Last Night in Prague

April 19, 2014

Light trails and Prague Bridges.

Light trails and Prague Bridges.

I took this photo on my last night in Prague. Before visiting the city, I came up with a shooting list and I knew that I want to create some iconic images of Prague’s bridges. I had already shot the Charles bridge but hadn’t yet seen a good location where I could have multiple bridges in an image at once (there are 17 bridges in Prague that cross the Vltava river).

I knew based on geography that I would need to be on north bank of the Vltava river to get elevated views but I wasn’t sure about the best vantage point. Normally I like to scout locations during the mid-day hours, but I hadn’t yet been able to explore the area to the north of the river.

Looking at maps online, it seemed like the area around Letna park would yield the most promising viewpoints. I also pulled up Google Street View and virtually scouted a few locations. This spot seemed the best. I headed to the park early to give me enough time to check out other locations but eventually settled on the one I found in Google (viewpoints may be obstructed by buildings, or trees and street view is limited to the roads).

Using Google street view to find shooting locations

Using Google street view to find shooting locations.

To take the picture, I waited until after the sun had set to get the nice even lighting on the city and river. To capture the light trails from the river boats, I used an exposure of 20 seconds. The boats are slow moving and a long exposure was needed to get decent length trails. The boats have somewhat predictable movement patterns but I still shot a lot of images trying to get one where the trails were just right.


Once you have more than a handful of images it’s going to be very important to use a systematic naming scheme. Having an organized system for numbering your files will allow you and your clients to identify images precisely. Instead of a client asking for a picture of that “prison cell in Alcatraz” (I have about 160 images of Alcatraz and most contain prison cells), the client can just look at my website and say I want to license image #22140. Given the ID number, I can quickly find the file in my Lightroom database or on my hard disk.

Every image on my website has an image identifier displayed by the caption: "Photo ID 22140: Isolation cell in D-block at Alcatraz."

Every image on my website has an image identifier displayed by the caption: “Isolation cell in D-block at Alcatraz. Photo #22140.”

There are many different numbering systems, but the only rule that must NEVER be broken is that each image file should have its own unique identifier. You should never have two different images with the same file name.

Common Schemes

The most common naming methods use identifiers based on the following:

  • SEQUENCE. A single number that increments for each new image. E.g. 10001, 10002, 10003. etc. This may start at 1 or at a number such as 10,000 or 100,000 to ensure that all images have the same number of digits.
  • DATE + SEQUENCE. The date the image was captured followed by a short sequence number, for example, 20140121_0141 (photo #141 taken on Jan 21, 2014). In this case, with only four digits the sequence number may repeat but together with the date is unique (as long as you don’t shoot more than 10000 images in that day). I recommend YYYYMMDD as the date format so that sorting puts the files in chronological order.
  • SUBJECT + SEQUENCE. A string representing the subject followed by a sequential number. E.g. utah_2341, utah_2342, etc. The combination of subject and sequence is unique.

It’s also possible to use both date and subject to create file names such as 20120121_GrandCanyon_0123. In general, one can always encode additional information by adding fields to the name such as the following:

  • The photographer’s name.
  • The client’s name. This may be helpful for photographers who primarily do assignment work.
  • Designations for derivative images. For example, one can add suffixes such as BW for black and white, MASTER for a finalized version which has all editing and retouching done, or CMYK for images converted for commercial offset presses.

These additional fields can appear anywhere in the file name string but generally you would want designations for derivative images to be at the end so that images based on the same original would be sorted together.

Additionally, all image files should have an extension such as .jpg, .tif, .NEF, or .CR2 indicating the file type. Depending on your workflow, these extensions can also indicate specific versions of the image. For example, my website images are always .jpg, master files are always .tif, and original RAW captures are .NEF (Nikon) or .CR2 (Canon).

When choosing a naming system there will be a tradeoff between length and informativeness. Shorter file names are easier to work with but tell you little about the image. A long name will let one encode additional information describing the image but may be cumbersome in day-to-day image management.

Filename Length and Special Characters

Because your digital image files will likely be viewed on and transferred to multiple different computers, it’s important that your identifiers are valid file names on a wide variety of systems. Thus, for maximum compatability, you should restrict your file names as follows:

  • Use all lower case names (or all upper case). Do not use case sensitive names and have AM901.jpg be a different file from am901.jpg.
  • Limit the filename to 31 characters or less including the extension (e.g. .jpg or .tif). Although most modern file systems should support 255 characters (see file system name limitations), 31 characters is a reasonable compromise for compatability.
  • Limit punctuation to underscores “_”, dashes “-”, and a single period “.” before the file extension.
  • Never use spaces in the filename.


For my own professional catalog, I use a simple scheme that results in short file names such as bay032104 or bay032105c. The first part “bay” is simply my last name and is there so that a client they can identify me as the photographer. The second part is a 6 digit sequence number that covers all of my images (starts at 1 and is now around 33k). Finally, I include a letter suffix if the image is part of an HDR or panorama set and is not intended to be a standalone picture.

In general my philosophy has been to use a short file name and and let my database (Lightroom) handle management of all associated meta-data.

I also have a separate catalog for my family photos, many of which are scans of old prints. For these images I use a DATE + SEQUENCE scheme resulting in identifiers like 20120421_2341. When I do not know the exact date of the picture, I will use XX to represent unknown (e.g 201204XX indicates the picture was taken in April 2012).

