"YYYY-MM-DD_Custom-Text_Four Digit Sequence Number"
The file naming system above is what I use for organizing my photographs. For those of you who do not have a naming standard in place, I highly encourage you to start one. Whether you’re an amateur or professional artist, you should implement a system that can help organize your workflow. One of my biggest pet peeve is when I see file names that are disjointed and confusing. A proper file naming system should allow yourself and others to quickly identify files when going through an archive. I understand that what I use may not be for everyone but it has helped me stay organized thus far. So let’s jump right into a breakdown of what I consider to be the most practical naming convention.
This is the file created date. Considering many computers sort folders by name, having this date in the beginning of the filename is crucial when organizing your documents. If I was to ask you, “what day is it?”, you would most likely use a month > day > year order; however, this is not the correct order for file naming. Using a year > month > day order will allow you to have files from multiple years in the same folder and maintain structure. See examples below.
This will change on a per project basis. I use this section in the filename to quickly describe its contents. This can be a very simple title or it can be an entire string of conventions in itself. What you write in this field is totally up to you but please remember that you still have to determine a hierarchy. Examples of different custom texts below.
Four Digit Sequence Number
This is what you will use most often when identifying specific images to others. Most, if not all cameras name image files with a four digit sequence number at the end. It is unlikely that you will take more than 9999 images in one session; however, if you do.. you may want to switch to a 5 digit sequence number. If you’re not a photographer, there may not be a need for a sequence number; e.g. a graphic designer may want to use R01, R02, ect. to describe different rounds of edits.
Spaces, Dashes, and Underscores
Deciding what separates filename variables is an important step that has to be mentioned. If you’re working with files that can be uploaded to websites, it’s crucial that filenames do not include spaces. Empty spaces signifies the "end" of a character string. Spaces inside of a URL or a linked file basically generate a faulty syntax that the server reads as the end of a character string. The server sees the space and stops processing. When the full string is not processed, it can not be properly represented on your computer screen. For me, choosing between an underscore or a dash is simple. If I am separating hierarchies, I use an underscore. If I am within a variable; e.g. Custom Text, I use a dash. Using dashes helps me to easily identify names, colors, image sizes, and locations with more than one word. Be careful not to use non-alphanumeric characters such as forward slashes, exclamation points, question marks, and percent signs. These can give you multiple errors when uploading to websites.
When to say “f*ck it”
Some of these tips may not be applicable to you, and I understand! There is really no point to rename every download or screenshot you have saved. So if you don’t have an archive you’re looking to organize, feel free to keep filenames as is.