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How to Use Photo Mechanic to Tame Your Picture Archive and Organize Your Images

Read Time: 4 mins
This post is part of a series called Digital Asset Management for Photographers (Learning Resource Guide).
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As photographers, we also act as our own archivists. It's not enough to capture images; we also need to think about how they are organized and preserved for the future.

It's easy for our files to fall into disarray. One of the best ways to prevent this is by renaming our images consistently and sorting them into cleanly, meaningfully named folders.

Well named file structureWell named file structureWell named file structure
A well-named folder and file setup makes life easier. When we've renamed our images and sorted them into consistently named folders, we can determine when an image was captured without opening it.

In this tutorial you'll learn how to use Photo Mechanic to tame your image library. Whether you're getting started as a new photographer or organizing a mature image collection, this tutorial will help you implement safe file and folder name practices.

What's in a Name?

Digital cameras don't set us up for archival success. Image files usually come out as "IMG_04134.cr2" or a similarly useless string of numbers and characters. If you've been shooting for a few years, you probably have folders filled with files like these. 

Renamed Image FilesRenamed Image FilesRenamed Image Files
Check out these two shoots from my personal collection. On the left is a shoot that is straight out of camera, while the shoot on the right is renamed using my suggested structure. I can immediately determine the capture date and what's in the photo without opening Lightroom.

Renaming your files probably isn't at the top of your list of things to do. So, why should you spend time renaming your images? Here are three great reasons:

  • If we're viewing a list of images in Finder or Windows Explorer, a well-named file can tell us when the image was captured or what's in the photo.
  • Well-named photos are more ready for the web and likely to be found by search engines
  • When a piece of software like Adobe Lightroom that uses a catalog fails, we can use image filenames as a way to restore structure.

My view is that every filename should be meaningful. Why not use the characters in a filename to describe the image? I propose the following as the ideal filename structure for most people:

Filename structureFilename structureFilename structure

Don't worry, you don't have to rename your images manually. Read on to find out how to do it rapidly with Photo Mechanic.

Automatically Rename Your Images with Photo Mechanic

Photo Mechanic is perfect for batch renaming our images. We can implement a naming structure and apply it to many images at the same time. In this video, I'll teach you how to use Photo Mechanic to batch rename your images.

Sort Your Images into Folders

We now have neatly named images with a description built into each file. We can go one step further by renaming the folders that hold our images.

A Disorganized Folder of ImagesA Disorganized Folder of ImagesA Disorganized Folder of Images
Believe it or not, this was once my image organization system: no system at all. My images would all go into a single folder. I thought that managing my images in Adobe Lightroom was enough. But when it came time to use apps other than Lightroom, I quickly learned the value of getting organized outside of the app.

We can organize and describe our images using the folder names as well. My organization structure is simple: create a Year folder for each year that we capture images, and then a folder for each individual shoot inside of it.

Remember the variables that we used to rename images? We can use those same rules to sort our images automatically. Check out the video below to learn how to automatically sort your images.

This is particularly useful if we have a folder of images that is disorganized. We can run a Photo Mechanic rename on the folder and finish with a logically structured set of files and folders.

Recap and Keep Learning

In this tutorial, we tackled two key organization tasks: renaming our images, and sorting them into neatly named folders. While it may seem like maintenance work, I consider it just as important as actually capturing the image. After all, what good is a precious image if it can't be found?

If you want to learn more about using Photo Mechanic, I've written a tutorial to show 3 possible workflows for integrating it. If you're a committed Lightroom user, this tutorial on using Photo Mechanic with Lightroom is a great explanation of how the two programs are complementary. And finally, Dawn Oosterhoff's tutorial "What's in a Name?" explains perfectly the power of a neatly named image library.

How do you handle your own image organization? Let me know in the comments section.

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