Comprehensive Photo Catalog Review – How To Part 1

As I noted in my previous post, this will be a technical explanation of what I’m up to with my catalog review and how I am doing it so. let’s dive right in …

[Update: as I began to write this I didn’t realize how in depth and how long these post would start to get so this is going to turn into a multi-part series!]

Note: This post is about how and not so much why I am using the tools that I am. There are plenty of discussions in the blogosphere about what software or camera is better than the other.

Note: I am a Nikon user shooting RAW and I use Mac and my main photographic software is Lightroom 5.

My current catalog is over 200,000 images with photos going back 8 years. I am bout 30% of the way through doing a complete review of every image and restructuring how I organize and keep my catalog. I have some standard workflows that I have developed over time and I have had to invent some new ones for this process.

I was an early adopter of Adobe Lightroom and so I’m lucky in that I have a single environment to work in. I am very familiar with LR’s capabilities and drawbacks which allows me to take advantage of the software.

Adobe recommends that you have one single catalog for all of your images. This is something I never liked and over the years I have experimented with a number of different structures. I’ve had the single massive catalog; catalogs by month or by year; catalogs for each individual photo shoot; and even catalogs for projects or unique collections.

After five years what I have finally settled on is one catalog per year and specialty catalogs for collections projects, always with the original source image stored in the catalog from the year that it was taken.

Next, I use file folders and folder names to hold the actual image files themselves from each photo shoot, which gives me another layer of control and management. Technically you don’t need to do this since Lightroom can catalog and display images from any physical source. However, I like to keep things neat and tidy since this helps in case I ever do need to get down into the weeds and deal with individual files themselves – I’ve had a few drive malfunctions in the past where I had do to some serious recovery work and the more things are in order at that level the easier things are to manage!

I think of things in relation to time and so, inside of my year-to-year catalog scheme, it makes the most sense for me to track things from past to future. My folders and file names all reflect this. When I take photos I always make sure my camera time/date is current and when I import images into LR I always sort by capture time.

I will cover more about my file naming convention in a just moment, but here is an example of what of my folders structure looks like for my catalog from 2013:

Lightroom Catalog Folder NameYou can see the Lightroom catalog and previews files are simply named for the year and they sit at the top of the directory. Each photo shoot is then contained in a subfolder with the date in YYYYMMDD format with a very short description.

The date in the folder name order keeps everything easily viewable since I can sort by name when I am looking at file folders. Sometimes I add a specific location note, but it most cases I know where I took the photos and if the folder names references the location then it’s unnecessary.

For file names I have an “internal” and an “external” naming convention. My internal convention is all about archiving and being able to trace files and manage them on a individual basis, both inside as well as outside of the Lightroom environment.

Here is the template I use for my internal file names with explanations below:

DMEP-[YYYYMMDD]-[JobName]-[Sequence#]

DMEP – short for David Mark Erickson Photography. I use this prefix so that no matter where an individual file ends up I always know that it is one of my catalog images.

YYYYMMDD – The year, month and day the image was captured. In the File Name Template Editor in LR this is an option you can select in the “Sequence and Date” area. LR automatically pulls this from EXIF metadata when the file is written in the camera. Be sure to keep your date/time accurately set on your camera! If you travel time zones a lot, make updating your camera time one of the first items on your checklist.

JobName – a short text descriptor that I manually add to the IPTC “Job Identifier” metadata field. This is usually something close to what the folder name is and I often use abbreviated words with no spaces or special characters. Like the date, this data is automatically pulled out by LR and you can find the field code for this in File Name Template Editor under the “Metadata” section.

Sequence# – This is an automatic number generated by LR, again found in the File Name Template Editor under the “Sequence and Date” section. I always use the five number sequence (00001) first to standardize all my catalog file names as well as I never have to think or worry about if I have enough numbers if I add more photos to a shoot.

Here is an example from an actual file:

DMEP-20130720-TrayvonMartinRallyNYC-00230.dng

With this file naming convention I can always look at an individual file name and know if it is an internal or external file, when it was taken and from what shoot. In the Finder app I can also easily sort by file name which makes things easy when looking for a file.

You will notice that I use the DNG format to store my RAW photos. This an open  standard developed by Adobe. You can read more about the DNG format here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Negative). I choose to follow Adobe’s lead on this as it makes things so much easier.

A quick note about “external” file names, which I only used for when I export a file for client delivery. Here is the template:

DavidMarkErickson-[JobName]-[Sequence#]

This is a much simplified template that gives the client the basic info in a simple to read format. A key feature is the JobName and Sequence# are the same from my internal archive to the external delivery. So, no mater where the file itself ends up I can always trace it back to the source file in my archive. Also, this file name template is search engine friendly so I can easily google my name and/or the JobName and see where my images have wound up!

OK – that is going to have to wrap it up for this post. In my next post I will cover more about metadata and creating a workflow to take existing catalog images and creating rolling them over into my new structure.

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