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What’s In A Name?

Keeping Track • Essential Gear For Motion Capture

Keeping track of image files is a challenge for every serious photographer. George Lepp’s system employs file names containing a unique, descriptive code. As a particularly complicated example, the file name for this 5X image of a small section of the wing of a Gulf fritillary butterfly is I [for insect]-LP [Lepidoptera]-FR [fritillary]-0002 [#2 of this subject]-GC [digital stacked image].TIF [file type]. The EXIF data for the image adds that it’s composed of 44 stacked images captured using the StackShot and a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens and Canon MT-24EX macro flash, 1⁄125 sec. at ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, and copyrighted by George D. Lepp.

Keeping Track

Q Digital images are piling up on my hard drives, and I’d like to be able to find them in the future. How have you dealt with the masses of files on your drives?
J. Gordon
Via email

A While managing huge numbers of digital files is certainly a challenge, it helps to put the task into some historical perspective. I’ve been a professional photographer for more than 40 years, and I’ve accumulated mountains of slides and negatives. I’ve heard stories of film photographers with shelves of “yellow boxes,” perhaps sorted by processing date. For me, that would be the equivalent of storing all your digital files in the simplest automated manner, by date alone. If you’re serious about your images, whether hard files or digital files, you need to take the time to organize them in a way that’s more descriptive than the capture or processing date.

Early on, I developed a coding system for my photographs that provided essential information about subject and location. The coded slides and negatives were stored in hanging acetate sleeves; the sleeves were filed in alphanumerical sequence. If an image was sent out to an agency or a client, notes were made to that effect in the empty space and the shipped images were linked by their codes in a transmittal letter. Beginning in the early 1980s, my office was one of the first to incorporate computerized databases to keep track of images. While searchable file numbers and text descriptions were certainly helpful, I really wanted a visual reference, and that wasn’t possible with the equipment I had then. Remember DOS?

File-coding systems are highly personal; what you choose depends on how you think and the range of photographic subjects you pursue. Some photographers use a capture date code cross-referenced to a calendar that provides the shoot location and subjects. Lightroom offers a storage system that’s default-based to the capture date, but allows the user a great deal of flexibility in terms of folders, file descriptions, keywording and systematic file renaming.

My coding system has had to work across the years of slides, scanned slides and digital captures. It’s a good thing I like it because changing it now would be pretty much impossible. When I save an edited image, I assign to it a new file name that consists of three sets of letters, a four-digit number and then a few more letters to designate whether the image is a scanned slide or a digital capture. EXIF notes provide additional information and image status. The files are organized in folders (and, in my latest Apple Mac Pro computer, in sub-folders), as in virtual file cabinets.

Following are some examples that demonstrate how my system is structured; it might be the basis for a coding system that would work for you, as well.

Example 1: Anna’s Hummingbird. In the file name B-HU-AN-0012-G.TIF, the first letter, “B,” designates a major subject group, Birds. Sometimes my images in a particular subject area, such as this one, have become so numerous that I’ve had to expand the primary ID to two letters. In the bird category, I added “BR” to designate raptors and “BS” for shorebirds. This shows how the system can be expanded as you move forward. The second set of letters designates a type of bird. In this example, “HU” stands for Hummingbirds. The third set of letters indicates the species; “AN” stands for Anna’s hummingbird. The code for a grizzly bear would be M-BR-GR.

The four-digit number identifies the specific image; I can have 9999 Anna’s hummingbird images. But often I’ll use a thousands designation to further classify the group of images. A 1000 grouping could mean the birds are on a nest, or 2000 might mean the images are in black-and-white. You can modify this in any way that suits you.

The single letter “G” after the number tells me that the image is a digital capture. An “S” designates that the image has been scanned from a slide or negative. A “C” shows that it was modified greatly in the computer, such as a stacked image, or a “P” to indicate a panorama. After this, I occasionally add an underline (_) and the letters “LR” if the image is a low-resolution version created for the web or a PowerPoint program.

Example 2: Oregon Landscape. If landscapes are your main interest, the system works well there, as well. The file name L-OR-BE-0002-G.TIF indicates the location of Oregon and the city of Bend. A 1000 series could mean all the images of downtown. Other first letter sets can designate “AL” for Africa Location or “SL” for South America Location.

The EXIF data for each digital capture already includes the capture date and camera used. I add information about the specific location, people in the image, model releases and agency status (submitted, accepted, rejected) or any use permissions or restrictions that apply.

The hardest part is assigning the file names consistently. I’m aided in this by keeping the digital files on a separate drive in folders identified by the first letter(s) in the file name and their meaning, such as “L-OR, Oregon landscapes.” You can rename and code the file names, and add EXIF data, for all the images in an edited shoot within Adobe Bridge > Tools > Batch Rename. The EXIF data can be distributed across the shoot by selecting all the images in Adobe Bridge or Photoshop and then right-clicking on one image and selecting File Info. What you fill in for that file will attach to them all. Don’t forget to add your copyright info!

Trying The Movies

Q My DSLR has video capability, and I’d like to give it a go to add to my repertoire. But all the examples I see from camera manufacturers make it seem like a big deal, with lots of expensive-looking equipment and people involved. Are there accessories and software that a mere mortal can afford and master to make video capture a fun and creative endeavor?
M. Johnson
Via email

A It doesn’t really take a village to make a video, and in my seminars, I’ve been encouraging still photographers to give it a shot. In my opinion, you can have just as much fun capturing video as you do with stills, with results that entertain and inform your viewers in a whole new way. Today’s DSLR video is very different in terms of quality and capture than your dad’s old Super 8s and even recent camcorders. The ability to use an array of lenses increases the creativity factor in a big way. Editing software is easy to use, and the final product is quickly shared via social media, Vimeo and YouTube.

The challenges that confront new video enthusiasts are achieving stable capture, smooth transitions, maintaining focus and editing the final product. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Here’s a list of basics:

LCD Loupe. The most essential tool is a loupe that attaches to your LCD so you can see what you’re capturing. Most DSLRs don’t have autofocus capability for video so the loupe is even more important for maintaining focus. If you have the new Canon EOS 70D, you’ll have AF in video, but you still need to have a loupe to view and frame. LCD loupes are made by Hoodman, Varavon, GGS and Zacuto, among others, at a price from around $75 to several hundred dollars. I’ve used the Hoodman loupes for years. I especially like the HoodCrane and the Custom Finder; both allow the loupe to be easily moved aside when the photographer wants to use the viewfinder for stills.

Fluid Head. Even the best ballheads won’t pan smoothly enough for video capture. Approximately $150 will buy you a reasonable beginner’s head. Look at Manfrotto, Gitzo, Velbon, Really Right Stuff, Slik or Benro, to name a few.

Memory Cards. Upgrade to fast 16 GB or larger cards from known players; HD video capture takes up a lot of space.

Editing Software. It’s important to clean up and finish your video with editing. This is, in many ways, as creative an enterprise as capture. Here’s where the story comes together, and I actually find the process to be quite satisfying. Windows and Mac users can use Adobe Premiere Elements or the full professional suite, Premiere Pro; Mac users can also start with Apple iMovie or the professional-quality Final Cut Pro X. A faster computer will make video editing much more enjoyable because it’s power-intensive with the large files.

Cat. Your video must feature a cat if you want it to go viral on YouTube. I’m sure you can find one somewhere. I prefer leopards.

Practice. If you belong to a camera club, encourage the group to adopt a video competition. Limit the videos to two minutes or everyone will dump the idea after the first showing, even if all the cats are really cute!

Follow George Lepp‘s exploits, see his latest photographs and be part of the discussion on his Facebook page:

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.