Image Organization

Digital Image Organization

Effective digital image organization is not very different from how you would organize the pictures in a photo album. You know that without some sort of organization, finding a particular digital image can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But did you know that too much organization creates the needle in a haystack problem as well?

File Folders

Thoughtfully organizing your digital images into file folders can help you and others find particular images, and can preserve information about the image. Usually, a physical photo was in a particular envelope, or had a date stamped on the back, or you remember that a particular box of photos came from Aunt May’s attic. People use this information to figure out what the photo is about, who’s in the photo, when it might have been taken, etc. Many people have their slides or photos organized by year, or subject, or both. We can build a folder structure and name the individual images in a manner that preserves this information.

Image Names

Typically, we name the images in a folder with the folder name followed by a serial number. For example, “Whitney’s 5th birthday – 1.jpg” would be the name of the first image in a folder named “Whitney’s 5th birthday”.

Image organization file structure example

If you wish, we can use the additional layers of the folder structure when we create the digital images’ names. For example, the first image in the “Whitney’s Birthday” subfolder in the “1955” folder series could be: “1955 – Whitney’s Birthday -1.jpg”.

As you can see, a folder structure will help you find images, and help people understand what the image is of. You can create as many levels as you like.

Folder Names

There are two rules to follow when choosing a name for a folder.

First, it is a good idea to keep the folder names short, as some programs limit the image name length to 32 characters. Abbreviate where it makes sense. In the example above, we used 28 characters for “1955 – Whitney’s Birthday -1”.

Secondly, there are some characters on your keyboard that are not allowed. These are:

  • < (less than)
  • > (greater than)
  • : (colon)
  • ” (double quote)
  • / (forward slash)
  • \ (backslash)
  • | (vertical bar or pipe)
  • ? (question mark)
  • * (asterisk)
  • Avoiding the needle in a haystack scenario

    Contrary to popular belief, computers don’t really help you find a digital photo. You can’t get a computer to search for a picture of “Aunt May at the lake when we were kids”. I’ve worked with the latest and greatest facial recognition software, hoping that I could teach it what my Mom looks like, and it would go find all the pictures of her since the 30’s. It doesn’t work. It finds about half of the pictures of her this year, and gets worse with the age of the photo. It can’t recognize her at in a ten year old photo.

    Actually, people tend to look for a particular digital image the same way they would look for the original photo or slide. Before computers, people sorted through boxes the find the box that the physical photo might be in. Once they have the right box, they start flipping through photos until they find what they were looking for. If the physical photo collection was in 500 boxes, with 10 photos in each box, it would take quite a while to find the right box, then no time at all to find the right photo from inside the box. Alternatively, if there were only 10 boxes with 500 photos in each box, you’d find the box quickly, and take forever to find the photo from inside the box.

    Thoughtfully organizing your digital images as described above really makes a difference. But, just like the closet full of boxes situation from above, getting the balance of photos per folder right is important as well. A good rule of thumb is:

  • limit the number of folders per level to 20
  • keep the image per folder between 40 and 300
  • When a computer displays a folder structure, it shows a bunch of folder icons, and the name of each. Alternatively, when a computer displays a folder full of pictures, is shows you (with the proper settings) a page of small photos, usually about 50 per page.

    Because you have to read the folder name, looking through folders to find the right name goes much slower than looking through a page of small pictures. It seems to this reporter that it’s about 10 times slower! Therefore, it’s easier to look through many pictures then to look through many folders. That’s all the logic there is behind these rules of thumb!


    Backside Scanning

    Sometimes, there are notes written on the back of a photo print that need to be recorded along with the picture on the front. We call this backside scanning, and it’s a common request.

    How backside scanning is done

    Backside scanning is only applicable for printed photos, and the backside is scanned at the same time as the front side. From the scanner operator’s perspective, backside scanning is either on or off. This way we can assure that if we scanned a backside, the association with the front side is always correct. There is no chance for human error to creep in!

    Associating the front side with the back side

    The association between the front and back sides is done by making sure that the names of the two images will display together on computer file systems. The backside image name always ends with “backside”. The rest of the backside name comes from the name of the front side image. In addition, the metadata (which is sometimes used to order the image display) have identical created dates.

    How to request backside scanning

    Send us a note in the box, or enter a note into the notes area during the checkout process. Nobody wants scans of the backside that nobody wrote on, so when you request backside scans, we will only scan backsides with hand writing on them. If you only want copies of some of the backsides with writing on them, then please separate these photos from the rest, and label this bunch with something like “scan backsides of these only”.

    However, if you want us to copy every backside regardless of writing written on it, just tell us to “scan backsides”.

    Cost of backside scanning

    The cost of the backside scan is the same as whatever you pay for the front side, so with backside scanning the price per photo is double. Volume discounts apply. The front and back sides of a photo both count towards total volume! For example, if you sent us 200 photos and you wanted all of the backs scanned, then your total volume would be 400 photos. The volume discount would take you from $0.25 per photo to $0.20 per photo, the more we scan the more you save!