November 17, 2009 / Fall 2009 / Photography

Filing and fetching photos with ease

Written by Jeff Gabbard

Let’s face it – times have changed in photography.

In the old days, it was a dilemma of finding the negatives after they were processed and making a print before the negatives got lost, scratched or destroyed. (All right, some people were organized, but not me in those days.)

Today’s digital era brings entirely new obstacles to overcome in photo management – or maybe we should call it file management. But the goal remains the same – find the image you want and get it on the spread without losing or damaging the original. One of today’s new required skills is the mastery of your computer. Many students have played games or written a paper using a computer, but do they really know how to save a file in a place where it can be found later?

With a simple system, photos can be saved, found, copied and placed on a page in a matter of seconds. This process starts at the beginning, when you transfer the images from the card to the computer for the first time.

Just as some people swear by the brand of car they drive, many advisers swear by their system of managing digital files with various software solutions. It all boils down to finding a system that works for the staff. What I am going to describe is a system that works for me, both as a publications adviser and a professional photographer.

The most essential element is a program that will let you browse, sort and rename photos quickly. Why should a photographer spend hours renaming images one by one, if a program will do it for you in a few seconds?

mechanicPhoto Mechanic is our program of choice, made by Camera Bits Inc. and found at camerabits.com. It makes the process of ingesting the images from the memory cards and renaming files a breeze. Pricing for schools is $127.50 for a single computer, which is 15% off normal pricing. They also offer discounts on 15 or more copies. Contact them for more information.

There are other programs out there, but Photo Mechanic is a favorite of working photojournalists and it is constantly being upgraded based on comments from users.

Our workflow begins with ingesting the photos from the memory card. Photo Mechanic automatically asks you to ingest when the program is running and a card is put in a card reader. In the ingest dialog box, you can choose to rename the images and give them a sequential number as they are written to the hard disk.

The key part in our system of image management is the naming system we use. Each photo contains a certain “code” to make finding images easy.

The first few letters of the image file name are an abbreviation for the event that was photographed, for example, FB designates football photos and BBB is for boys basketball.

This works for classroom shots as well. Keep the abbreviations short and have a list on the wall for students to refer to if necessary. We try to make the abbreviation easy enough to figure out without a key. This event code is followed by a dot. The next part of the file name contains the initials of the photographer. This makes photo credits simple. We keep a list on the wall of all photographers and their initials for reference. We always use all three initials in case we have photographers with the same first and last initial. I have yet to have a staff where two people have the same three initials.

Finally, we use a sequence number to differentiate between the images. So, a typical file name of an image might be FB.JLG.00001. At a glance, this tells us it is a football photo shot by Jeff Gabbard. We always set the sequence number to have five digits so we don’t run out of numbers over the course of the year.

So, no matter how many photos we shoot, we never have two photos with the same name.

We also use a simple system of filing the photos. Folders for each section of the yearbook are set up on the hard drive. Inside those folders are a series of folders for each spread topic. There are also some miscellaneous folders for items that do not have an entire spread devoted to them.

While the photographs are still being viewed in Photo Mechanic, the photographers select the “keepers” and delete the “dogs” and the rest are just kept in the topic folder. The keepers are then moved to a folder inside each topic folder called, guess what… Keepers. So, each topic has a general folder of images and another folder inside called Keepers.

These Keeper folders are where the staff members go to select photos for their spreads. If the photographers do not think the images are good enough to be put in the Keeper folders, then they cannot be used on a spread. This duty can also be left to photo editors, depending on the size of your staff.

By the way, you can never have too much hard drive space for storing photos. A one terabyte hard drive can be bought for less than $150 now, so it is money well spent.

Keeping digital images organized and sorted is not a hard project, if you plan ahead. Mostly, it is a matter of having a workable plan that your staff members will not deviate from all year for any reason. With digital photography, you may end up with 10,000 or more images in your library of photos. A workable system used consistently will save time for staff members and editors, who will know how and where to find the images they need.

Finally, it is important to make sure your photographers are well trained in photo editing. They should know a good photo from a bad one and never, ever select a photo that is out of focus or poorly lit. Only photos that are technically perfect and capture a decisive moment should be used in your yearbook.

Jeff Gabbard