File & Folder Naming Strategies

Or – Where did I put that image??

You Aren’t One of Us

Technical – Nikon D300, Nikon 105mm 1:1 macro, 1/3 sec, f/11, EV=1/3, ISO200, WB=Cloudy, spot metering on the brightest part of the center lily, aperture priority, RAW capture, tripod, white background

  • Triangular arrangement for eye movement
  • Careful spacing between flowers and between flower/frame edges
  • Trying for “whimsical”


Capture NX2 (with Color Efex Pro 3 plug-in) for color & tonal contrast adjustments as described in these two posts

A year ago I wrote about workflow – steps required from image capture to display. Along those lines I’m often asked specifically – How do you name folders & files? How I do it may not work for anyone else, but here it is.
The underlying theme to all of my naming is that it has to be meaningful.
Folder naming & structure
Let’s start at the beginning with creating a folder for a file. When I downloaded the file for the featured image from yesterday’s flower shoot it went into a folder named –

110627 – my flower garden (the text is optional with my download program but I usually include it & make it meaningful)
This folder resides in the following structure –
My IMatch Images (IMatch is my Digital Asset Management program)

Various Folders….

DownLoader Pro (DLP is my image download program)







110627 – my flower garden

This may seem like a lot of work but it’s not. It is totally automated within my download program, DownLoader Pro. I simply place my card into a reader,  DLP recognizes that a card’s been inserted and springs into action with an option to add a job name (my flower garden), I hit download and that’s it.
File Naming
OK – that’s the folder but how about the name of the file? Again, DLP takes care of everything. The file for today’s featured image was named –

which from left to right is –


The date & time data is the capture date/time to the second

Some of this data is redundant if the file is in its original folder, such as the date – but is useful when the file is moved. Ditto for the time vs. EXIF data. The file-id is automatically generated by the camera at capture.
More on the “orig” portion of the name in the next section.
There is no danger of ever having duplicate names with this approach. 😉

Total time on my part for to create & name the folders & files is less than 15 seconds (apart from the time it takes the computer to actually download the files) .
File (Re)Naming
The previous sections described the initial naming of a file. How about once the file is changed during post processing – and changed again for whatever reason?
With the exception of conversion of RAW, all of my file renaming is done by appending text to whatever the file’s name is at the moment.

For the conversion of the captured RAW file (this is what the “orig” added by DLP signifies – original capture) I replace orig with nx (my RAW conversion program is Capture NX). This conversion usually includes my usual basic post processing in the NX2 Color Efex Pro plug-in (as shown in the Post Process section of the featured image above).

If a file still has the “orig” suffix that signifies that I’ve never converted the RAW (I shoot only RAW).

If it shows “nx” not only has it been converted but the non-destructive post processing steps are included in the updated “nef” file for later examination and/or change. I’ve come back several years after the fact when new improved techniques are available to redo things starting from that converted/processed nef from “long ago”.

OK – let’s say I’ve converted the above file. Its name changes from

  • D300_110627_091304_DSC5906_orig.nef to
  • D300_110627_091304_DSC5906_nx.nef and, in addition, the new jpeg (or tif) conversion is added
  • D300_110627_091304_DSC5906_nx.jpg

That’s straightforward enough. But – suppose I convert it to B&W – or any other change? What then?
I simply append text to the current file to indicate what’s been done. In this case it looks like –

D300_110627_091304_DSC5906_nx_sep2.jpg to indicate conversion in Silver Efex Pro 2.

And suppose I combine this B&W with the original in Photoshop using the PS luminosity blending? Just append some more –

The thing that I do not do is use some uninformative naming as is forced upon us by iPad with its complete lack of file management. If I took this last image into Snapseed for iPad for some “artistic” alterations, I send


and iPad returns


Did I say idiotic?? I meant idiotic and useless.

My rename is –

  • D300_110627_091304_DSC5906_nx_sep2lum_snap.jpg

The name for this image tells, at a glance, what camera & when plus the major editing steps used to get to this point. That’s what I want in an image name – not IMG_1000000136.JPG
This is only part of the story. I also add category information – usually to every file in the folder & not on a one-by-one basis. This allows me to find images with an interactive query such as –

subject = flowers (daisy-like OR lily) AND place = home AND time = June-2011
which would show me all images of lilies and/or daisy-like flowers taken at my home during June 2011. The category query options are endless – leaving out the lily/daisy part would get me all flowers, adding NOT before home would show all lily/daisy images taken in June anywhere except at my home.

At a file name level, without even bothering with categories, I can do things like –

Find all images with “snap” in the name
Find all images with “lum” in the name
or – Find all images with “sep” and “snap” and “lum”
or – Find all occurrences of file with DSC5906 in the name
or – all files taken on 6/27/11 (plus or minus x days) or between date #1 & date #2, you get the idea.

but that’s a whole other story that starts with the power (or lack) of your Digital Asset Management program. Lightroom is an option for many folks – but not for me based on (so far) limited use.
Bottom line, even with over 200,000 images files I usually can find any one of them in a minute or so.
If you don’t use a DAM and have some reasonable naming strategy (and the discipline to abide by it), then the iPad style names are probably as good as anything for you. It only matters when you need to find an image. 😉
What works best for you? It depends on you, but there should be a method to your madness. 😉

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