How to Name Photos and Photo Files So You Can Always Find Them

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Smart tools and strategies for making sure your photographs are easy to find

By David Carrington

Taking beautiful, memorable photographs which you can show—and show off—is the glamorous part of photography. Developing a file-naming system so that you can find them? Less so. And yet, if you can’t find your fantastic pictures when you need them, what’s the point? Which is why a file-naming system is so important. This is as true of the images you make on your DSLR as it is on your point-and-shoot. Here, a short course on how to name your photos and set up a smart, easy-to-use photo filing system.

Why a File Naming System for Your Photos is Important

You’ve probably noticed that your camera automatically names your pictures, which might look something like this: IMG_0047. While this seems straightforward enough, things can quickly get complicated if you use more than one device to take pictures—your camera, say, and also your iPhone and, once in a while, your iPad. Now imagine that a couple of family members or people on your office team are also taking pictures and uploading them. Soon, you’re going to be facing “name clashes,” in which you’ve created two pictures with the same name. If those pictures end up in the same folder, you could even end up losing photos without even knowing it. (One note about iOS devices: If you take a lot of pictures, you’ll eventually hit IMG_9999. Take one more, and, yep, you’re back at IMG_0001 with a whole new level of confusion.)

How Creating a Smart Photo File Naming System Will Keep You Organized

You definitely want to give your photo-naming conventions some thought. While you don’t want to make the naming process so detailed and multi-stepped that you’ll end up blowing it off, neither do you want to make it so vague that you have to spend precious time finding the picture you want from a sea of likely candidates.  (Give your pictures an overly broad name like “vacation photo,” for instance, and you’ll soon need a vacation). The bottom line is that smart photo-naming conventions will keep you organized.  

If you’re not a professional photographer, a string of two dozen numbers and letters probably seems like overkill, but you would be wise to think about some kind of smart naming system. City and year may be enough for you; a “W” to distinguish between work and personal might help. Or along with the date—which is a very good start—you can also add a one-word descriptor, like “breakfast” or “Naomi.”

The Mylio app offers total flexibility here and can automatically sort your pictures the way you want. Mylio keeps the import process simple and how detailed you want to get is completely up to you. Below, a few naming systems that Mylio users employ successfully:

  • The zero-friction path is to use Mylio’s Life Calendar. This makes it possible for users to organize their pictures without even seeing a folder, let alone a file name. Your pictures appear in a calendar form, where the date is your basis for finding the picture.   Naming isn't necessary in Calendar view
  • The Prefix Sequence option lets you choose your own prefix, such as “vacation_tucson,” to which Mylio then automatically adds a specific number. The result looks like: vacation_tucson001, vacation_tucson002, and so on. Of course, if you vacation in Tucson every year, you can be more specific: vacation_tucson2018_001
  • The YearMonth Sequence will create a file name that looks like this: 2021-04-0001. If you don’t take a lot of photos, this is a great approach.
  • Using a YearMonth-Day Sequence will give you a slightly longer file name that looks like this: 2021-04-22-0001
  • A Camera Sequence identifies the camera on which the picture was taken, so iPhone_12-0001 versus Leica_12-001
  • Using a Custom Sequence is where you can really flex your naming muscles because Mylio provides a set of tags that can be combined to create a completely customized file name. If you truly wanted to go all-out, you could do something like this: P210412-170531-A7R-III. Here’s the piece-by-piece breakdown:
  • P You can use this prefix for all photographs versus, say, “W” for images of your warranties that you want to keep handy but separate.
  • 210412 Year, Month, and Day in a slightly abbreviated format
  • 170531 Hour, Minute, and Second
  • A7R-III Abbreviated form of the camera model so you can tell which camera you took the picture with. For many (if not most) users, that’s overkill, but the flexibility is empowering.

The Takeaways

By taking a hard look at the pictures in your existing photo library and getting a sense of where you’re on solid ground and where things are hard to find, you can tweak your current file-naming system to something that will advance your cause.

The main takeaway is to find a naming convention that fits the way your brain works and is in line with the amount of work you want (or don’t want) to invest in it. Whichever route you ultimately embark on, Mylio’s smart tools will not only make your file-naming conventions easier to manage but will make your photos easier to find.