File Management Overview
Richard Anderson and Peter Krogh
What is file management?
The data that we work with on computers is kept in a hierarchical file system in which directories have files and subdirectories beneath them. Although we use the computer operating system to keep our image data organized, how we name files and folders, how we arrange these nested folders, and how we handle the files in these folders are the fundamental aspects of file management. The operating system's organization of our data can be enhanced by the use of cataloging programs, which make organizing and finding image files easier than simply relying on the computer's directory structure. Another feature of catalog programs is that they can streamline backup procedures for better file protection.
Know your primary
As we outline in the Backup section of the website, one of the most fundamental concepts in your image collection is the distinction between Primary and Backup. The Primary is the main copy of the data, and it is protected by the creation of backup copies. This File Management section deals with the Primary copy of the data only. The creation of a well-structured file management system can make backup and restoration relatively simple, but separate, processes.
Storage vs. Organization
It's helpful to approach file management issues by separating the concept of Storage from the concept of Organization. Storage describes how you handle the files: What's in a folder? What kind of folder names do you use? How do you design a folder hierarchy?
Organization, by contrast, describes how images are grouped according to content, usage or value. Organization lets you find all pictures of Josie, or all pictures done for the Acme Company, or all images used in my portfolio. We recommend that your organization be based fundamentally on metadata, rather than on folders.
There are two main problems with using folders for organization. The first is that the work you can do to organize with folders is very limited. There must be one top-level organizational method, which can only be subdivided in a limited way before the system becomes too cumbersome and breaks down. Is it most important to divide by date, client, project, subject matter, rating, or usage? Furthermore, information that is dependent on folder structure is very fragile. If you remove an image from a folder that designates what that image is, that content information can be lost.
While folder structure can be helpful in organizing your images, we suggest that the main job of folders should be as a storage structure.
If folders are not the main method for organizing files, what is? We suggest that you need to use metadata and catalog software to most efficiently organize, manage, preserve, and get the most value from your images. Catalog software keeps a record of all images, and lets you use metadata to group them in any number of ways. You can bring images together that have common subject matter, were shot for the same client, were sent out for similar uses, or any other commonality.
Figure 1This video shows how you can use catalog software to organize your images in lots of different ways.
The work you do to manage your files will be much more valuable if you do it consistently. While this can take some work to develop a system and train yourself to stick to it, you'll be paid back in the long term. We suggest you make some effort to standardize file naming, folder structure, metadata use and more. As you do this, keep in mind that your collection of image files will be growing, and you will want your systems to be scalable so they can grow with you.
Originals and derivatives
One thing you'll want to consider as you create a file management system is the treatment of camera original files and the derivative files made from them. While it seems natural to keep these together in one folder structure, there are a number of advantages to separating them into two different directory structures.
Your camera originals (which we suggest storing as DNG files for most people) are different from derivatives in a number of ways.
- There should be one and only one primary copy of an original image. This is not the case with regard to derivatives.
- An archived original image may be reedited with PIEware like Lightroom without creating the need to re-archive the file. In general, that's not true of derivatives.
- Derivative files are frequently made or reworked after the camera originals have been archived. It can simplify the backup process when new work is not mixed in with older work that has a 3-2-1 backup.
- Catalog software, along with a good naming convention, can make it easy to link derivatives to their originals, even if they are far apart in the directory structure.
Separating originals and derivatives is not the only way to structure an archive, of course. Some photographers will always make derivatives right away, and then can safely archive the entire shoot together. In these cases, it is still advisable to group the derivatives in folders separately from the originals.
Folders and backup strategies
If folders are most useful as a storage tool (rather than an organizational tool), then one of the most important aspects of your directory structure is the ability to back up the files easily and safely. You can simplify this process by keeping files together if they need the same backup treatment.
Working files folder
We suggest that each computer have a place to store works in progress. If all your "works in progress" are inside a parent folder called "Working", you can set up a single backup task to protect the entire group. Use of a single working folder also helps you keep track of your work in progress, which is particularly helpful for people who use multiple computers. Set the working folder up the same way on all computers.
Figure 2shows the parent Working folder that contains all the works in progress.
Archive folder structures
While the Working folder is a temporary home for your images on the way from card to archive, there should be a more permanent structure to the image archive. This needs to be a scalable structure that can grow with the collection, and it needs to lend itself to easy and safe backup. Let's look at some options.
One popular way to create a structured image storage directory is to create a folder hierarchy based on date. It's a clean and easily understood structure that scales by simply adding dates as time goes by.
Figure 3shows a folder hierarchy based on date.
You can also structure your archive directory around the client or project names. In many ways, this corresponds most closely to the filing system many photographers used to store film.
Figure 4shows a folder hierarchy based on client and project names.
Another way to structure your archive is to make folders the size of your optical media backups. These would be approximately 4.7GB for single layer DVD or 25GB for single layer Blu-ray discs. This system is also commonly known as a "bucket" system. The great advantage of this system is that it makes restoring your data from an optical media backup much easier than any other folder structure.
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On to Directory Structure
A publicly documented, royalty free, open standard file format developed by Adobe Systems that provides a standardized alternative to proprietary camera raw files. The DNG specification incorporates rich metadata support along with imbedded previews, camera profiles, and “maker notes” (private or proprietary metadata). DNG can employ lossless compression that can result in a significant file size reduction over the original proprietary raw. It is also being promoted as an archival image format since it is fully documented and has been submitted to the ISO.
