Monday, February 26, 2018

Staying Organized: Digital Folder Structure and Naming

There are millions of ways to stay organized, but only a few ways to mess it up.  If you've ever had to handle a project that involved numerous digital files, you're probably familiar with the issues that can arise: files in the wrong folders, files overwriting other files, files named in the wrong sequence.  While there is no universal standard to be followed, there are a few ways to make keeping track of your files as painless as possible.

The main principle of any folder structure and file naming system is consistency.  Before you begin any project, create a folder on the main hard drive of your computer.  Be sure to name it something simple and memorable.  If it can't be easily categorized, try using the date.

Most importantly, at this stage and at every stage, do not use periods, spaces, or punctuation in any file or folder naming.  A period can indicate file type, and it has the potential to trip up programs that try to access it.  Other punctuation like apostrophes and quote marks aren't perfectly shared across operating systems and programs.  Punctuation such as slashes can indicate command line functions.  It's best to stick to simple alphanumerics.

If you need to put some kind of punctuation in your file/folder names, use underscore ( _ ) or dash ( - ).  For example, if we needed to create a series of sequential names for a project, we might use something like this: "PROJECT-001".  You can mix it up as your project demands, ie: "PROJECT_subheader-001" so long as you keep it consistent.  As for capitalization, again, consistency is key.  Personally, for the sake of legibility I don't like to use both capital and lower-case letter in the same word, as they can potentially cause problems (lower case L and upper case I, for example).

For sequential naming you should ideally be able to set it up in whatever program you are using to create the files.  Here at Digital Production we photograph images in Capture One, and set a naming convention at capture that follows a simple counter.  Many other image capture programs will have similar functions; the most important one to look for is a sequential counter.  This will automatically name each image in sequence, saving you time and minimizing human error.

If you have a pile of images that need renaming the easiest option is Adobe Bridge's batch rename function.  Select the images in Bridge, then go to the Tools menu and find Batch Rename.  It will give you a nice suite of options for renaming your files, or even copying them to a new location.  However, this function won't help you if your files are already out of order.  You can use Bridge's view mode to examine your files and make sure they're in the correct order before renaming them.  Another way to rename files is by command line functions, but those are a bit advanced for this blog post.

Ultimately you will want to make sure your files all end up named and in the right place.  For this we use some good old-fashioned project tracking.  Early in the project we will create a spreadsheet for all the files, and as we capture and name images, we check our progress against it.  If you don't know exactly how many files you are supposed to end up with, fill out the spreadsheet as you go and do a check against it when you finish.

With these tips, regular storage backups, and a bit of diligence, you should be able to keep track of whatever is thrown at you.

Written by Ryland Ianelli

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