File Numbering & Other Excitement!


There are a few things that I can say with absolute certainty:

  • I travel a lot;
  • I take a lot of photos;
  • I have a lot of files that span more than 10 years; and
  • Art Directors and Photo Editors often request images at the least opportune times.

With this in mind, what I need to rely on is a rock solid organizational methodology and having everything backed up.

My long-term objective in writing my blog is to provide useful information and to have some fun – this one in particular addresses some issues that no one regards as fun. Perhaps it can however, relieve some frustration.

I feel obligated to insert a warning here: This stuff is REALLY, REALLY Boring! Boring, yes, but it is critical and if you get it right the first time and invest just a couple of minutes in the process, I promise, it will save you hours later.  However to keep it interesting, I will pop in a few photos here and there and include their files numbers.

Here we go!

Two weeks ago a young friend of mine, Paul Findlay posted on Facebook that she had not been selected for the Canadian Olympic Triathlon team. I was fortunate to be shooting the ITU World Cup in Monterey Mexico in 2010 where Paula had her first win. I thought the finish line photo of Paula would be a great Instagram.

Second Harvest Heartland Photo Shoot with the Minnesota Vikings
Paula Findlay winning her first World Cup in Monterrey Mexico

I remembered the event, but wasn’t clear on the year so it took me a couple minutes to find the file, but it was only a couple of minutes. It is my consistency in file naming that allowed me to quickly find the image.

As I am working out this blog, I just received an email from Valerie, Hunter Kemper’s wife. Hunter is a 4-time Olympian and has become a friend over the years. Val was looking for some images from Hunter’s 2006 win at the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in Minneapolis.  Here is one of the shots I sent off.

Life Time Fitness Triathlon

Although it should be obvious, but I feel better mentioning it – everything starts with the year. I keep all of the current year images on my primary (external) hard drive.

I then create folders for the major events that I cover:

  • Cycling;
  • Friends and family;
  • Groove (music);
  • Motorsports;
  • Running;
  • Skiing;
  • Travel; and
  • Triathlon.

There are always a few folders that I carry over year-to-year and want access to on my primary hard drive. These are mostly related to family and a couple of longer-term projects that I am working on.

Within each grouping above, I will further separate the images. Since I shoot more triathlon events than anything else, I will use triathlon as an example.

Within the world, well my world of triathlon, there are several major event organizers.

  • Challenge Family;
  • International Triathlon Union (ITU);
  • World Triathlon Corp (Ironman) ; and
  • Other individual events which are listed separately.

Again since I shoot more WTC events and any others, I will again use that as my example, so far for this year, within this folder I have:

  • Boulder 2016;
  • Lanzarote 2016;
  • Oceanside 2016;
  • San Juan 2016;
  • George 2016; and,
  • Texas 2016.

My most recent event was Ironman Boulder 70.3 on June 11, 2016.

I arrived in Boulder on June 8th and shot in both the morning and afternoon of the 9th and on the 10th.

Within the Boulder 2016 folder above, I created sub folders, by day, with each one being easily identified and sorted.

The basic structure is:

  • BLDR 160609A (first shoot of the day);
  • BLDR 160609B (second shoot of the day); and
  • BLDR 160610 (only shoot of the day).

I always use the date structure of YYMMDD. By putting the year first, the computer will sort your sub-folders in numeric order.

Here is a shot of my buddy Rafa Goncalves from our morning shoot in file BLDR 160609A

Boulder 70.3 Pre Race
Boulder 70.3 Pre Race – Image # BLDR16 0046.jpg

And from the afternoon in file BLDR 160609B here is Callum Millward, shot for Quintana Roo Bicycles:

Boulder 70.3 Pre Race
Boulder 70.3 Pre Race – Image # BLDR16 0194

For the race day, I change my methodology just a bit to:

  • BLDR16 Race Day.

Here is a shot of Sam Appleton by the well-known yellow barn on Nelson Road just north of Boulder.

Boulder 70.3
Boulder 70.3 – Image #BLDR 612.jpg

Within each folder I build some ‘intelligence’ into the file number.

Without getting into the details at this point, I use Photo Mechanic to edit, sort my images in the order they were shot and rename them and enter descriptions before I import images into Lightroom for any post processing. For the Ironman Boulder 70.3, my sequence is:

  • BLDR16 0001

In this way, EVERY image I shoot has a unique identifying number. This is critically important to me. Since I send out password-protected galleries to Magazine Photo Editors, Art Directors and commercial clients, I frequently receive requests for high res images, where they only send the image number.

One variation on this theme is that when I have multiple sub-folders as listed above, I will start the first sub-folder as BLDR16 001. If I have for example, 156 images in the first subfolder, I would start the next sub-folder at BLDR16 0201. I want to ensure there is no possibility of confusion on which images are being requested.

For my race day images, I will typically start the numbering sequence at BLDR16 501 or 1001.

As I mention above, I do all of my numbering in Photo Mechanic before I even import images into Lightroom.

Since I shoot events, it is easy to organize this way. If I were shooting landscape and travel, which I do for fun, I would likely start with:

  • Year;
  • Continent;
  • Country;
  • City;
  • Location; and,
  • Event.


For example, my images from Marrakech are labeled: RAK16 066. (RAK is the Airport Code for Marrakech).

Since most of this happens when I am traveling. I do not have my primary external hard drive with me. I use a MacBook Pro from late 2014 that has a solid-state drive (SSD), copying images from the card reader to my desktop is very fast. If I am using the new CFast2 card from my 1Dx Mark II, it is lightning fast!

When I get back home, I copy the entire event folder to my primary hard drive. More later on updating the location in Lightroom. I promise to do a Lightroom overview post soon.

The entire file structure methodology above is related to working with the original and unprocessed files. As part of my workflow, I will typically provide up to 4 or 5 web galleries for After selecting and post-processing the images, I will export them to a new sub-folder, in this case named:

  • BLDR16 – Tri Mag Gallery 1.

Similarly I would other files that I export would be to sub-folders named for the intended recipient of the images.

All of this organization is great, but if you lose a drive, you are sunk! I have more than 10 years of images archived with the general policy that I keep everything forever.

When I am on the road, I travel with 2 LaCie 1 TB Rugged Thunderbolt / USB 3.0 drives. On one drive, I keep all of my current year files as well as my prior year files from all triathlon events and other major events that I am currently working on. The other drive, I use as a daily backup. It only takes a couple minutes a day to copy the files over and allows me to sleep at night.

When I get back home, all of my current files and changes are automatically backed up every hour using the Apple Time Machine system and a 2TB Time Capsule.

If you don’t want to use the Apple Time Capsule it is very easy to set up using any external hard drive.

In addition on a monthly basis I use a hard drive docking station and a group of what would normally be internal hard drives to create another back up off all of my files.

Later today I am heading off to one of the best races in all of Triathlon, Challenge Roth.












One thought on “File Numbering & Other Excitement!

  1. Will you be going to the 5 ironman in 5 days on 5 island in Hawaii this next May ? I have a friend running it.


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