Now that I am a librarian, I work all day every day to make information accessible and findable for anyone and everyone who wants or needs it. So these issues are even more in the forefront of my mind.
For many years now I have used this method to name my files. Basically, every photo I take or scan gets renamed. The name starts with a 4 digit number, indicating the year and month of the photo, then a space, then a brief descriptive name. The description is almost always proper nouns, such as names of people or places.
When I search for photos, I am almost always looking for a person or a place. If I type "Barry" in my search engine, all photos of "Barry" will come up. And since all photos are dated with numbers, the search results will list the photos of Barry in chronological order, with the year first. Even if the photo is just Barry's name, I can see that a photo with 87 at the beginning is one of Barry's baby pictures, and 07 will be close to his senior year in college. Photos are also stored in descriptive folders that usually have the event name on them (as well as the date). So I don't need to label the photo (usually) that this is Barry at Christmas, or Barry at the beach, or Barry having a birthday party. The folders will say that. If I search for "Christmas" all Christmas folders will come up, and all the photos will have a 12 in the number, for December.
Overall I have been reallyhappy with this system. I tried switching to iPhoto several years ago and that was a giant fail. I won't belabor the point. I have since used Adobe Bridge and it alleviated every problem I had with iPhoto. I love Bridge. However, I still want to be able to move my photos around, from computer to computer, and be able to access and use my files no matter what computer I use or have, or what software that computer has.
However there are some drawbacks to my system. Mostly I work around them, or live with them. The percentage of times where these drawbacks are too big to ignore is a small percent.
One of the main drawbacks is that photos cannot be stored chronologically, or in any other "story" mode, inside the relevant folders. All photos in a folder have the same date, so they all begin with the same 4 numbers. After the numbers, they sort alphabetically.
If the folder has 10 or 20 photos in it (or less), as the vast majority do, that is not a big deal. But say Mary and John got married last month and I have 300 pictures from the wedding -- this system breaks down if I want to see my photos in the folder "1109 Mary John Wedding" in the order of the day's events.
Say I open the folder itself. I want to see my photos of the event at least roughly in the order they happened. I want the photos taken before the ceremony to come before the ceremony itself photos. I want the walking down the aisle to come before the kiss. I want the ceremony to come before the reception.
The way I have been organizing and naming my files, this has been challenging to impossible. I have gotten around it by inserting letter codes in the file name:
1109 C aisle bridemaids
1109 C aisle John Mary
1109 C aisle Mary
1109 C vows John
1109 C vows Mary
1103 C vows Mary2
C is for Ceremony, R is for Reception, P is for Portraits, etc.
You can't really see the problem, looking at the list by file name above, which is why most of the time I can live with it. But if you tried looking at the photos as thumbnails in the folder, you would see that the bride and groom walk down the aisle together at the end of the ceremony, and therefore 1109 C aisle John Mary should be at the end of all the ceremony pictures. Because the folder sorts alphabetically, that photo is in the wrong spot.
What I really disliked was not being able to look at photos that I specifically took in a sequence -- like on my letterboxing hunts -- and see them in that sequence. When you are hiking through the woods and taking 4 trails, but not in a row, and all the trail pictures end up grouped together and you can't tell which trail is which, that can be very annoying.
So I lived with it. Never realizing that I had other problems that were hidden by this method. Problems I consider far more serious. It especially comes into play when you have -- as I do -- at least 100 old family photos scanned with no dates or names associated with them. Or names that mean nothing except they were written on the back of a paper photo that has been scanned. Or when you have multiple scans of certain photos, but all in the wrong folder. It's hard to tell, from a file name, that photos are missing, out of order, or duplicates. It's easy to tell when actually looking at the image itself.
About 8 weeks ago I had a Eureka moment. I decided that i could, in fact - YES - number my photos AND keep the date intact, in front.
