Photo Filing Basics: Naming, Annotation, Batch-Mode

It’s been a slow week at JLog but I can’t be everywhere at once. And I know you’re all busy checking out the new Legacy Charting anyway. I can hardly compete for excitement.

I’m down in the muck of photo-filing. It’s almost enough to make me want to burn my hard-drive and take up crocheting.

Photo Naming

At one time or another I’ve filed photos by:

date-surname, first name-extension
surname, first name-extension-date
surname, first name-date-extension

Between this and that sometimes hyphens, sometimes underscores, sometimes spaces. And then there’s photos sent by other people with naming conventions I couldn’t have thought up myself if I tried. Yearspacemonthanotherspace and the capital alphabet: A, BB, BD, DD, EEE, etc. Meaning what, I don’t know.

And then there’s everyone and their dog’s version of what’s coming off their digital cameras. It’s not that I’m wildly disorganized after all this time; I’m just disgruntled with something that could be/should be easier to manage.

Some people start at “1” and keep on going. The closest thing to a no-filing filing system. People will disagree. There’s no one right way to do it, only what makes sense to you. Some people like to put the date, then a family name, then an extension. Some people like to put a family name first and then the date. What I’ve decided is that it doesn’t matter, but it would help to be consistent. I’m going with date first, because events happen chronologically so it makes the most sense to me. If I don’t know the exact date a decade will do. For instance:


This doesn’t mean I throw every single photo I have in one folder, in fact they’re in dozens of folders across my hard-drive but I think up some main names to use and keep them separated that way. I have all my photos linked to MediaDex so I can easily see the next available numbers there. Any software that gives you a list view will do the same.



In the meantime, IPTC came along to save me from myself. In fact, it’s come along to save genealogists everywhere. So I ran over there and started putting keywords and captions on everything. Keywords for searching. Captions for reading. It would be nice if Windows Picture and Fax Viewer automatically showed captions underneath pictures but, alas, it does not. Picasa does read IPTC captions on JPGs as well as writing keywords to them. Not the most sophisticated version of IPTC I’ve ever seen but it’ll do in a pinch.

There are many other IPTC-fields but for the non-professionals amongst us, those are the basics. You might also want to use Copyright and Source URL if you’re collecting other people’s pictures. As a matter of respect. And you might as well copyright your own for the future. Different programs have a different range of fields available.

The magic of IPTC is that it’s no longer necessary to try to fit a description of a photo in the file-name itself. You can kiss that good-bye forever and give your photos simple names.

Since I presently have trial versions of Photo Mechanic and ACDSee Pro Photo Manager, I’m trying to make the most of my time with them. Photo Mechanic does well on Search & Replace of individual IPTC-fields.

Photo Mechanic

Photo Mechanic

Used in cases, for instance, where I’ve put a copyright name in 6 different formats and I want to bring consistency to it. It also takes IPTC screen-shots, meaning if you’ve filled out all fields for a photo that has an edited copy, you can copy and then paste all info from one photo to the other.


ACDSee Pro Photo Manager has batch conversion tools for many things. I’m using that for file formats, file renaming and some of the IPTC changes.

ACDSee Pro Photo Manager

ACDSee Pro Photo Manager

It also has a brilliant way of auto-typing in the IPTC-fields to speed up the process and keep you consistent with wording. It really helps when you’re searching later if you’ve been consistent with your keywords. The grey rectangle on the right side of the keyword field leads to the keyword list, where keywords can be chosen, added and edited. I’m looking for a “purge unused” button but don’t see one. That would be handy.

ACDSee Pro 2 Photo Manager

I still use MediaDex as my main organizer as it handles all file-types, not just graphics and it has a fantastic search engine. (2011 update: MediaDex has been defunct since 2008. It’s now called Canto Single User. I don’t recommend it. I use GeoSetter or Photo Mechanic almost exclusively now.)

Software that writes IPTC also has a way to search it, so if you’ve annotated your photos well with keywords and captions, that’s really all you need for finding them. After you get past about 5,000 that can become an issue. And then you’ve got the file-names themselves with the dates and main family names. And the visuals.

A Few Caveats

Software that reads and/or writes IPTC works most commonly with TIFFs or JPGs, some with only JPGs. If you have a middle-of-the-road digital camera, the photos probably come straight off it as JPGs, no choice, and that’s fine. Old pictures you’re scanning should be saved as TIFFs with no compression and a copy for editing. The edited copy can be called “copy” or you can just add an extension to distinguish it from the original such as:


If all your pictures are either TIFFs or JPGs you’ve got what you need to be IPTC-friendly. ACDSee Pro, for instance, does not write IPTC to PSDs from Adobe, (although it will read it) and it’s not the only one. I will be changing all my PSDs to TIFFs to avoid future problems. Not only because I’m thinking of keeping this software, but because it will make my photos more compatible with everything.

XnView, a free IPTC-viewer, will read IPTC on PSDs and TIFFs as well as write to JPGs or TIFFs. This is another of my most used programs. If you find software that reads and writes to JPGs and TIFFs, and you can get all your photos into those two formats, you’re positioned about the best you can be for graphics software in general.

TIFF is a good high-quality format for your old pictures. I would say scan them larger than the pixel dimensions of your monitor or what you think will be your future monitor but who actually knows what that means. Pictures I saved at 1024 x 768 that filled the screen on a previous monitor now look lost in an ocean of background on my present 1280 x 1024.

If it’s pictures you may want to reprint, they need to be scanned large enough for that. No-one wants to see their ancestors on a fraction of their monitor when they could fill the whole screen so scan your pictures large, save them as uncompressed TIFFs and everyone will be happier. I have not taken an official poll on this but never mind, just trust me.

Another time-wasting thing to avoid: Some software gives options for categorizing, keywording, labeling, starring favorites 1 to 5, etc. that is proprietary to that software. This is not to be confused with the IPTC categories and keywords. In other words, if the database becomes corrupted for any number of reasons and you have to re-install, or delete your database and start over, all this type of work will be lost. If the software has an option to back up that database you’ll be fine but you have to remember to use it.

If you do a regular backup of the software installation itself (under C-drive/Program Files) to, say, an external hard-drive you would be able to retrieve your work after a catastrophic event but you better make sure you back it up over and over as you work.

If you stick to only IPTC-information this is embedded in your photos and will stay there regardless of what else goes on with your computer or a particular software. Of course, you’d be backing up your photos regularly.

Another thing to look out for is batch renaming, reformatting, etc. If you use software that does not recognize IPTC it will simply delete it as being irrelevant. Windows Image Resizer and FastStone are two examples. Make sure you test-drive a photo with your software before you do something catastrophic to hundreds of them.

As soon as I finish whipping 12,000 photos into perfect filing order, I’ll be right back.

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