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Assuming one does not use a digital asset management (DAM) program, one has to develop one's own structures, processes and conventions for organizing image files. There are several key choices in deciding how to go about organizing, managing and retrieving images. The ones listed below encapsulate the approach I have developed.

Naming Conventions

There are certainly ways to go about naming photographs. Some people retain the original camera file name. Some substitute a sequence number. Most add something about the subject, location and/or date.  My convention is straightforward.  The name begins with a subject description.  This is followed by session location, and then by the year and month of exposure.  The original file name is appended at the end.  My folder hierarchy tracks this approach, making it straitforward to track and retrieve images.  Here's a typical image name in abstract form, followed by the name of one of the images in the image portfolio section.

SubjectDescription_LocationCaptured_YearMonth_OriginalFileID.FileExtension

AnhingaMale_AnhingaTrailFL_08Jan_E0K8651.jpg

Folder hierarchy

I've chosen not to use DAM applications and databases.  Therefore, my images are arranged in a tree structure within the computer's file system. Each depth level of the tree corresponds to some logically unified way of viewing the images. For me, the first order organizing principle is that I have a collection of a certain type of images consisting of multiple sessions or trips of a similar nature.  Examples might include travel trips, birding trips, outdoor activities, etc..  I've taken a trip somewhere, possibly for multiple days, to do nature photography. Since I may have been there before, I've chosen to keep each visit separate, which means that the second level of the tree hierarchy corresponds to location and date of trip, loosely year and month. During any particular visit, I may photograph many subjects, and I may or may not want to keep each subject separate so I can access them by subject later. Thus, subject type becomes the bottom tier of organization in the file hierarchy. Things that don't neatly fit a subject type go into a catch-all folder called "Miscellaneous."

Photography > Collection Type (i.e. Birding Trips) > Location & Date of Session > Subject Type

Besides nature photography, I also do travel photography and professional tennis imaging.  However, the principle is the same for each distinct area.  Represented symbolically, the GrayFoxImages Nature folder heirarchy is as follows:

Top Level Nature Images folder:
GrayFoxImages index and support folders

Portfolio Image folder 
 { Web page subfolders organized by subject categories, e.g. Bluebirds, Scenics, etc. }
{ Folders for each major image collection type (e.g. Birding Trips, Travel, etc.) } 

        { Subfolders for original images from each Location/Date Session + Best of Session web pages } 

              { Optional:  subfolders for each Subject Type, e.g. ducks, geese, etc. }

During editing, reject images are discarded and keepers are rated for quality, with best of session images converted into web sized JPEGs.  A best of session web page is built and stored within the Location/Date folder, and the "best of the best" are copied into the appropriate GrayFoxImages Portfolio subject category folders.  This best of trip web page will later be indexed in a GrayFoxImages Travels page.  Occasionally a few images may also be converted into TIFFs and sent to Photoshop for print preparation.  In such cases, the TIFF conversions, adjusted PS files and final JPEG print output files are also stored in a separate folder within the Location/Date folder.

Paralleling this is an augmented structure with links to all photo trips and photo sessions, including not only nature, travel and tennis images but personal and family sessions as well.  The latter exists only on my local hard drive and all are accessible via a master Archive index page.  This structure somewhat parallels the Travels page, and it provides organized access to all significant images from past photo sessions, making all past photo sessions, nature or otherwise, available from a single page.

Image Retrieval

For photographers with really complex retrieval needs, DAM keywording and database query capability may be a requirement.  But for my needs, the file system and web page approach has proved effective.  It does not lock me into any particular toolset, and the basic file organization has remained intact thoughout.  I have changed computers, external hard drives, image browsers, RAW converters and Photoshop versions several times without incident.  Any renaming tool can be substituted with zero impact.  I have also survived disk crashes and restored the entire collection from backup on more than one occasion.

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