Day website.
If you have a tip to send Chris, or a question about digital photography he can address in the newsletter, send it to

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