Field Report:

The Non-Glamorous Side of Photography

Digital Photography Workflow: Have a Good Filing System

(Originally published at In the Field in October, 2007.)

Digital workflow is a seldom discussed topic on photo blogs but it also happens to be one of the most important aspects for a working photographer to be proficient at. Without a good workflow it would be difficult to locate images quickly, you’d be doing the same tasks repeatedly, and just a total waste of time that would be better spent doing other things. It’s best to establish a good workflow from the beginning because by the time you’ll actually start noticing a need for something consistent you’d likely already have a significant number of images in your collection. It would be a pain to have to re-incorporate all of those processed images back into your new workflow.

Now if I were starting off today with digital imaging the first thing I would do is establish an organized filing system both on your computer and on your backup storage. The most obvious reason to do this is so you can find your images easily. The 2nd reason is so you are able to tell the difference between images that have been backed up versus images that haven’t been. When I first started off with digital imaging in 2000 – 2001, I didn’t have a good filing system in place yet so I ended up saving over my original files repeatedly because I didn’t know any better and because I didn’t have separate distinct folder directors for original files versus processed images. When I got serious about photography and realized that had I saved over my original files that woke me up to the importance of establishing an effective workflow. I use a PC and Windows operating system and will discuss how my filing system works.

I have a folder within the “My Pictures” directory that is called “Photography”. This is where I store low res processed images usually sized to 800 x 533 or thereabouts saved as compression 8 jpegs. The file sizes are usually about 100 – 300k. Good enough for review, email and comps without hogging up the entire hard drive. The jpegs are grouped within sub-directories according to their subject or geographic location such as: My Pictures < Photography < California Missions < Mission San Juan Capistrano. Other photographers might prefer to group their images by a coded image filing system such as CAMSJC001.jpg, CAMSJC002.jpg, CAMSB001.jpg, CAMSB002.jpg, etc… as opposed to a file folder based system such as my own.

The full-res Master files are stored in another directory by numerical order (RW001_Master, RW002_Master, etc…): My Pictures < RW_Master. The file names correspond with my photo ID numbers so I can easily dig up the full-resolution file and have it ready for immediate distribution or output when there is a need for it.

Original un-archived files go into an external hard drive directory: My Pictures < Originals < La Jolla Cove. I keep the originals in this directory until I have backed up them up onto discs and external hard drives. After backing these files up, then I’ll put them into: My Pictures < Burned < La Jolla Cove. The purpose for this is so that I know what I need to back up and what has already been backed up. Without an organized system such as this, then I probably would be missing a significant number of images as I clear off hard drive space.

Within the low resolution folder directory, I also keep a super low resolution catalog of my processed images sized to 250 x 1** so I can register my images at the U.S. Copyright Office on a single CD. It would be impractical to submit 5000 high resolution images to the copyright office and a waste of time to have to go back and create small files each time I want to register my images. This folder also allows me to quick reference a photo by the ID# for requests. This folder is located at: My Pictures < Photography < RW_List.

Another reason why I created my filing system this way is because it is the quickest way for me to save the different copies of each image when I am creating the files all the while maintaining separate folder directories for each. All I have to do is hit a backward folder or two to save each of the versions. Time management is very important when it comes to dealing with a large quantity of images. The goal for me is to create an efficient filing system workflow where I don’t have to think about what I am doing. As a result, my system is very organized and efficient for me to use. I’m not saving over important files by accident and I’m ensured that every image is being properly archived for storage.

Nowadays there are a number of “Digital Asset Management” (DAM) software programs that help streamline the cataloging process such as iViewMedia Pro and Adobe Lightroom. Once the images are keyworded then they can be searched through the catalog’s search engine. With a keyword-based catalog system such as iView, having properly keyworded images is absolutely essential however otherwise the images won’t be found easily. Even if you use DAM software however, it is still important to have an established filing structure for all of the above aforementioned reasons. I haven’t had a need to use these programs as these are primarily geared toward newspaper photojournalists and wedding photographers that need a quick turnaround time.

Time Management: I currently to submit to two stock agencies regularly and another one infrequently. I also upload high resolution jpegs to my PhotoShelter archive so I must keep in mind these additional forms of output when dealing with my image processing workflow. Every additional outlet for which I create files must be carefully evaluated because every single thing is time consuming over the course of thousands of images. My least favorite aspect to photography in the digital-era is the amount of computer work associated with it. So in general if there is little sales potential, profit margin or marketing benefits associated with that outlet then I have no interest in pursuing it. I am primarily interested in pursuing activities that can help grow my business whether that is promoting my website, selling through established rights-managed stock photo venues, or adding to the searchable photo archive on my site.


July 15, 2008 - Posted by | Digital Workflow, stock photography | ,


  1. Cool site, love the info.

    Comment by Bill Bartmann | September 3, 2009 | Reply

  2. The issue of being systematic with filing system is crucial in my opinion. This is particularly an issue when it comes to high resolution photography and other graphic, where files can be particularly heavy. It is as well an issue in other ‘graphic’ based fields like architecture. I do have my filing system for my architectural activities, but came here to get some insight on the field of photographic backup-ing, saving master files or raw files, setting folders for edited versions etc. This article gave me a good bit of idea about the issues involved and solutions. There are still issues of forking of edition work when it comes to filing such work, but here I have found good base to star with.

    Thank you for sharing this professional knowledge. I will benefit from it, and surely more people will do as well.

    Vito Piotrowicz

    Comment by Vito Piotrowicz | June 14, 2011 | Reply

  3. Hi Vito. Glad to know this article is of use to you. My goal was to get people thinking about this as, I’ve found most photographers do not have a reliable method for archiving their collection. Thanks.

    Comment by Richard Wong | June 14, 2011 | Reply

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