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A creative blog on The Whole 9

The Photography Blog is written by members of The Whole 9 Creative Photography Circle. For a short “bio” on today’s contributor, scroll down to the bottom of the blog. Enjoy! – Mike Hayward, editor

Folders and Files Forever

by Cameron McIntyre, member

The Whole 9 Creative Photography Circle

Oh, the joy of the perfectly exposed, beautifully lit, flawlessly composed photograph or (more accurately) digital capture or (even more accurate but less attractive) digital file.   Oh, the joy of hundreds, thousands of perfectly exposed, beautifully lit, and flawlessly composed digital files.  Where, oh, where to do they go?

The modern photographer’s only means of escaping the tedious but critical task of naming, sorting, backing up and archiving the digital files we create is to make enough money taking the pictures so that you can hire someone else to do it.

Having a well thought out, highly organized, structured system for your RAW, PSD, TIFF, and JPEG files could be the second most important process in any photographer’s life  -  immediately following getting the capture right in the first place.  And unlike getting the photo right, there is no “right way” to do accomplish this mind numbing chore.  It really boils down to how Virgo you are.

Do you organize your socks by color or does your clean laundry stay in the basket?  When returning from a trip do you immediately unpack your suitcase or would you almost consider just buying a new one rather than ever unpacking the old one?  These are attributes to consider when creating your method for saving your image files.

I have seen computer desktops so cluttered with folders and files that a second monitor is required just to see everything.  I know a photographer who has enough free time to make up clever and creative names for each and every image he saves.  Then there is the “I’ll just buy another CF card” system or the “My files are so important I went out and earned an advanced degree in cryptography and built my image filing system with a Lorenz cipher machine.”

In the end, however, it really is “to each his/her own.”

Personally, I don’t rename the RAW files  -  I just leave them as they come out of the camera.  I do create a folder titled with the date and project name (2010-8-12-Whole9_Blog).  Within this folder I have four sub folders each with the date, project name and file type (2010-8-Whole9_Blog_Masters, PSD, TIFF, and JPEG).  All the RAW files go in the Masters folder, all the PSD files go in the PSD folder, and so forth and so on.  Once the RAW files are in the “Masters” folder, this folder gets copied to a backup drive.  Each updated folder or sub-folder is also copied to the backup drive.  I do not have a Fort Knox-type backup system of umpteen external hard drives, five or six online storage sites, plus a DVD copy, flash drive copy, and a master CF card, all of which are stored in a safe deposit box somewhere in Peru.  I figure two external hard drives are suitable.  If, one day, praise God, my images are worth real money, then that’s the day I’ll pay someone to handle those backup chores.

I number the actual file names (2010-8-Whole_Blog1).  Some people criticize numbering files, but I view it as a throw back to the days when film negatives were numbered  -  and my brain is hard wired that way.

When I create a JPEG, which I often watermark, I will save the watermarked file with a “__c” after the number which is my shorthand for the © symbol.  If I have different versions of file, I use an “a” or “b”.  I draw the line at tagging each file with keywords;  yeah, yeah, I should because it’s the “right way,” but my mind is a steel trap (yeah, right).  I am not totally insane.  I do have folders titled “Random Works of Art” and “Unclassified Images,” but those folders have my standard four sub folders with their corresponding numbered files.

So that’s my system.  I like it and I’m sticking to it.  I have no idea if it is a good system or not, but it works for me.  And, in fact, my system is not at all important;  but having some kind of system is important – especially if people are paying you for your files.  Yes, it is a monotonous, unpleasant exercise filled to capacity with potential typographical errors.  But we are photographers, not computer kooks  (with apology for any offense taken), and even a simple filing method could save you from total and certifiable insanity.

If anyone is inclined to share their personal filing system, I’m sure it would be a big help for those who are without one, especially if they could be provided with more than one example from which to develop their own.  If anyone would like to copy my system, feel free!  Or if anyone would like to criticize my system, take your best shot!  However, I should warn you… it won’t change a thing.

One last thing:  Our esteemed Photography Blog editor, Mike Hayward, has threatened to include a graphic example which diagrams my personal system.

I’m holding my breath.

CAMERON McINTYRE is a Los Angeles-based photographer specializing in industrial, technology, architecture and commercial photography. When Cameron is not photographing machinery, micro chips, or a building, he can be found photographing the ocean, the mountains, the desert, and the quite empty spaces that fill the mind.

  1. At least you have a system. I too leave the RAW files with the names/numbers the camera gives them and put them into folders organized by date. The incoming files are automatically backed up to an external drive, so they’re on two drives. Then I back up the RAW files to DVDs, so they’re in three places. The few photos that get processed are sorted into folders for stock (uploads to agencies), art (sales at shows/galleries), web (small jpgs) and family (snapshots). Once in a while I’ll back up the processed files to DVDs. However, nothing lasts forever, and somewhere along the line these will have to be backed up again if they are to be preserved. Maybe the prints are the real archive.

