Pro Tip: File Naming Conventions

With all the software updates, new software, and various hardware storage solutions entering the market these days, it’s important to have a strategy for naming files so that you can import, move, and find them as you migrate or upgrade within these platforms. What happens if a file gets separated from the parent folder for whatever reason (accidental drag & drop for example)? Finding that file if you don’t remember the exact name could be a royal pain.

One thing that any system is going to be able to do is sort files and folders by name/title. Having a naming convention that is the same format for every job will make it easy to sort and find files/folders.

After years of trial and error, the convention I’ve settled on is as follows:

YRJOB_Subject_SEQ where YR = two digit year, JOB = three digit sequential job number, the subject is whatever I’m shooting, and finally a three digit sequential number for images within that job. For example 13001_McDonalds_001.NEF would be the first job in 2013, with the subject of McDonalds, and the first image in the shoot. 

Now if I need to, I can sort in ascending order, all the files in a folder or on a drive and they will automatically go in order first by year, then by subject title, and finally by shot number. If I need to find a particular image quickly, a client can either give me the job number (13001), the subject (McDonalds), or at the very least the year it was photographed. My sorted list of images would look something like this (with a lot more image numbers in each job):

12998_Smith_001
12998_Smith_002
12999_Jones_001
12999_Jones_002
13001_McDonalds_001
13001_McDonalds_002
13001_McDonalds_003
13002_Johnson_001
13002_Johnson_002
13003_McKinney_001
13003_McKinney_002
13003_McKinney_003

As a commercial photographer, I don’t do enough jobs to use up all 999 job numbers (13001-13999) in a year, but if you were a portrait and wedding photographer for example, you could just simply use a four digit job number, and four digit image numbers (130001-139999 and 0001-9999). Finding an image for the McDonalds wedding from 2013 would be pretty easy.

The subject portion of the name can be as detailed as you want, often times I will include the agency-client-model all within the subject.