Here are a few more examples taken from other photographers and stock agencies:

  • Seth Resnick, a corporate and stock photographer, uses a DATE + SUBJECT + SEQUENCE scheme for his images resulting in names such as 20090328_indiancreek_0003.CR2.
  • Peter Krogh, the author of The DAM Book (DAM is an acronym for digital asset management) uses PHOTOGRAPHER + DATE + SEQUENCE: e.g. Krogh_050101_1234.DNG (note: only two digits for the year).
  • John Shaw, author of John Shaw’s Business of Nature Photography, uses a CATEGORY + SEQUENCE + DUPE scheme (e.g. NP547c, NP547d, NP548a). The category is a 1 or 2 character string based on the main subject of the photo. For example, M = Mammals, B = Birds, F = Flowering plants, NP = National Parks, and MA = Mammals, Africa. As Shaw spent much of his career shooting film, he made multiple in camera dupes which he denotes by a letter suffix. For example, the c in NP547c corresponds to the third in camera dupe.
  • Alamy, an editorial focussed stock agency, uses a 6 digit sequence number such as ADW38N, ADW38O, and ADW38P with both decimal digits and alphabetical letters. This results in a very short sequence even for a very large image collection (Alamy currently has ~50M images) and with 6 digits they can handle over 2 billion images. The main drawback of Alamy’s system is that their programmers need to work in base 36.
  • Getty Images, the largest traditional stock agency, uses a 9 digit decimal number such as 169960287 to identify images. This isn’t as short as Alamy’s identifier but is still compact. This approach is popular with other agencies as well.

Tieing the Filename to Image Storage

In general, you will want to link your storage system (digital files or film) to the file numbers. Given a file number you should be able to go straight to it’s location on your hard disk or where you physically store it (for film).

For example, I use a sequential number and on my master drive I divide my digital images into folders that each store 1000 images. For the few film images I have (less than 1000), I keep these in slide pages organized in numerical order.

Folder structure for images named sequentially.

Folder structure for images named sequentially.

With my personal images that use a date based numbering scheme, I store images in folders by year. Note that I used the automatic number assigned from my scanning software as my 4-digit sequence number. Thus, the numbers may not be consecutive within a given year.

Folder structure for images named by date.

Folder structure for images named by date.

Which Method is Best for Me

Before deciding on a method, you should spend some time thinking about how you will access your images and how others, with whom you will share your images, will work with your pictures. Once you start a system, you won’t want to change it as there will be large migration costs especially if you’ve already sent out images to clients.

My preference is for a simple sequence number due to its shortness and ease of working with my website (I do all the programming for my website and it’s convenient to represent each photo ID with a simple integer). I also rely on a database (Lightroom) to manage metadata so there is no need for me to encode additional fields in the filename. However, if the majority of my work were assignment based I would probably use a DATE + (CLIENT or SUBJECT) + SEQUENCE filename.


Baby Sea Turtle Struggles to Reach the Ocean

April 9, 2014

Went I went to Costa Rica, one of the events I was very lucky to witness was the hatching of baby sea turtles on Tortuguero Beach and watching them make the long crawl from their nest to the ocean. Tortuguero is the largest Atlantic nesting site of the endangered green turtle. Green sea turtles nest […]

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An Edible and Very Delicious Camera Cake

April 5, 2014

The cake my wife got me for my birthday: It’s all edible including the camera body, lens, and even the book covers (I think these were made with some type of edible ink).

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Silverfast Resolution Target for Measuring Scanner Performance

March 30, 2014

I recently borrowed a Silverfast resolution target to measure the performance of my scanners. The target is a slide that is printed with a series of black bars which get progressively smaller and closer together (the pattern is based on the USAF-1951 test pattern). The slide costs approximately $60 at B&H Photo. You scan the […]

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A Lightroom plugin for verifying images with hashes

April 21, 2013

For the past two months, I’ve been working on a plug-in to verify image files in Lightroom. The plugin works by computing a hash for each file which can be thought of as a digital fingerprint. As long as the image is unchanged (i.e., the file is still ok) the hash value will also remain […]

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Numbers behind a stock photo and print business

January 6, 2013

In the spirit of Harper’s Index here are some random facts about my photo business: Largest number of prints in a single order: 11 Largest number of images licensed in a single transaction: 12 Biggest reproduction made from my work: 8′x25′ (400 sq. feet) Biggest license: $5,840 Biggest license for a single image: $1,400 Smallest […]

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Creating Photo Books in iBooks Author

October 2, 2012

Last fall I visited the city of Prague in the Czech Republic and spent a week photographing historical and cultural sites. With several thousand pictures’ worth of raw material, my wife and I decided to co-author a coffee table-type book that showcased the city through photographs. I previously authored a photographic book of Los Angeles […]

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Swimming with Crocodiles in Tortuguero

September 5, 2012

During my trip to Costa Rica, I visited Tortuguero village, a very small community in the park that survives on eco-tourism. The entire area is undeveloped (there are no roads) and I traveled to the village by boat with our local guide. To my great surprise, as we pulled into the docks we saw many […]

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Shooting Handheld Panoramas

May 8, 2012

I love to take panoramic images and when I’ve planned a specific shot I will carry all of the gear: a heavy tripod, leveling base, panorama head with nodal slide, etc. However, many times, especially when traveling in foreign countries, bringing all of this equipment is infeasible because it weighs too much or takes up […]

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