Find your photos with a good folder and labeling system

Written by Bill Trueit

It is 9:30 at night. The fluorescent lights are flickering. You hear the sound of the vacuum come closer and closer to your room as the custodian completes the nightly rounds in an otherwise empty building.

You thought you would be home by now, but the deadline is fast approaching and the dominant photo for your final spread has a broken link. The student who took the photo has left and cannot be contacted by phone, social media or telepathy.

Student staff members are frantically searching server locations, external hard drives, memory cards and the hard drives of computers turned on and off throughout the classroom. No one can remember if the file name was DSC8532.jpg or MG_9354.CR2.

If this has not happened to you, then either you have lived a blessed life as a yearbook adviser or you have a system of organization that works.

As you begin to think about the next yearbook, and prepare photographers to cover summer activities such as students at work, football drills and marching band practice, this is a good time to set up an image file system that will work for you.

File organization and labeling are critical for accuracy, efficiency and sanity. There are many ways to accomplish this. Programs, even free ones like Picasa, can be used to help organize your photo inventory. Additionally, tagging photos using Adobe® Bridge® can help organize photos (see the In Step with InDesign column in this issue). A system that we have developed for our staff at Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Wash., emphasizes labeling folders and individual files.


This illustration shows a screen capture in Bridge, with the image on the left having the name of the file as created by the camera. The image on the right identifies the subject by name, the date of the event and the photographer. Combine informative image file names with metadata using Bridge and your images will be a welcome image file to an editor working a late night before a deadline.

When we receive an assignment electronically, there are several pieces of information that are needed to quickly the find the right photo for the right spread or page assignment. The most important information is what the photo is about. The next critical info is the name of the photographer who took the photo. Finally, it is also good to know when, exactly or approximately, the photo was taken. In our system, all of that information is available.

We start by creating a collection site using a folder structure where the names of the folders identify the section we are working on. Each topic within that section gets a folder labeled with the name of that topic. This can be accomplished using a shared server or cloud location or the PIX folder in the WPCYB folder installed to your computer with the InDesign Enhancements. (For Online Design users, the Image Manager area has tabs with photo category names.) The key to an image filing system is ensuring the rest of the staff places folders or individual folder and files in the right locations.

Our folder for volleyball, for example, is labeled “Fall 2012 Volleyball.” Inside that folder, students place folders with labels that identify the name of the topic, their name and the date the assignment was due. An example would be “Volleyball_FWuzzy_Oct21.”

Of course, you don’t use folders of photos in a spread, you use individual photos, preferably from a variety of student staff members. Therefore, it is just as important to have file names labeled with the same information as the folders. File names for our staff are required to look like “Volleyball_FWuzzy_001.dng.” Note that the batch rename feature in Adobe Bridge is taught to my students on their first download of photos.


Create a system of folders by subjects so your images are easy to find. For both Online Design and InDesign users, Walsworth has provided a system for creating and customizing folders that you can use to store your images. In the Images area of Online Design, the Unassigned folder appears by default. Open it, then click the plus symbol in the Organize view to add additional folders as needed. Drag and drop images into those new folders. For InDesign users, a PIX folder is automatically created inside the _WPCYB folder when you install the Enhancements. Inside that folder are an Original and Prepared folder. Keep original images stored safely in the Original, and save all the images adjusted in Photoshop or Pixlr in the Prepared folder.

Part of our organization includes having original image files as well as image files that have been processed. Students using DSLR cameras shoot in RAW while students using point-and-shoot cameras shoot JPEG images. Either way, files need to be sorted, organized and labeled before adjusting lighting, color and sharpness in Adobe Camera Raw®, Adobe Lightroom® or the traditional Photoshop® workspace with adjustment layers.

An important part of this organization method requires students to sort and process only their best shots. Showing models from local newspapers, we give our staff strict guidelines and examples of the types of photos that we want placed in our yearbook. Depending on the assignment and the number of photographers, you may want as few as the best three images from a student. Editors and advisers do not want to be looking through a folder of hundreds of images when they only need a few outstanding shots.

Out-of-focus photos, photos with bad exposure values, and photos of the backs of people are expected to be deleted. Ideally, there may be several images that do not make the cut as outstanding, but still do a good job of revealing the story of the topic. We have students create a folder of labeled extras where they place those images just in case.

It is important that the original and processed image files both be labeled the same. If the original and processed files are two different types of image files, then the file names will be exactly the same except for the file extension. If the files of the original and processed files are the same, like a jpeg file, the word “copy” needs to be added to the file name in the Save As process.

Why have a copy at all? If you have a file that has only had its name changed, you have a full-sized image that can be processed properly. If you have a version of an image that has been cropped, changed to grayscale or flattened with any number of horrible defects, that once-promising dominant image may be unusable. If the bad image is a copy, you can delete it and reprocess a new copy of the original.

As the first month ends during a new school year, the inventory of images is likely numbered in the hundreds. By the second month of the school year, the inventory can easily be in the thousands before you even start counting mug shots! Making sure it is easy to reach only the best photos to choose from is the best way to make sure your late nights aren’t so late.

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Bill Trueit

Bill Trueit is the former yearbook adviser and photography teacher at Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Washington, and a part-time photographer. He has covered professional soccer and concerts, and has been known to shoot photojournalistic photos even while working as a radio reporter.