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Conform: Meaningful Folder Structures

After consolidating source media on the DAM drives, everything is now in one place. Along the way, it is likely that some duplicate data has been created and some media has been copied that we really do not need. At this point, the DAM drives look something like this:

Establish A Naming Convention

Before cleaning the repository, one must be certain one can make accurate comparisons between folders. To do this, a standard naming convention for folders and files is required.

There is no silver bullet here. There are countless approaches to this problem. Many books have been written on the subject of Digital Asset Management (DAM). Some advocate against any renaming. Some insist that each individual file be renamed. At a minimum, following this guide will result in a clean starting point upon which to build. After that, research the options and find the DAM strategy best suited to your workflow.

This guide advocates renaming folders, but not individual assets (e.g. photos, movies). At this stage in the process, we are looking for big chunks of duplicate data, not individual duplicate images. In my experience, individual duplicates are best found and managed in Lightroom, usually on import. So, our goal is to get our archives as lean as possible without removing anything important.

There are reasons why you may want to rename the files within your folders to echo the folder name. The most compelling reason for renaming files are:

  1. Making individual files truly unique in your system. Most cameras use a very generic sequence structure (e.g. IMG_3898.cr2) and if you use multiple bodies from the same manufacturer without editing this sequence in camera, you run the risk of overwriting old images with new ones.
  2. Once renamed, you can produce iterative exports that clearly tie to the source image by filename (e.g. 20120222_NV_MUSTANGS_0001.cr2 leads to: 20120222_NV_MUSTANGS_0001_v1.jpg or 20120222_NV_MUSTANGS_0001_v2.dng

These are compelling reasons. But, if you plan to do rename individual files, I suggest do so after completing the next step: CULL. Doing so will save you both time and hard drive space. And, before you go down that road, be sure to check out Nick Minores guides to renaming your photos using Adobe Bridge, Adobe Lightroom or OSX Yosemite.

With this in mind, here is how I approach conformation of file folders:

  1. Begin With The End In Mind In this step, we have one simple goal: Get everything to neatly line up in the file system so we can do a more detailed review and cull. To accomplish this goal, we need start with a naming convention that, to the best of our ability, removes subjectivity from the equation. In my experience, the following works best: YYYYMMDD_LOCATION_SUBJECT_ITERATION.
  2. The Naming Convention: DATE (YYYYMMDD) Assuming your cameras clock was set correctly, the date the media was created is the most objective data you have available to you. It can be found both in the file system and in the EXIF data. Year is always expressed in four digits because (a) two digit years can be confused with months and (b) two-digit dates will not line up in order if you have images from before 2000 in your collection. Month and Day are padded (e.g. 5 becomes 05) as this keeps the filename a consistent length.When expressed in this eight-digit format, your project folders will line up in perfect chronological order in the file system.
  3. The Naming Convention: LOCATION Location is expressed in a 2-3 letter code. If shooting in the U.S., this code is usually the two letter state code (e.g. NV, HI, FL). If shooting abroad, I usually use the three-letter airport code of the city where I was based when shooting. I find this context helpful. You may not. Feel free to discard or modify it to suit your workflow.
  4. The Naming Convention: SUBJECT This is a 1-2 word description of one of the following:
    • Subject
    • Project Name
    • Project Code (for client work)
    • Location Detail (e.g. city, park, monument)

    If I shoot the same subject frequently (e.g. Mustangs, Eagles), I keep the subject names consistent whenever possible.

    For time-lapse, I start the subject with TL_ (e.g. 20141212_HI_TL_SUNRISE). As I often shoot multiple time-lapse sequences in a day, this lines them up in the file system. This is my only variation on the subject segment.

  5. The Naming Convention: ITERATION Date, Location and Subject are all standard segments in my folder naming convention. Iteration only has one purpose; identifying potential duplicate folders to be cleaned and/or culled. During the conformation process, if I find a suspected duplicate, I append a two-digit iteration number to the end of each of the suspected duplicates. This lines up the duplicated folders and allows me to do a detailed comparison to determine which folders and files can be deleted. This process was used during consolidation as well.

Apply The Naming Convention

With the folder name convention established, rename all of the folders on ONE of my two new DAM drives to match the convention. Call this the working DAM drive.

Why only one of the two DAM drives? There are a couple of reasons:

  1. Although not yet deleting any files, you are working in the file system and things could go sideways. You have gone to a lot of work to create two backups and do not want to repeat that work unless absolutely necessary.
  2. Why duplicate the work? When done with the cull, well back up our clean new archive again.

With this in mind, conform all folders on the working DAM drive to the new naming convention. Leave the backup DAM drive alone.

Move To Project Folders

Once all folder names conform to the naming convention, they will line in the file system neatly. Now, you should be better able to see which folders belong to a given project family. So, move each folder on the working DAM drive from 00_TO_BE_SORTED to the appropriate project group (e.g. 01_FAMILY). When finished, your DAM drives should look something like this:

At this point, everything is pretty well organized and no media has been removed from the file system yet. Next is the riskiest part of the process: the CULL.

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