(The Third of) Ten Simple Steps to a Faster Workflow in Lightroom

The third step is one that you need to carefully think about before implementing it: Pick a format for your folder names and never, ever deviate from it.

When you import images into Lightroom from your memory card or another external source, Lightroom must store them in a folder on your hard drive and that folder must have a name. You can name these folders anything. However, every night, I put my car keys in the exact same spot on the counter. Why? If I don’t, I won’t have any hope of finding them in the morning. It is the same with your images, if you save your images to folders consistently named per some standard, you will have an easier time finding them later.

My format is fairly simple. My images are saved in a folder named with the date the images were taken and a short description, e.g., 2014-05-16_Mom’s 80th Birthday. The name is created by using the four-digit year and two digit month and day the image was taken followed by a short description of the subject of the images; the hyphens and underscore are added for readability. This folder is housed on my hard drive in a folder named for year, e.g., 2014, in the Pictures folder. So, the hierarchy of folders is: Users > Brian > Pictures > 2014 > 2014-05-16_Mom’s 80th Birthday.


Image 1: Folders containing images named as described in the text. Note that they sort chronologically.

What this does for me is:

  1. I always know my images will be in a folder named using the date the images were taken and a short description of their subject in a subfolder of the Pictures folder designating the year. (This is the car key portion of the naming scheme, i.e., put my keys in the same spot every time.)
  2. I can tell two things from the name of the subfolder: (1) the date the images were taken and (2) something about what images are in that folder. For instance, name a folder as 2014-05-16_Mom’s 80th Birthday tells me the images were taken on May 16, 2014 and are of my mother’s 80th birthday party.
  3. The subfolders sort in the correct chronological order, e.g., 2014-05-15_Mom’s 80th Birthday will be followed by 2014-05-16_Mom’s 80th Birthday. (Computers sort differently than humans and that is why we use four numbers for the year and always use two digits for the month and day, e.g., June 19, 2014, is 2014-06-19, and November 9, 2014, is 2014-11-09.

There are probably as many schemes for naming folders as there are photographers and you don’t have to use this one (although a lot of photographers do or at least a similar one). Whatever scheme you choose must do two things: (1) be easy to follow and (2) make it easier to find your images.

There are a couple of things to watch out for. First, don’t name folders by subject matter only. For example, while it might be tempting to name a folder Christmas for this year’s Christmas pictures, it isn’t going to help next year when you want to create another folder named Christmas for next year’s Christmas pictures. Second, avoid schemes that leave too much room for variation in how you name a folder. You want to use your folder names to differentiate between their contents but you don’t want to get confused by the name. For example, if I go to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge for two days, I will name the folders similarly by using the same short description but differently by using the date (one day will separate the images) Third, don’t split up your raw and JEPGs. Let Lightroom manage them or better yet, just delete the JPEGs because, with the raw, you can create a JPEG if you need one.

This is your first line of organization so take your time to settle on a naming scheme but do it and stick to it. Make it easy to use or you won’t use. Once you have decided on a scheme, start using it immediately. (I don’t recommend fixing all your folders because it’s a very tedious task. Just move forward knowing that, if you need an image from this day backwards, you have to work to find it.)

– Brian

Editor’s Note: In early May, Brian started a series of ten posts each outlining one or more simple but small things you can do to speed up your Lightroom workflow. This is the third post in that series; the first post was about how to efficiently manipulate Lightroom’s interface to reduce clutter and the second about the improving your efficiency inside Lightroom by using context menus.

This entry was written by School of Creative Photography and published on May 16, 2014 at 4:07 pm. It’s filed under Editing Images and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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