Your filename must include this one word – if you want to work 

 September 16, 2015

By  Pascal Depuhl

Have you ever seen an image called IMG_0235? Do you have any idea what’s in that image file? All I know for sure, is that the file before was called IMG_0234. “Why should I care?” you ask “Don’t you know that the icon of the image is right by the file?

Use your filename for good – not evil!

Honestly, when I got into digital photography my files were names IMG_0236. Then I read Peter Krough’s The DAM book (that stands for Digital Asset Management by the way), where he suggests to change that camera given filename to something better. His suggestion is simple: name-date-identifier-image_sequence_number.

Every single one of my filenames look like this: depuhl-150915-15ABC01-0236. The date format is year-month-day, so that when you sort a bunch of images they are in consecutive order when sorted by name. Looking at any filename allows me to know, when I created the photograph it, which year the clients project started, what client I created it for and which job that was for this specific client. [All of the later information is in my job number 15 the year the project started ABC an abbreviation of the clients name and 01 the first job I’ve shot for this client. BTW that job number is in every estimate, invoice, production book, as well as being the reference number my crew puts on their invoices and receipts.]

Sounds like a lot of work? Really it’s not. When I shoot tethered, my RAW image processor Capture One does all the naming for me automatically and when I shoot to a card (photos or video) the first thing after importing the card to the image/video folder is that I run all files through a little app called ‘Name Mangler’ replacing IMG_ with depuhl-150915-15ABC01- automatically (notice I leave the image sequence number after the underscore alone – I do want to keep that). The second thing I do is to back up all those RAW files to my backup server – but that’s another story for another blog post.

Is it changing the name really worth the extra time it takes? Let’s find out.

I set up my camera to name my files, you say

That’s a great start and many of today’s camera allow you to customize the filename to a certain extent – oh, before I forget, while you are in that menu setting up your filename make sure to add your copyright information in camera as well (If you don’t know how to change your copyright info in camera read this blog post)- however Canon limits you to a 4 alphanumeric characters plus 4 numbers in their newer cameras and your name must be in your naming convention – I just can’t get the 6 letters in depuhl to fit into 4 spaces.

Why include your name in your filename?

My name in the filename led to my LinkedIn Profile page I know I took that photo, why waste valuable space in the filename and add my name. I mean my client knows it came from me.” you may think. “Isn’t that a waste of time?” You have to think a little more long-term than that. Here’s what happened to me yesterday.

First I notice that someone from a very large multi-national company I worked with a few years ago, viewed my LinkedIn profile. In these large B2B companies art directors come and go, so I was not surprise that I did not recognize the name.

A few minutes later I get a request to connect on LinkedIn. “I’m interested in talking to you about possibly doing some photos for us again at …” (I’m not gonna tell you who the company is, but my abbreviation for them is MSS). “Would you have time to talk today or tomorrow?” This is a Fortune 100 company, which means that the person contacting me today was not working there 2 years ago, when I photographed for them the last time. She definitely wasn’t an employee in 2010 when I photographed the image that led her to my LinkedIn page.

The secret sauce in each of my filenames:

I don’t know how many art directors have worked there between the first one I worked for with for this brand and the one who contacted me yesterday (I know there where at least three), probably more. Do you want to rely on your name getting passed down through multiple art directors – many of them come with their own stable of photographers? And how are you going to keep track of new people working in large companies all the time – that’s not easy either. You think my name got handed down to the new AD? Not a chance, so how does one make sure, that a new employee of an old client finds you? Well, I’m glad you asked …

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How did she find me?

Name in filename - LinkedIn search - job This art director took the company’s favorite image of the product she’s tasked to create a photo library for and saw that the filename of that image began with–you guessed it–depuhl, my last name. A quick hop over to LinkedIn, she searches for my name and voilà there I am.

Then a quick request to connect and a few hours later we’re talking on the phone – by the way the original image library has turned into creating visual assets for an ad campaign, the original photographs and video production of interviews and B-roll  filmed in 2 states over 3 months. All because I have my name on every single filename that’s out there – still think it’s not worth putting your name in your filename?

Yes you should have your name and contact information in your image files metadata – you can use Adobe bridge to add that. Yes you should have your copyright info in your image file – any good image processing software worth it’s salt allows you to embed that, may personal favorite is Capture One.

Having your name in each one of your digital image files, is basically a mini ad for you. Having an up to date LinkedIn profile goes without saying, especially if you work in the B2B space. One thing leads to another and presto your name in your filename leads to work.

We got so much response to this post that we made it a MarketingHack. Check it out!

  • Thanks Pascal

    I’ll definitely read his book. I use Catalogs in lightroom to organize my files and back up in 4 different places.
    2 external hard drives and 2 cloud drives. I see you use Capture One, I’m going to look more into that too.

    Thanks Again

  • Aston,

    It’s really not that far out of the box. And it’s not even my idea. Peter Krough explained the reasoning why he used this naming convention in “The DAM book“. If you haven’t taken the time to think about how to build an archive of your images, and if your idea of a backup is an external hard drive somewhere, I highly recommend this book.

    Even if you’re already doing it, his carefully thought through and laid out plan can be a great refresher on how to safeguard the only thing we really have left after we’re done shooting: fragile digital files :)

  • Excellent advise. This is definitely thinking out the box. Thank-you for sharing. I love fresh ways of looking at things and this has completely changed the way I look at something so simple. It goes to show once again its the little details that count


  • Rima,

    Check out the app Name Mangler. You could take every single one of your files and add your name to each file in one operation. Remember that every one of your images, that you have in your archive are yours.

    However your clients can have files from many different photographers. I want to make sure that they know which files are mine.

  • Great post. I depend upon Lightroom to organize my files and it’s enough of a headache having to change the system now that I have such a huge catalog(s). It would be great to have started this way, but no harm in moving forward with this system from now on. Do you think it would be valuable for my fine art prints which I will be selling or only for commercial B2B work?

    Thanks for a great post and the information.

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    Pascal Depuhl

    Miami product photographer, video producer, cinematographer and chief mindchanger at Photography by Depuhl I love to share the knowledge I've gained over the past two decades. Catching light in motion.