Image Cataloging - or Find Files Fast

Started Mar 6, 2004 | Discussions thread
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Gordon W
Gordon W Veteran Member • Posts: 4,062
Image Cataloging - or Find Files Fast

I don’t know if this topic will interest anyone here in the STF, but when I recently claimed in another forum that I can find and display within two or three minutes or less any specific image out of the many thousands of digital images I have archived on CD and DVD, I was asked to elaborate on the production of my cataloged DVDs. I don’t know if the person was really interested or if he just wanted me to back up my claim with a real methodology, but in any event I detailed how I organize and catalog my files and thought that it might also be of some benefit here in my ‘home’ forum.

The most important aspect of Finding Files Fast is...

File Management

Organization & Structure - I shoot two kinds of photography: personal and professional. So I keep these separated. If I'm looking for an image I'll know beforehand which kind it is. This cuts a search in half right away. The kinds of photography you shoot will likely be different, but dividing by basic kinds is what’s important here. Yours might be Family and Nature or whatever. Another important thing is there be no overlap between kinds.

I never touch original camera files which are treated as masters - and never EVER throw any of these away (if you do, you WILL come to regret it some day). Within each kind, I keep camera files separately and in folders named with a date code representing the day those images were shot so those folders can contain anywhere from hundreds of files to only a few.

My date code convention is YYYY-MM-DD, using leading zeros when needed. This format sorts chronologically correct by anything that sorts.

Post-processed files are kept in folders cleverly named 'Processed' and appear in both Personal and Professional folders and are grouped in subfolders named by event or something relevant, like 'England Trip 2002-05-03 to 17' (using my date code in this folder name not only is significant but it also points directly back to the folder of original camera files which will have this same date in its name). Consistency in naming of files and folders and the relevance of the name is one of the most important organizational tactics a person can use.

The Importance of Naming - Being in the graphic design/advertising/marketing business, I work with all kinds of files from all kinds of people and it never ceases to amaze me how many people are clueless when it comes to the importance of proper file naming. I routinely receive files and folders with names that have absolutely nothing to do with their contents. If you want to find a particular file or folder a year from now the only way you’ll do it quickly is if it has a meaningful name. So it is very important a person develop a meaningful naming convention that works for them and always use it and use it consistently.

In my case, the first processed file created from an original camera file is given a meaningful name using my own naming convention (i.e. a trip is always a trip, a cruise always a cruise, never vacation or holiday or whatever), PLUS it retains the number the camera saved it as. This creates a link between event and original file. From then on subsequent modifications to this file do not retain the camera's file number but keep the new name and elaborate on it if there's something meaningful that can be added.


Once your files are consistently named and organized, then comes cataloging them. I keep two catalogs: text (file directory) and image (thumbnails). Each has their purpose.

For text cataloging I use CDFinder (Mac) which has the same file format as CDWinder (Windows) and both are very fast at finding files (I use both Mac and Windows so file compatibility is important to me). If I'm looking for imagery from my trip to England in 2002, I can simply enter 'trip' in the Find field and almost instantly get a list of files for trips I’ve made and then finding the one I'm looking for takes no time at all. Then from one file or folder name I not only know what disk it's on but the file path and this quickly leads to the original camera file name as well if needed.

For image cataloging I use iView Media which also has Mac and Windows versions, but doing a visual search can take much longer, although iView can also search by file name which is almost as fast as the text search and has the added benefit of showing you thumbnails for what it finds plus all the files around it which are usually closely related by event and date.

If a more definitive description is needed other than what's in the file name, which I try to keep as short as possible, you can also enter a few keywords for the layered processed files (Photoshop in my case) rather than keywording all the files which can be very tedious. That one processed file will also get you into the event group.

The advantage of the text search is that you can have all your CDs and DVDs in one catalog that’s relatively small whereas the image catalog gives visual confirmation that you actually found the file you're looking for but the catalog files are quite large and are usually only practical for one DVD per catalog.

But, this is simply how I manage what can easily become a cumbersome problem. I’m always open for ways to improve this procedure, so please let me know if you have a better way. And if not, at least let me know if this posting was worthwhile.

 Gordon W's gear list:Gordon W's gear list
Canon PowerShot S100 Panasonic FZ1000 Nikon Coolpix B700 Panasonic FZ80/FZ82 Nikon Coolpix P1000 +5 more
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