What is my naming convention and how did I come up with it?

In the last blog entry, I explained the importance of a naming convention and offered some things to think about in creating your own. In this blog entry, I will tell you my thinking in creating the system that I use. It is NOT for everyone, but it works for me. If you understand how I came to structure my set-up, maybe it will make it easier when you start to make your own system.

When I “went” digital, I had no idea what a naming convention even was. All I knew was that I was rapidly accumulating digital image files and I had no good way to organize them. I was very fortunate to attend a seminar by Peter Krogh, the author of “The DAM Book.” (That stands for Digital Asset Management.) You can read more about Peter, his seminars and his very useful book at: http://www.thedambook.com/

I came away from the seminar (and after reading his book) with a loose framework for the digital workflow and naming convention I use to this day. I still had to execute it and work out the various bugs, but that was relatively easy once I knew what I was going to do (and not do) in order to build my particular system.

The first question I asked myself is ”Exactly what is a naming convention for?” On one hand, it keeps your files organized. But I am pretty organized, so I keep them backed up in multiple places in an easy to follow system. If someone gives me the exact file name of a given image, I can find that image straight away. For me, and this is my system only, a naming convention actually is for finding an image when I do NOT have the image name. Again, if someone gives me the exact file name of a given image, I can find that straight away. If they only give me a description of the image (or a frame grab of the image,) then I need to be able to figure out where to look for the image.

So, my naming convention is month (two characters,) followed by year (two characters,) followed by a brief description of the location or assignment, followed by the image number (four characters) that is given by the camera. So, images made in Bangalore, India in November of 2008 would be titled “1108Bangalore1234 followed by the extension for the file type, be it TFF, JPG, DNG, RAW, etc.

I start with the month because if I am trying to find an image, the season I made it is often as important as the year it was made, because I tend to return to the same places over and over at about the same time of year. If the image shows springtime in India, for example, I only have to look in a couple places. The brief description of the location/assignment is next because that is usually how I find a given image if I do not have the exact name. I prefer to use the image number (four characters,) that is given by the camera, so I can see how many images I made during the time I was producing a given set of work. This is more a personal preference than anything else.

If I were photographing weddings for example, I would have a different naming convention (and overall workflow.) My naming convention works well with stock photography, where I make many images during each shoot, in locations I tend to revisit. Then I disseminate those images through multiple channels. Since each agency/portal has a particular naming convention, I need a system that enables me to quickly locate an image without having the name of that image.

What you should take away from all of this is the importance of a naming convention and a commitment to start using one immediately. Down the road, you will probably want to go back and reorganize/rename your existing imagery within your newly refined naming convention. That certainly is a good idea, but do not let the fear of that process overwhelm you and stop you now. Once you start using a good, well thought out naming convention, it will become part of your workflow. All of your work from today forward will be organized so you can easily find your images, now and in the future. Doesn’t that sound great?

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