Tips for Naming Your Photos
On a recent vacation with friends, we had just settled down for our first evening together in a gorgeous West Texas setting. A beautiful sunset was just beginning to cast a luminous glow over the 12 of us. I pulled out my Nikon D90 to grab a few photos of Nelly in the amber light when I was a question was tossed my way.
"So, how many pictures do you take in an average month?" my friend, Shamir, asked. "I know that if I had kids, I'd take way more photos than I do now, and I feel like I take a lot already!"
I hadn't really thought about it before, so I took a minute to do some figures in my head. "Maybe 800 on an average month," I replied. "It depends on a lot of things. If we go on a vacation or do something out of the ordinary, I take a bunch more. If it's just an average month, I take quite a few less. But I do take way more now that I have Nelly than I did before!" I laughed.
Nine jaws dropped and nine pairs of huge eyes were all suddenly focused on me. Dan simply rolled his, and Nelly kept hers fixed on the fancy new Texan bug she'd found on the pathway.
"You're kidding!" Shamir exclaimed. "How in the world do you keep them all from just getting jumbled up and lost?"
The secret, as I told my friends, is in how you name them. I'll give you some tips so you can get in on the Name Game, too!
Tip 1: Date It!
First of all, make sure you include a date in your photo file names. I include this as my first piece of information in my file name.
Many people ask whether one particular dating format is better than another. I'm not sure it matters too much whether you use a day or a month or a year first as long as you're consistent across your photo collection. Otherwise, both you and your computer will be confused!
Personally, I use the YearMonthDay (YrMoDa) method. So if I were naming a photo that I took today, I would start its file name with this date: "110421_". I like this method because the computer will automatically sort my photos into chronological order for me when I use it. (Note: I use this format for any file I create with a date in its file name. That way I'm consistent across all my computer files, and the computer will always sort for me in chronological order!)
Tip 2: Give It a Why!
The next part of my file name is the part that tells why I took the photo. It can be where I am (Texas or Park) if it's a scenic picture, it can be an event (Birthday, Jack's Wedding, or First Tooth), or it can be a holiday (Easter or Passover). The important thing to put in this place is something that will help jog your journaling memory later on – and that makes it easier to find a specific pitures when you're searching through hundreds of photos!
Remember to use phrases and ideas that make sense to you. You will be the one searching through your photos, so make it easy on yourself and use the phrases that first come to mind, even if they wouldn't make sense to others. Inside jokes, favorite lines from movies or books, made-up words... it's all good! If it will help you find and journal your photos later, use that phrase now.
Tip 3: Sequence It!
Make it easy on yourself. If you're renaming a bunch of photos, use a batch renaming program (Adobe's Bridge and Lightroom both have very good ones, or search the Internet for a free version) and rename groups of photos at once. For example, select all of the photos from Easter this year and rename them with the date, the holiday, and a sequence number.
A sequence number will help you with two things. First, it will make each file name unique so that your photos won't overwrite each other. Second, it will give you an idea of how many photos you have taken in a series. You'll be able to tell whether you're missing one in that group, or see at a glance how many photos (on average!) you tend to take at a time.
Because computers are, at heart, simple machines that can get confused easily, here are a few final tips that can help you when you're naming your photos or other computer files.
First, avoid using spaces in your file names. Although the modern computer appears to be able to handle spaces on the surface, underneath it all, it's performing complicated renaming and substituting operations to be able to actually handle having a space in a file name. So, make it easy on your computer (and less prone to mistakes!) by leaving out the spaces.
If you can't use spaces, how are you supposed to create a file name that presents readable information? There are a couple of tricks to this. You may use underscores (_) or hyphens (-) to separate groupings of information. Also convenient to use is a system of writing called "Camel Case." This is where you capitalize the first letter of each word to create an easy-to-read, yet space-free grouping. Here are some examples of file names (arranged chronologically as the computer would list them):
Lastly, do not use special characters in your file names. These are characters like periods (.), commas (,), quotation marks ("), apostrophes ('), and almost anything you need to use your SHIFT key to access. Like spaces, even if your computer appears to be able to handle these characters on the surface (and I'm not aware of many systems that allow their use at all), there is too much going on beneath the surface to make their use worth it.
Especially be wary of using a period in your file name. A period in a file name signals to a computer that it has reached the end of the file name and will be beginning to read the three-character file extension name. This file extension is vitally important for your computer to be able to process your file correctly. It tells the computer what kind of file it's dealing with, how to work with it, which program to use to manipulate it, etc. If a period is used in the file name, then the computer may not be able to interpret the file type correctly and your file may become irretrievable.
Notice that I don't suggest adding the names of people into your photos. Unless the event of your photo has to do specifically with a person or group of people, I recommend not using people's names. I've found that photos are much easier to find when you name them by event rather than person. For one thing, including names can create incredibly long file names. Also, tagging your photos with the names of the people pictured can make them much faster to find. (And it will be much faster to tag your photos than to go through and individually name each one!)
I hope these tips help you on your way to photo organization. With an average of 800 or more photos a month, I've still got a bit to do to get them all completely renamed, but I feel confident in my process now. I'll just have to set down the camera for a bit to find some extra time to rename them all!
Scrap Girls, Etc. is a weekly column pulling bits and pieces from all over Scrap Girls. Stay tuned each week as Scrap Girls' Jane-of-All-Trades Heidi Dillon brings you tutorials, musings, recipes, interviews, design/software tips and tricks, layout walk-throughs, and who knows what else!