Photography is an industry that creates a lot of data. We take photographs as digital files, or else scan in film to create those files as an archive. We make copies and edits of these files, resizing them for different uses, adding watermarks and logos. We save them in different formats and copy them to hard drives in duplicate. We also have programs dedicated to working with those files, and additional files to plug into those programs for different functions. In short, when you are a photographer, you can very quickly end up with a lot of different files in your possession.

Today we’re taking a look at why you should make sure to organize your files better, and how you can do that if you have not already started.

Photo by Galymzhan Abdugalimov

Photo by Galymzhan Abdugalimov

Make it easier to find files

What if, in a year’s time, your most recent client gives you a call and asks for a copy of their favorite image? Perhaps they had a computer break and have lost their copy, or they wanted to get it re-edited and are willing to pay you a little extra. Perhaps they bought ten images off you when you shot, but now have a bit of spare cash and want to purchase some more from the same set. How long is it going to take you to find that image? If you have a correctly ordered filing system, it may be just a few seconds. If not, you might be there for hours – and you might not even be able to find it at all.


Create a better database

If you are backing your files up – as every photographer should – then it’s always really useful to know which images are backed up and which aren’t. Did you back up the edits from that shoot, or just the raw files? Have you added this shoot to your database yet? Better organization means knowing where you are up to with your back-ups, without having to think very hard about it. It also means searching through files more easily. If you need a stock image of someone doing a workout, then you should be able to search your tags to find it without needing to remember when and with who you did this kind of shoot.


Be recognizable

A good file organization system also includes a system for naming files, and this can make you a great contributor where editors and clients are concerned. When you send over a file to them, they should know right away that it is from you by looking at the name. This makes it easy for them to distinguish your work from others’. It also means that if in a year or two they decide to rerun a photograph, they know who to send the payment to.

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Be professional

Imagine that someone is looking over your shoulder and asking to see a file. Do they want to see a jumbled and disorganized mess on your desktop? Will it inspire confidence in them if it takes you half an hour to find one file? Will they see you as a professional if your files are all named IMG_394 or DSC_288? The answer, basically, is no. If you have not got an organizational system in place, read on for our tips on how to get started and keep your filing system in working order.


How to name files

A good template is one that is not too long, but includes all of the requisite information. It’s good practice to start with your initials, and end with an identifying number, such as 001. You can also include underscores between each section, and should be able to identify the shoot from the name. A good way to identify images taken on a shoot for the brand Burberry by photography John Smith, then, would be something like this: JS_BUR_161214_001. We start off with John’s identifier, then the client, the date on which the images were taken, and a number to show that this is the first photograph from the set. You don’t need to name all of your photographs like this – just the edits will suffice – and there are a number of programs which will automatically rename them all in sequence for you.


How to organize files

If you work in a variety of fields, you may want to organize by genre. If you work with a number of clients on a repeated basis, you may want to organize by client. Whatever the case may be, you will also want to organize by year. It depends on what works best for you; if you don’t have particular genre or client folders to start with, your structure might look like this: 2016 > 12 December > 161214 Burberry > Edits / RAW files. Note that the date is written backwards so that the files will stack up alphabetically in chronological order. You can also split folders down further to reflect the final image choices and those used by the brand or publication.

Another example, if John works in a number of fields: he might have one folder for fashion, another for interview photography, and another for sports. Within these subcategories, they would again be broken down by year, then month, then specific shoot.

If you do not shoot very often, you might not need month folders. On the other hand, if you shoot daily, you might need weekly folders to break it down further. It all depends on your personal needs.

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If your files are currently in disarray, it’s time to get started. Set aside a day for some spring cleaning of your system. It might take you a very long time, but that’s fine – you will reap the benefits and will save back that time whenever you need to reference something from a previous shoot. Once your system is in place, you should always add new files immediately to the right places – it only takes a few seconds to set up new folders, and it will help you out massively in the long run.

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