I'm here to talk about the system I've worked out to help me find anything quickly, and to ensure I don't lose any photos. Because, as those of you that know me have noticed, I often lose things.
Each of these sections could easily be their own article, so in the interest of keeping things shorter, I've provided a brief overview of each step of my workflow. If you have any further questions on detail or specifics please comment below and I will do my best to answer everyone's questions fully.
Please, please, please for the love of all things photography - do not store all of your precious photos on one memory card. SD, CF, and other media cards are notoriously fickle when it comes to long term storage. They need to be formatted regularly and taken care of to protect the life of the card. See more tips for card care here at Digital Photography School. Continual use of a memory card while deleting files and reusing that space without formatting can dramatically reduce the life of a card and increase the chances of losing parts or the entirety of the data on the card. The biggest fear of any photographer is losing photos, so why risk it? If the files won't fit on your computer, get yourself an external hard drive (or two). If you're big on losing things, consider a few options for your cards. I always write my name and website on memory cards in hopes that if they do get lost, someone is nice enough to contact me. I've recently heard from a few photographers more even prone to losing things that a great option is to take a photo of your business card on every shoot for a similar purpose.
This should be an obvious one, but something I overlooked for a long time. As you should know by now, there is finite number of photos that can be taken before a camera starts to reuse numbers. Canon cameras start you off with IMG_0001.CR2 or .JPG. These four numbers mean you can have no more than 9,999 photos before the camera must reuse the first number. Now, yes, the camera will typically make a second folder to start the next set in, but if you ever end up placing many images together later, it creates a problem. I'm not one to manually name my files, like Bird01.jpg or whatever, as even that could create problems down the road. I've talked to several professionals about this subject and the system I've adopted into my workflow is to have Adobe Lightroom do the renaming for me on import. You'll hear a lot about Lightroom from me - this is without a doubt my favorite program for all things photography, but more on that and the import process later. The naming structure I've set up is this: DC_DATE_###.DNG I start with my initials (DC_) and the date (20140813_ would be today) and follow it up with a unique 3 digit number (001-999). Lightroom lets you build in presets with this info and will rename all your files for you on import, as seen in the screenshot to the right. (if I go over 999 images, LR (Lightroom) knows to use four digits and go up from 1,000 instead of reusing numbers). I use a .DNG or Digital Negative file type for various reasons, but more on that below.
Using this renaming technique I've done away with a lot of confusion. First, it lets my clients know who they came from, it shows them the date it was shot, and not among the least important - it looks way more professional. It also avoids the hassle of coming up with names on a case-by-case basis and eliminates the headache of reusing the same file name.
Speaking of importing, if you're using a program like Lightroom, Bridge, Aperture, or what have you
to catalog photos, you'll need a consistent and predictable way to keep folders to prevent them being moved and lost. Cataloging software will either place or find your files in certain locations, and it becomes a real hassle for you if you move them after the program gets it all set up for you. Find something that works for you and stay consistent. I organize everything in folders first by Year, then a program such as Portraits, Climbing, Biking, Hiking, Skiing, Travel, MISC, etc. In each of those folders will be sub-folders organized by date and location (i.e. "05.12 Monument Valley" or "05.15-19 Grand Canyon"). Sometimes those house the photos directly, or are further broken down by specific locations in another set of folders. It's certainly not perfect and this is the one area of my workflow I'm always adjusting from year to year. The point is though, I can usually remember which program or initial folder a photo is in when I'm searching manually through folders. Most importantly, once Lightroom knows where these files are I NEVER move them. O.K, once in a while I do, but then immediately jump into LR and point it to the new location so nothing goes missing.
|Simple, yet predictably organized. About the only thing in my life that fits that description.|
|This is also a great time to get in a nap...|
Raw vs. JPG - This should be an easy one. If you're a professional or just looking to make the most out of your photos, shoot in Raw and learn how to use it to it's full capability. As cheap as memory is these days, there's just no reason not to. Raw files are essentially carrying all the data from the sensor as it saw the scene, whereas .jpg files are compressed by that tiny little computer inside your camera. Take control of how your photos look and shoot Raw. For more info on how Raw files compare to .jpg check out this Digital Photography School article.
DNG vs. Proprietary - I talked earlier about converting my files from Canon's .CR2 Raw file into something called a Digital Negative, or .DNG. This is a file type developed by Adobe as freeware, meaning no one person or company owns it, and it will always be free to use. Every company that makes digital cameras currently uses their own file type - with the exception of a few medium and large-format digital cameras which have already switched to DNG. Having this many file types causes problems for software developers who have to write programs for many constantly evolving and expanding file types. Now, it is hard to image a world where programers give up on Canon, Nikon, Sony, or Pentax's files and cease to include them in their programming, but who's to say that will always be the case? Many programs already are only written for a select few Raw files, and plug-ins or even separate programs are required to process them. But guess what? Nearly everyone is now recognizing DNG's and they are only getting more popular.
Aside from future program compatibility, there are other benefits:
File size - The way the file is written, the DNG is able to encapsulate all the info from the proprietary format into a smaller size. My files go from an average 26-28 MB each in .CR2 to around 21-23 MB each in .DNG. Not much, but it makes a big difference when looking at tens of thousands of photos.
|Two is not always better than one|
The best part? Adobe provides a free .DNG converter and Lightroom will allow conversion to DNG as part of the import process. It's simple and free, so why not?
Keywords can be your best friend if you use them constantly and consistently. Something I'm always trying to improve on! Any decent cataloging software and even, apparently, windows explorer will allow you to add keywords to your files. This makes finding specific things super easy.
Say you have a client looking for a photo of a bear in a field of yellow flowers. Maybe you've spent years shooting all kinds of bears and know you have many examples that would work for that client. Where do you start? If you used your keywords well, three seconds could bring you every photo that contains the combination of 'Bear' 'wildflower' and 'yellow'. Instantly, you have plenty of shots to choose from to send your client, eliminating hours or manually checking through thousands of folders.
I always try to add keywords for plenty of situations that I could use down the road, some examples I use;
Region (i.e. Rocky Mountains, Pacific Northwest or Desert Southwest)
State (Utah, Colorado)
City/Area (Salt Lake City, Arches National Park)
Specific Location (Downtown, Fiery Furnace Trail)
Specific Subject (Main Street, Delicate Arch)
Descriptive terms (building, concrete, stone, sand, arch, trail, bear, wildflower, etc.)
Prominent colors (Yellow for a lot of yellow flowers, Red for red rocks in Southern Utah)
Environment (Alpine, Desert, Coastal)
Names (John Doe, Glacier Lily)
Latin Names (If you know Latin names for plants/animals this works really well to add them for those searching the web for specific things).
When it comes time to look for specifics you'll know exactly words what you need to use to search for.
I know all of this can be overwhelming at first, but build your workflow now and keep it consistent and you will really thank yourself down the road!
That's all for now - if you have any questions about anything related to this article please comment below, or any further questions for all things photography - feel free to email me. My most common questions will be answered in future articles as well.
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Thanks for reading, and keep shooting!