Name Your Digital Photo Files

Computer-generated names don't mean much to you and me

Have you noticed how your digital camera names your digital photos?

All cameras use a sequential number to identify the photos as they are taken. This leads to wonderfully descriptive file names like DSC0090 and IMG_8897.

When you look at these photo file names later on, it is almost impossible to tell what the contents of the photo might be. If you name the files yourself, you won't have this problem.

When To Name

The best time to rename your digital photo files is after you have transferred from memory card to computer. At this point you can safely clean off the memory card so that you can re-use it.

Now you have a bunch of photos on your computer with filenames that don't mean a thing to you and me. The computer knows what they are, but that does not help you when you want to share a great photo with a friend.

What to Name

This is a tough issue, and entirely subjective. Many people name their photos with actual text titles that are meaningful, like 2004_wedding_01.jpg. Others choose to add specific category names to their files: dog_labrador_cody_01.jpg.

I name my files with the date that they were taken and a sequential number. While this does not seem like it is very different from the filename assigned by the camera, I tend to remember the date that I take photos more than anything else. My filenames look like this: 2004-12-15-01.jpg.

While it's true that I can't tell the contents of this photo just by looking at the filename, it helps me in two ways. First, it lets me know the date I took the photo, and it keeps all the photos in sequential order. You'll find that if you edit your digital photographs and save them that the date of the photo becomes the date the photo was SAVED, not the date it was TAKEN.

Say you take a photo in 2001. In 2004 you edit the photo. The date associated with the photo is now 2004. If you try to sort your photos based on date, the photo you took in 2001 will appear as if was taken in 2004. When you name the file with the date it was taken right off the bat, this problem will never occur.

No matter how you choose to name, a sequential number will have to be used at some point, since you can't have two digital photos with the same name. So if you go on a Hawaiian vacation in 2005, and take 5 photos, you can't name them all hawaii_vacation_05.jpg. Instead they have to be hawaii_vacation_05_01.jpg, hawaii_vacation_05_02.jpg, and so on.

How to Name

Now that you know that naming files is important, how do you do it?

The slow approach is to rename each file one by one. Whether you use Windows or a Macintosh, you can select each file in turn and type a new filename for it.

The faster approach is to use some software to re-name the files for you. There are many different software programs that will allow you to re-name your files all at once. You specify the format for the new filenames, designate a starting number for the sequence number, and let the program do the rest.

Some programs that can rename groups of files are Adobe Elements (for Windows and Macintosh), Canto Cumulus (Windows only) and Arles Web Page Creator (Windows only).

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