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Cataloguing — A Work Flow

In earlier articles I looked at issues related to the storage and archiving of the vast size and number of digital files created, both when we scan film and when we shoot digitally. But there is another aspect that bears examination, and that’s file organization and naming.

I haven’t done a hard count, but I’d guess that over the past year I’ve shot about 15,000 frames. Without a consistent filing system finding a particular shot can be difficult and time consuming. Over the past few years I’ve tried a number of the commercial cataloging programs but have found none of them suited to my style of working. So I developed my own procedure. It works for me, and maybe you’ll find it helpful as well.


Distant Egret — Loxahatchee Florida, December 2002

I will focus primarily on working with RAW digital camera files, since that is now what I mostly work with, and what creates the biggest organizational challenge.

I use a hierarchical naming structure for the directories and subdirectories that will contain my files. The highest level is the location or topic. For example, if I am shooting in Yellowstone National Park I’ll name the highest level directory Yellowstone-03, assuming that the shoot took place in 2003.

I will then create a subdirectory underneath it called Completed. As you might imagine I then place the RAW camera files (either while on location or back in the office) in the main directory and as I work on them I place the finished images in Completed. I will also eventually copy the files from Completed into another working directory or directories depending on how and where they’re going to be used.

Now, back to the main directory for the shoot. For each day of the shoot I create a subdirectory within it named with the date. So, for example the directory might have within it subdirectories named Jan-17-03, Jan-18-03 and so on. At the end of each shooting day I copy all of the cards shot that day into the subdirectory with that day’s date.

Depending on the camera and how it handles files it will copy its files with an additional subdirectory name, such as DCIM, and then within that something like 100-134, and then within that the individual files. If your camera allows, and most do, set the file numbering to continuous mode. That way each shot will have a totally unique number. The Canon 1Ds, for example, also prepends a unique camera identifier to each file name, so in my case my files will have names like 5BDS2345, 5BDS2356…

So, what we now have is a nested series of subdirectories that looks something like this….

Now, as I process the RAW files I save them in the Completed subdirectory with a name like this; Egret2356.PSD. The Egret part, or whatever word or words are needed to aid identification replaces the camera identifier (5BDS), but I retain the unique file number code. This way I will always know exactly which RAW file was the origin of the image. And, since I have a copy of the RAW file and the completed .PSD (Photoshop) file together, just a few subdirectories apart, it’s very easy to find one or the other.

With this method I can now search my hard disk in several ways. I can use Window’s (or the Mac’s) directory file viewing settings to display thumbnails and quickly browse through all of the directories on the disk titled Completed. Of course I can also use Photoshop’s visual File Browser as well. I use Photoshop's Contact Sheet printing function to make a print of the files in the Completed subdirectory. These are then filed in a three ring binder.

I can find any file that I know the name of visually, or with a quick text search, and similarly I can find all files that are picture of Egrets or Sunsets, or Rainbows with a similar search. Just be sure to name each finished image with a word that most closely identifies the subject. Save the fancy titles (Elk Under Snow Covered Branch) for later.

This works for me. Possibly you'll find that it fits in with your digital workflow.


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Concepts: Raw image format, File system, Computer file, Digital camera, Adobe Photoshop, File copying, French Directory, Camera

Entities: Canon, Photoshop, Yellowstone National Park, Michael Reichmann

Tags: subdirectory, camera, raw file, finished image, camera identifier, highest level, main directory, digital camera files, biggest organizational challenge, unique camera identifier, hierarchical naming structure, commercial cataloging programs, file number code, visual file browser, Yellowstone National Park, Sheet printing function, level directory yellowstone-03, quick text search, additional subdirectory, RAW camera, digital files, Photoshop, particular shot, consistent filing, hard count, time consuming, file name, vast size, individual files, earlier articles, directory file, Canon 1Ds, ring binder, continuous mode, fancy titles, nested series, unique number, hard disk, digital workflow, egrets