It's so ridiculous. Maybe I thought of this before and just didn't like it at the time, or it "felt" wrong to me. I just know I didn't like having an extra space in there:
1109 1 aisle bridemaids
1109 2 aisle Mary
1109 3 vows John
1109 4 vows Mary
1103 5 vows Mary
1109 6 aisle John Mary
And I really didn't want to run the numbers together:
11091 aisle bridemaids
11092 aisle Mary
11093 vows John
11094 vows Mary
11035 vows Mary
11096 aisle John Mary
So this is what I came up with:
1109.02 Mary aisle
1109.03 John vows
1109.04 Mary vows
1103.05 Mary vows
1109.06 John Mary recessional
The best thing is something I can't really show. It's that I can open up the folder and use the icon or thumbnail view. Instead of looking at the file names in order, I look at the images. In order. In order of when they happened. This is especially fantastic for photos of trips! I no longer have to separate photos from a trip into smaller subphotos based on the day or location. I want to look at all my related photos, together, not click a bunch of folders. In order to do that, I was inserting so many little letter codes, it got ridiculous and cumbersome:
0807 WD UD B me Jacob (Going on an Upper Dells boat tour in Wisconsin Dells with my nephew)
It's not a big deal if you use iPhoto or similar and always view your photos visually like that. But iPhoto did not work for me for many other reasons. More, I do not want my photo organization to rely on a piece of proprietary software. I have moved photos too often from computer to computer, from Macs to PCs, from laptop to external hard drive. The organization needs to be intrinsic to the files, not through software, and that means file structure and naming.
So now I am looking at folders, and i am seeing that I have photos missing. Photos I know I took, photos I own, but they are not in the folders. I am also seeing I have duplicate files. These dups come from scanning old family photos and not having a good tracking system to tell me what I already scanned. Since the photos are a jumble of people and babies I don't know and don't have names for, the file names are not helpful. And as anal as I can be, I had no real system for naming photos that were undated and unknown people. Now I am using the archives designation of "nd" (for no date) on photos without a date, but storing them in the decade folder closest to the probable date (1940s, 1950s, etc). If the photo is of people or events I do't know, it contains "unknown" int he file name. Now I can search for "unknown" and have them all come up, so I can ask my mother about them.
I'm also finding that when I look at photos this way - especially family heritage photos - I can recognize relationships between images. I can recognize that is the same woman in the four photos, and one of them was labeled with her name... so now I know the name of someone in all 4 photos. And since that is her baby, every time I see the baby in a photo, I know whose baby it is. This is immensely helpful when trying to figure out photos that are unidentified.
This is not really a method I'd recommend to everyone, unless you do it from now on. Going back to all my photo folders and renumbering my photos has been a project I've been working on since the summer. It is really a lot of work. I personally enjoy it. I find it relaxing and I like to organize things. I could spend all day just working on this stuff and be happy. That is why *I* have a degree in museum studies and one in library science. I can imagine many people would want to tear their hair out trying to do this! Actually, there have a been a few larger folders that have really been irritating. A couple of them are not done yet because I have to think about the story of the images and how to tell it visually.
To renumber my photos, I view the folder in thumbnail view. Then I go thru the files and replace the date number (1101, 1816, etc) with just a number, in order. 1 -2 -3 -4, in the order the photos should go. I continually refresh the folder to look at the pictures and see they are in the order I want. Yes this is a bit tricky and that's what keeps this from being a really boring project. Once I have the photos set in the order I want, I then add the date and the dot to the beginning of every file name. This would be a pain in a Windows interface, but it's easy on a Mac.
If I make a mistake and miss a photo, or someone sends me a photo I want to stick in the middle there, yep it's a pain. I have to renumber and resort. Again, I mostly enjoy the process, which is why it is not a giant waste of my time.
Now that I have spent this time with my photos, I am going on to all the places online where I have random photos stored - some on flickr, some on Photobucket, some on Snapfish, etc, and I am able to check and make sure I have on my computer all those photos, and then delete them from the online accounts. All that mess was making me twitchy. I have also found some photos (from other people) that I did not have, and downloaded them. I am also working on comparing my laptop files with my external hard drive and making sure they match.
It's the little things that make me happy!!