Heresy In Library Organization

Figure 2: When, Who, What, Where Folder Names

Then, there’s the question of legacy. While I don’t have any illusions that my own digital library will have great value after I’m pushing up daisies, I do at least want it to be understandable and navigable to those who inherit it. This requirement also dictates that having easily navigated chronological groupings in the file system will make more sense than subjective groupings like "Portrait" or "Thailand." So my library is indeed organized by subject, to the extent that the smallest unit of organization—what I call shoot folders—are named with the date first, in the format YYYYMMDD. Now they sort chronologically—both in Lightroom and in the file system.

I name each shoot folder with the four objective pieces of metadata (call them keywords, if you like) that I want associated with every photo in the folder: when, who, what and where (Fig. 2). So if I’m teaching in Italy for the ICP, my shoot folder names will look like this:

The When keyword is the date. Who can be a person’s name, a client’s name or even a job number. In this case, it’s the workshop organizer’s name, ICP. The What is a subject, in this case, Workshop, and the Where is generally the city and state. These keywords almost always will end up as IPTC keywords for individual photos, as well, but I want these four that I think of as objective metadata for the entire shoot in the folder name. This groups actual photo files together logically in the file system, even though I’ll rarely ever need to physically go into that folder for any reason. In the long run (we already talked about daises, remember?), having shoots organized into well-named folders that sort chronologically gives the library an easy-to-understand navigation should you ever need to dig into the folder view. It’s also helpful for legacy purposes.

Having this folder structure also gives me the peace of mind that if I ever decided to switch to Bridge or another database besides Lightroom, I would be free to do that. My library structure is completely independent of the catalog that I use to access it.

When it comes to daily workflow, I start by copying new photos into my photo library just like everyone else. You can do this during the import process using Lightroom, but when leading workshops I like to separate these two things. There’s so much confusion about the relationship between the Lightroom catalog and the actual photo library that I find splitting up these workflow items helps clarify things. It’s only after I’ve set up my shoot folders and copied the new photos to their permanent home in the library that I even start Lightroom.

If you copy your photos to your photo library first, once you’ve started Lightroom, the Import process is completely straightforward using the Add method. Photos are added to the catalog without copying them or moving them.

Next comes filenaming. I don’t renam
e photos during import for two major reasons. First, I want to preserve the original camera-generated filename in metadata, and if you rename during import, Lightroom simply throws that away. (Renaming after import, in the library, preserves the original filename in metadata.) The second reason is that I include the timestamp metadata in my filenames, so I want to be sure that’s accurate before I rename anything.

Figure 3: The Lightroom Filename Template Editor can be used to create complex filenames using nearly any piece of available metadata, including hour, minute and second info derived from timestamps.

As long as I’m structuring my entire library based on chronology, the exact moment a photo was shot is already the perfect sequence number. Why would I want to add anything to that? Relying on camera-generated sequences doesn’t work if you’re shooting with more than one camera, and camera sequences roll over occasionally, too. So for my library, the ultimate sequence number is made up of the date (YYYYMMDD) plus the timestamp (in the form of HHMMSS). Then, to preserve the original camera-generated filename, I include that at the end to complete the sequence. Including the date in the filenames also gives you a one-to-one correspondence for individual photo files and their parent shoot folder; you’ll never wonder in what folder any given photo belongs (Fig. 3).

Leave a Reply