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An Easy, Future-Proof 4-Step System For Labelling Files & Archiving

By Kishore Sawh on December 14th 2014


Let’s just be clear right now; having a systematic approach to filing your images is essential. This not only applies to having a hardware back-up system, but also in naming your files. Not having a proper system if you’re a casual shooter who shoots only a little each year, while still greatly beneficial, may not be absolutely essential. However, if you shoot as a profession, or are on your way there, or are just a prolific holiday or family photographer, having a reliable, sensible system in place will save you much headache and time, and not just in the long run. But where do you begin?

michael-grecco-photography-slrlounge-backup-archiving-system-1 michael-grecco-photography-slrlounge-backup-archiving-system-2

I think, first, it would seem prudent to understand why this system is important, especially as your experience grows, along with the number of shots you collect. Listing all the scenarios in which this sort of system shows its worth would take a year, but what it boils down to is that as you shoot more, have back-up drives and add to them, shoot with numerous different cameras with different RAW formats, move to different computer systems, different editing software, do shoots of larger scales with more than one photographer, and on etcetera, going back to find a particular image or even image set, can become a daunting task. Without a system, it would be like going into a library to find a single volume and having no reference number.

[REWIND: Local vs Remote Storage Solutions Discussed By Celebrity Photographer Michael Grecco]


Michael Grecco, venerable director and photographer, shares his system, and it’s easily adoptable and implementable. While it would work better if you’re starting from scratch, it certainly would pay off to begin now. It’s a 4 step filing system that takes into consideration everything from future software and hardware changes (keep everything as a DNG file as Adobe says they’ll always keep this format – but not RAW), shoots of different sizes, multiple shooters, and more. Here are the basics, but watch the video for a more detailed explanation:

  1. Start with the date at the beginning of the filename which will keep the files in hierarchal order. Use a reverse date beginning with the year, and separate the file descriptors after it with underscores only, and no other type of character.
  2. Put the subejct name, with last names first (for those who shoot people) such as Sawh_Kishore
  3. Use an acronym for your company – he uses MGP for Michael Grecco Photography. You can also put the shooter’s name if someone else in the company shot it.
  4. Choose a filing number, likely best to choose a 4 digit number as you are unlikely to shoot more than 9,999 shots in a session.

An example would be: 20141213_Sawh_Kishore_Portrait_KSP_0001
Then folder example would be 20141213_Sawh_Kishore_Portrait_KSP_DNG

Of course, the system can be bent and broken as you wish, but it’s a great starting point, and I actually like it so much I’m considering adopting it myself. If you have a great filing system you use, that’s not just software, please share with us. And for lots more great  and useful information on archiving to get your system lean and productive, check out

Source: How To Archive

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. J. Wolf

    Great input – mainly what I am doing already ;-)
    I just want to add some thoughts:

    * PROBLEM: I would never, ever rely on a statement of a company that they would support a file format for ever. It is soooo dangerous. It may work for some years, it may even work for dozens of years – but one fine day, someone decides to have a better idea than DMG, DOC, XLS (or you name it…) and your data will be worthless.
    –> SOLUTION: In my opinion you should go for clear, company-independent standards. That means:
    —- for images: TIFF, JPG
    —- for documents: TXT
    The next lower level than this would by putting everything on microfilm – this will last centuries… ;-)

    * PROBLEM: Storing screenshots sounds ridiculous to me. Biggest disadvantage: they are not searchable. If you look for all your pictures of a certain topic, you wont look manually through all your screenshots.
    –> SOLUTION: On Windows, Mac and Linux are some basic commands to store all your filenames of a whole folder tree into a text file that is much easier, much more secure than screenshots – and they are also searchable!

    * PROBLEM: What he did not cover at all in his video: the durability of the archive drives and its file system. It is not given that all your files are still accessible in – let’s say – 50 years (think of your grandchildren!). Starting with the plugs and cables over to the filesystem the disk is using,
    –> SOLUTION: You need an archive care: If you change your main system or at least every 5-8 years, you should also take care of your archived disks. Get new ones (I know, they are expensive but your work is more valueable!) and copy over all your files from the old drives to the new ones. This is also the perfect moment to check if the drives are still readable and contain that what you think they contain!