A software application that edits image files by using instructions saved as metadata. Examples include Camera Raw,, Capture One Pro, and Nikon Capture. Also see Parametric Image Editing (PIE) and Cataloging PIEware.
Learn how to use the Windows file system and find Windows files with ease after reading this free lesson.
Working with files
Understanding how to work with files and folders is an important part of using your computer. Once you understand how files and folder work, you'll use them all the time. In this lesson, we'll show you the absolute basics of working with files, including how to openfiles, move your files into folders, and deletefiles.
Watch the video below to learn more about using files and folders in Windows.
What is a file?
There are many different typesoffiles you can use. For example, Microsoft Word documents, digital photos, digital music, and digital videos are all types of files. You might even think of a file as a digital version of a real-world thing you can interact with on your computer. When you use different applications, you'll often be viewing, creating, or editing files.
Files are usually represented by an icon. In the image below, you can see a few different types of files below the Recycle Bin on the desktop.
What is a folder?
Windows uses folders to help you organize files. You can put files insideafolder, just like you would put documents inside a real folder. In the image below, you can see some folders on the desktop.
You can view and organize files and folders using a built-in application known as File Explorer (called Windows Explorer in Windows 7 and earlier versions).
To open File Explorer, click the File Explorer icon on the taskbar, or double-click any folder on your desktop. A new File Explorer window will appear. Now you're ready to start working with your files and folders.
From File Explorer, double-click a folder to open it. You can then see all of the files stored in that folder.
Notice that you can also see the location of a folder in the address bar near the top of the window.
To open a file:
There are two main ways to open a file:
- Find the file on your computer and double-click it. This will open the file in its default application. In our example, we'll open a Microsoft Word document (BdayInvites.docx), which will open in Microsoft Word.
- Open the application, then use the application to open the file. Once the application is open, you can go to the File menu at the top of the window and select Open.
Moving and deleting files
As you begin using your computer, you will start to collect more and more files, which can make it more difficult to find the files you need. Fortunately, Windows allows you to movefiles to different folders and delete files you longer use.
To move a file:
It's easy to move a file from one location to another. For example, you might have a file on the desktop that you want to move to your Documents folder.
- Click and drag the file to the desired location.
- Release the mouse. The file will appear in the new location. In this example, we have opened the folder to see the file in its new location.
You can use this same technique to move an entire folder. Note that moving a folder will also move all of the files within that folder.
To create a new folder:
- Within File Explorer, locate and select the New folder button. You can also right-click where you want the folder to appear, then select New > Folder.
- The new folder will appear. Type the desired name for the folder and press Enter. In our example, we'll call it School Documents.
- The new folder will be created. You can now move files into this folder.
To rename a file or folder:
You can change the name of any file or folder. A unique name will make it easier to remember what type of information is saved in the file or folder.
- Click the file or folder, waitabout one second, and click again. An editable text field will appear.
- Type the desired name on your keyboard and press Enter. The name will be changed.
You can also right-click the folder and select Rename from the menu that appears.
To delete a file or folder:
If you no longer need to use a file, you can delete it. When you delete a file, it is moved to the Recycle Bin. If you change your mind, you can move the file from the Recycle Bin back to its original location. If you're sure you want to permanently delete the file, you will need to empty the Recycle Bin.
- Click and drag the file to the Recycle Bin icon on the desktop. You can also click the file to select it and press the Delete key on your keyboard.
- To permanently delete the file, right-click the Recycle Bin icon and select Empty Recycle Bin. All files in the Recycle Bin will be permanently deleted.
Note that deleting a folder will also delete all of the files within that folder.
Selecting multiple files
Now that you know the basics, here are a few tips to help you move your files even faster.
Selecting more than one file
There are a few ways to select more than one file at a time:
- If you're viewing your files as icons, you can click and drag the mouse to draw a box around the files you want to select. When you're done, release the mouse; the files will be selected. You can now move, copy, or delete all of these files at the same time.
- To select specificfiles from a folder, press and hold the Control key on your keyboard, then click the files you want to select.
- To select a group of files from a folder, click the first file, press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard, then click the last file. All of the files between the first and last ones will be selected.
Selecting all files
If you want to select all files in a folder at the same time, open the folder in File Explorer and press Ctrl+A (press and hold the Control key on your keyboard, then press A). All of the files in the folder will be selected.
Ctrl+A is an example of a keyboard shortcut. We'll talk more about these in our lesson on Keyboard Shortcuts in Windows.
If working with files and folders feels a little tricky right now, don't worry! Like anything else, working with files and folders is largely a matter of practice. You'll start to feel more comfortable as you continue using your computer. In the next lesson, we'll talk about another important concept: how to find files on your computer that you can't easily locate.
If you have a file or folder you use frequently, you can save time by creating a shortcut on the desktop. Instead of navigating to the file or folder each time you want to use it, you can simply double-click the shortcut to open it. A shortcut will have a small arrow in the lower-left corner of the icon.
Note that creating a shortcut does not create a duplicate copy of the folder; it's simply a way to access the folder more quickly. If you delete a shortcut, it will not delete the actual folder or the files it contains. Also note that copying a shortcut onto a flash drive will not work; if you want to bring a file with you, you'll need to navigate to the actual location of the file and copy it to the flash drive.
To create a shortcut:
- Locate and right-click the desired folder, then select Send to Desktop (create shortcut).
A shortcut to the folder will appear on the desktop. Notice the arrow in the lower-left corner of the icon. You can now double-click the shortcut to open the folder at any time.
You can also hold the Alt key on your keyboard, then click and drag the folder to the desktop to create a shortcut.