Jim Doty - Photo Blog

Photography: Photos, News, and Tips
Thursday, March 13, 2003

I have been asked how I save, label, and keep track of digital photo files. What works for me may not work for you, but this is what I do with a few recommendations.

The short answer is that I save all my digital camera files chronologically in one folder (with subfolders) with the original names. I go through these files and rename the best photos and I resave these files in folders by subject (with subfolders). When I get enough files in my folders, I burn them to disc and then erase the folders from my hard drive and start over.

I do keep some small jpegs of my favorite photos on my hard drive all the time.

Now for the details.


1. First of all, check your camera's numbering system. At one setting it will restart its numbering system every time you put in an emptyr memory card. With the other setting it just keeps numbering without starting over. It is best to choose the second setting so you don't have duplicate numbers and accidentally erase two different photos that have the same file number.

2. Save all of your original photo files to your hard drive (and eventually to CD-R) with the original camera designated numbering system. I have a folder on my hard drive (DIGITAL PHOTOS) where I dump all original digital files until I have enough to burn to a CD. Files in the DIGITAL PHOTOS folder are arranged in sub-folders chronologically (The first card download is in folder "A", second download is in "B" and so on). That way if you ever need to go to the original file, you have it. When my DIGITAL PHOTOS folder gets between 300-500 MB, I burn it to two identical CDs and then check to make sure the computer can read the CDs before I delete the folders inside DIGITAL FOLDERS and start over.

3. ASAP, I look through my original photos files and re-save the good photos as tif files with new names. Re-named files are saved into folders and subfolders by subject (Family, Landscape, Wildlife, Church, Misc) until there are enough files and folders to burn a CD. A CD will have two or more subject folders with subfolders. I make 2 or 3 identical CDs and check them before erasing the original folders from my hard drive.


One more note about checking CDs before you delete the folders from the hard drive. I learned the hard way that just looking at the file names on a CD does NOT mean those files are useable and readable. I will usually open several randomly selected files on at least one and preferably two computers before I delete the original folders from my hard drive. Of course I am obsessive about things like this.


You can stick with the file names your camera gives your files, or you can come up with your own. It can be a chronological system, topical or both. I use a chronological system with short subject descriptions.


"03C13A05 Drew Jen"
"03C13B02 Market"
"03C13C06 Sunset"

The 8 digits are the date, "roll" and photo number, followed by a short description. It is nice that Windows allows long names.

The 8 digit code is as follows:

03 - year (2003)
C - month (March)
13 - date (13th)
A - roll (first subject of the day is A, second is B)
05 - picture number on that roll

Some computers have a problem with file names longer than 8 characters so I wanted each photo to have a name no longer then 8 characters in case I needed to leave off the short description.

Months are as follows:

A - Jan
B - Feb
C - Mar
D - Apr
E - May
F - June
G - July
H - Aug
J - Sep
K - Oct
L - Nov
M - Dec

I skipped "I" as a month because it looks too much like the number 1.

I thought about J - Jan, F - Feb, but substitute letters for months that begin with the same letters seemed more complicated than A through M.

The first roll or subject for the day is A, then B, and so on. The letter for the roll separates the date number from the photo number.

A day with not many photos would all be roll A. But if I was on a trip and shooting lots of photos, I could divide the day into locations or subjects and give each one its own letter.

If I took 8 photos of Drew, then 10 at the market, then 6 of the sunset, I could call the Drew pictures roll A, the market pictures roll B, and the sunset roll C. Of course with only 24 pictures, I could just call them all roll A.

When I was in Colorado, I shot 10 or more rolls of film per day. If I had done that digitally, I would need a system that would handle that number of photos. That is why I came up with "rolls" even though they might all come from the same flash card.

I give improved versions of the same photo a letter and number designation in between the 8 character code and the short description.

"03C13A05 t2 Drew Jen"

The “t2” means it is a tiff (.tif) file, second version. It probably means I corrected the exposure and color balance.

"03C13A05 p3 Drew Jen"

The “p3” means Photoshop (.psd) format, third version. Files with mutiple layers must be saved in the Photoshop format (extension .psd). This means I added some layers to the file.

Usually the highest number version is the best version.


Once your files are all nicely labeled and saved, how do you find them later?

One way is too keep a chronological file list, like I have with my slides for years.

Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements both allow you to make a contact sheet of photos in a file folder (with sub-folders). I make a contact sheet of the photos on a disc and put this in a three ring binder. By looking through the binder I can find which disc has a particular photo.

This is not as elegant as using software.


ACDSee is one of the best programs under $50. There is also a free downloadable version you might want to try.

Now Adobe has just come out with Adobe Album. There is a good review at DPReview.

Adobe Album captures your digital photos from your hard drive or CD-R and remembers where they came from. You can search by date, subject, place, or even color once you have the photos properly entered.

I don't think I would put everything into Album, just the good stuff I had renamed.


Since all hard drives crash, it is important to get everything important saved to CD-R (don't use CD-RW discs). Michael Reichman's 18 month old hard drive crashed recently. He has a nice website.

It would have cost him about $3500 for one of the drive saver places to attempt to recover his files.

Basically, he still has what he saved to CD-R.


Following a good recommendation from one of my sons, I got a BUSlink external hard drive that connects to the USB port. I drag copies of important folders over to this external drive on a regular basis. If one of my internal hard drives crashes, or my computer just refuses to work, I can plug this external drive into the USB port of another computer and have access to all of my important data files. The BUSlink drive has more memory than my two internal hard drives put together. BUSlink also makes external hard drives that connect by Firewire.

Happy Photo Filing!


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