    * PROBLEM: In the original RAW files and also during the shoot, there are soo many meta data that should be stored too. From model releases to the location you took the pictures up to the people also related in this shooting – these are all data that are not automatically store in your RAW files.
    –> SOLUTION: to every folder you create, add a text file where you write down all these meta data you might need for the future.

    * PROBLEM: The system with the persons name in the filename might work for single person portrait shootings – but what about group shots?
    –> SOLUTION: Use the meta data file above also for these informations. Additional note: To make even these information searchable, you should use always the same filename for this information and include these files also (that’s why the same filename should be used!) in the file content list mentioned above.

    === Concrete Solution ===
    To have consistent data of your folders, you should use always the same command to list them. For Windows for example, open a command line window (the black one you normally try to avoid) and enter the following commands:
    > cd (wherever you want to store your files produced after)

    > tree /a F: > archive_05a_folders.txt
    — tree /a – this does a listing of all folders in basic ASCII format
    — F: – the drive your pictures are on
    — > archive_05a_folders.txt – the file the data is written to. It would be best to use the drive name for better reference!

    > dir /s /b F: > archive_05a_files.txt
    — dir /s /b – a listing of all files in all subfolders
    — F: – the drive your pictures are on
    — > archive_05a_files.txt – the file the data is written to. See above for reference.

    > for /r F:\ %i in (*.txt) do @dir /b/s “%i” >> archive_05a_metadata.txt & @type “%i” >> archive_05a_metadata.txt
    — for /r F:\ %i in (*.txt) – searches for all .txt files in all your folders of F: – your archive disk
    — do – what should be done with all the found files
    — @dir /b/s “%i” >> archive_05a_metadata.txt – write the filenames into the metadata file
    — & – do another command
    — @type “%i” >> archive_05a_metadata.txt – write following to the filename the content of the file into the metadata file

    Doing these 3 commands producing 3 files for every disk, you should be able to find a requested photo whithin very short time – given these 3 files are at hand for you…

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  2. claude laramée

    It’s something that I wasn’t paying too much attention to until … someone ask me for a bunch of images taken over a period of a few years … I have learned my lesson … time machine hooked to a LaCie external drive can be sllllloooooowwwwww for undating and finding files/images ! This is a good short video that’s helpful ! Thanks !

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  3. Raoni Franco

    in organizing my files

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  4. Raoni Franco

    I´m a mess, I mean, A BIG FREAKING MESS

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    • Pete Woods

      LOL, my filing is also a mess. Best I seem to be able is a catchy title for my file names, e.g. catchy.title.png … Although I am quick to add my copyright info into an images EXIF data.

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  5. Imants Ozolins

    I already started to organize my images like 8 years ago, when I took my first pictures with cell phone. I knew it will save me some frustration in the future.
    My main folders are just years+main events, for example, “2013 – Germany, Austria, Spain”, then each subfolder – “2013-05-17 – Germany – Berlin” or for many day travels “2013-05-19_-_05-23 – Austria – Salzburg State”. I’m using dashes, because it’s easier to view. Almost each file has a name of the place “IMG_1919 – Golling Waterfall” Advanced Renamer is great tool to rename numerous images.

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  6. robert raymer

    This is exactly how I have everything organized. I also have additional sub folders in each folder including folders for RAW files, working files where the retouching may not be completed, and finals which (at least when working on jobs for clients) include files saved as 64 03 32 bit .psd, 16 bit .tiff, and 8 bit Jpeg. It takes up extra memory to save all three file types, but makes life a lot easier if they require changes to be made on anything. I will also occasionally have a separate sub folder under the Finals folder for Social Media, where each file is optimized for each platform.

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  7. Herm Tjioe

    I have problems using dates first. I tend to forget which year a particular shoot occured. So I prefer event name or place, followed by the year and date.

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