Digital Image Numbering System
Find Photos Fast with A Digital Image Numbering System
One of the first things any digital photographer should think about is a digital image numbering system. Even so, very few give it a second thought. One of the true benefits of digital photography is the ability to organize your pictures. However, without a good numbering system, that advantage is crippled dramatically.
The Computer Wants to Delete Your Precious Memories
An example of how things can get off track without a digital photo numbering system would be the following scenario. I’m confident we can all relate to this scary computer warning. Let’s say you’ve been traveling extensively throughout the year. Around the end of December, you decide to have a photo show gathering. If you were traveling with Tanya and me you may have visited Kenya, Costa Rica, Madagascar, Yellowstone in Winter, The Canadian Rockies, and India.
As you prepare for your big holiday presentation, you start selecting images from all your different travel folders. To organize the cream of the crop, you create a folder on your desktop called Travel Photos. You start adding pictures to that folder, one from Kenya, one from India, several more from Costa Rica, and others from Yellowstone in Winter. As you drag one image after another into the Travel Photo folder, you start seeing a warning, “The file you’re trying to add already exists. Do you want to overwrite this file?” or something similar. If you say yes, you will replace one photo file with something completely different. Why is this happening? It’s because you have chosen not to implement a digital image numbering system that makes certain each photo has its unique number.
Your camera is part of the problem
In most situations, the reason this problem arises is due to the camera or cameras assigning a number to each file. Most digital cameras will create an ongoing, running number that increases by one for each file captured. Typically the highest number most cameras create is 9999. Once the camera reaches 9999 frames, it resets itself and begins another series of 9999 frames. If you have two cameras, each creates its own 1-9999 image number. Unless you enter a designator identifying each separate camera, you will have 9999 opportunities to have images that want to overwrite each other. If you use some sort of camera ID you will give yourself additional time before your files start tripping over themselves. Either way, if you shoot a fair number of pictures, it won’t be long before you start having issues. That is unless you implement a well-thought-out digital image numbering system.
Two numbering systems to the rescue
What’s the answer? There are a couple of options that I like. For me, I chose to implement an ongoing running number. In other words, my digital files started at number 1 back in 2003 and have just kept going. My running number system has just passed 1,907,261, which signifies all photos I’ve taken since 2003. This option gives each digital file its own specific number and does so with the smallest number of possible digits. The key to this system is software that keeps track of the last number it assigned during the last import. You also have to use the same computer when Importing your pictures. That’s never been a big deal since I take my laptop to the field, and that’s generally where I import my photos. But… if this number gets off for some reason, it can be a nightmare.
Ongoing running number
Thankfully, my current software of choice, Mylio, handles the ongoing numbers without fail. I’ve never had it miss the last number imported. Other programs I used in the past, such as Lightroom and Nikon View, created problems if the import failed for some reason. Let’s say the computer died in mid-import. The problem with Lightroom and Nikon View was they had created those numbers but never attached them to the file. When the import failed, those numbers just evaporated. So I would then have to go into my last import and track down the last number. It not only took a lot of time but having to reinput a number was always dangerous. If you were off by one digit, look out for chaos. If it weren’t for Mylio, I’m certain I would have switched to the second numbering system I’ll explain next.
Number by date and time
The second numbering option is to name each digital file with the numbers generated based on the date and time the image was captured. The only situation I can imagine that this option wouldn’t work is if the photographer was shooting one or more cameras remotely at high speeds. You could then have the possibility of taking photos at the exact same time. But for most shooters, this is a good option since no one I’m aware of shoots two cameras at exactly the same time. Many of us shoot two cameras but not concurrently. The one downside to this system is the file numbers can get quite long and cumbersome. I know photographers who add a designator to the front of each file to tell them which camera the file came from.
Both of these options are available via the ingesting/uploading process of most quality software packages. Software I’m currently aware of that can do the digital image numbering system I described includes Mylio, Lightroom and Photo Mechanic. Finding the one you like will be a personal choice.
I hope the above information helps with giving you ideas of how you might want to execute a quality digital image numbering system for yourself.