  2. I have drives full of images. But I feel like a hoarder. Lia, Jung and India sit on my desk and work, but Heavy Trick recently died, taking with it what I don’t know. And I don’t care. The option to think about what is or was on that drive is there, and I could spend the $23,976 to see if any of the data can be recovered. But I prefer not to as the weight on my shoulders was slightly lifted when it passed away, like that mean aunt who’s substantial will I might have been in, but not really. I put up with her for nothing. If I rummage through Lia, I can see work from multiple Europe trips, Costa Rica, portrait shoots, weddings, feature film stills, shots of children who are now hitting their teens. But there is such an anxiety that comes with all that, as though all that work and effort is blaming me for now only being an unemployed creative who can’t get a job to save his marriage. I’m like Al Bundy recounting his days as a high school football star to anybody who’ll listen, or sit through a digital slide show. Maybe I should go upstairs and wipe all the drives clean, save the active projects. I think it might free up some mental bandwidth, as I wouldn’t worry about that which I do not have. Then I’d be 100% future, files and folders be damned.

  3. It’s true: The great, two-headed photographer Janus (pronounced “Yon-Nush”) looks ahead toward a wonderful future filled with awe-inspiring images – but he also looks backward at the ever-growing store of saved images. The first face smiles, the second face frowns.

    I attempt to save all my original images to DVD, each DVD labeled by date: YY/MM/DD. For example. all of today’s bulk images (if I had actually been out on assignment) would be saved from the memory card to a DVD labeled “100817.” All of the images would be numbered on the DVD as they were number-assigned in the camera. All image DVDs are saved in a super large bulletproof CD case (from Fry’s) and forgotten about.

    The memory card is then culled for the day’s best images which are copied to a graphics file labeled “100817BEST” which is then saved on an _external_ hard drive.

    Returning to the memory card, the best images are re-identified and run through a secret Photoshop Elements process which provides the (cough) little improvement those images might need. These edited images are then saved as “clean” images (IMAGE#_pse) or saved with a (cough) tasteful copyright overlay (IMAGE#_wc) and the individual images saved to files “100817BESTpse” and “100817BESTwc” on my _external_ hard drive.

    The memory card is then re-formatted _in_ _the_ _camera_, not on my computer. Re-formatting a memory card using your computer can cause problems after it’s inserted in your camera (or so research tells me).

    As needed, I relocate stored images using hand-written notes on an images directory form I created and contained in a three-ring binder marked “Images Directory” (of all things).

    Each step of my digital work flow is judiciously separated by meals, sleep, and taking my wife out on special “dates” that permit me to re-introduce myself to her and remind her that she has a very special place in my life. This are the most important steps to be taken in re-working and storing digital images.

  4. god this was too funny, sad and true. I’m scared to death to go find photo’s I never properly titled, named and filed. There’s just not enough alcohol for me to even try.

  5. Ps. I have stuff on a tera station. Everything seemed fine til i photo started face matching everything…holy ongoings of days. It wants to attach a name to everyone in there. I disable the muther Uc-*@er.

  6. My system:
    1) Get a 1 or 2 TB Backup Drive. (seriously… they are only like 100-150 bucks now at Best Buy and you’ll never regret the purchase)

    2) Store RAW files or scanned data in folders by date

    3) Automatically scan through and delete any files that aren’t worthy of keeping. (If it takes you more than ten seconds to decide whether you like it that is too long)

    4) Name images you are definitely keeping for later use.

    5) If you make any color corrections, watermarks, collages, tweaks, or layers in Photoshop store those files in a Photoshop or Work In Progress specific folder. ALWAYS hoard the original PSD files for any additional or later corrections. (At this point you can delete the original RAW file, if you wish to conserve space, because the original data can be saved as a separate layer in Photoshop)

    6) Flatten finished images and save web/high quality versions as LOW and HIGH tags in a separate folder I tend to go for 72dpi jpg’s at maximum quality for web and 300-600dpi jpg’s at maximum quality for prints depending on size, paper choice, and bleed.

    7) Backup images on DVD/Blu-Ray once a month depending on the amount of data to be stored. (Blu-ray is optimal. Dual layer Blu-ray writers can currently store 50GB on a single disk and the writers go for under $150 bucks. As well, they can also write on standard 8.5 GB dual layer DVD media.)

    8) Catalogue and file backup discs cleanly in individual cases in a dust free area.

    9) Every six months clean up the backup hard drive of anything that isn’t currently in production or has already been backed up on optical media.

    The end. :)

  7. Excellent, Grool!

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