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Find and use images and other visual resources from the University Library. Email us at with questions about finding and using images.

Steps to Image Organization

Plan Ahead! 

Step 1:  Transfer your images from your camera, your phone, etc.

Step 2:  Name your image files

Step 3:  Add metadata

Step 4:  Organize your data and your images

Step 5:  Back-up and Store for preservation

File Naming

Using file naming conventions will help you manage your image files.  Naming conventions can be quite simple or complex, depending on the collection or collections of images you are naming.  The most important aspect of naming files is consistency.  In order to follow one naming pattern through an entire collection, it's important to think about your collection and plan ahead.  Create a naming protocol that makes sense to you: it should be descriptive, but not overly cumbersome.  A basic file name might include the date of the image, one or more subject type descriptors, and perhaps a note or two to indicate a version or quality.  

Example #1:

I have a collection of vacation images from a trip to Seattle.  The first image is of the Public Library and I took it on March 15, 2016.

date:  20160315

add: location      Seattle

add: subject of image (abbreviated)    publib   (Public Library)

add: unique number  (probably three digits is enough, but you might need more, depending on your collection)   001, 002, etc.

add:  filetype extension     .jpg    .tiff   etc.

The file name of this image would be:


Other file names from the trip might be:   

20160315_Seattle_publib_002.jpg    for a picture of the Public Library taken on 3/15/16

20160315_Seattle_ppmarket_001.jpg    for a picture of Pike's Peak Market taken on 3/15/16

20160316_Seattle_needle_001.jpg     for a picture of the Space Needle taken on 3/16/16

20160316_Seattle_needle_002.jpg      for a second picture of the Space Needle taken on 3/16/16

20140317_Vancouver_engbay_001.jpg   for a picture of English Bay, Vancouver taken on 3/17/16 

Example #2:

I conducted an oral history project and have images of the participants.  My project is called Washtenaw County Oral History Project (WCOHP)

Begin again with a date (the date of the interview):   20160504

Acronym of Project:   WCOHP

Name or, if anonymizing, identifying number, of participant:    joe_smith

If only one image per participant, then you could stop there but if multiple images, you could add a number sequence.

The file names might be:    

20150131_WCOHP_smith_joe_001.jpg     for a picture of Joe Smith taken on 1/ 31/15

20150204_WCOHP_smith_joe_002.jpg     for a picture taken of Joe Smith taken on 2/4/15 (One could let the date distinguish the two images, but perhaps if one is not adding a lot of pictures of the subjects, one might want to keep a numerical sequence within the file name. It would be a decision based on the kind of collection you have, how many and how frequently images will be added.)

Adding Metadata

Metadata is the information that will help you find the image again or find groups of similar images. You'll find that some data is automatically generated as the image is taken and comes along with the image; for instance, technical data such as the source (camera, phone), settings, GPS location, date. Occasionally that data does not stick with the image and you'll want to add it yourself. You might consider adding the creator's name for copyright purposes. 

You can also add descriptive data. It can be as simple as adding tags or keywords to your image as you save it somewhere like Flickr, or it can be complex and very thorough if you fill out multiple fields in a tool like Photoshop.  Here, an important aspect is the consistency of language. Try to use the same word to describe the same type of thing each time it appears. For instance, use the word "house" each time you add metadata about an image of a house (rather than sometimes using the word "residence" or sometimes the word "home").  Some tools allow you to create lists of words to help you maintain consistency.  See the Resources Section below for some controlled vocabulary resources.


Once you've named your files and have added metadata to further describe the image, you'll want to organize them.  You could keep them in folders based on date, subject, location -- whatever makes sense for the types of images and projects that you have.  

For instance, for the examples above:

Vacation pictures from Seattle:  your folders might be location specific (Seattle, Vancouver, Mt Ranier) or topic specific (gardens, city images, water images, family) or a combination of the two.  Folders of images from your 2016 trip to Seattle might be organized like this:  Seattle_2016_gardens; Seattle_2016_family; Seattle_2016_water; Seattle_2016_city, etc.) -- it depends on what makes sense for you and the collection.

You could take it a beyond folders and create a database to add some structure (and potential functionality) to your organization.  The metadata you added in step 3 is added to the image itself.  You'll want to include any descriptive metadata you added to the image in your database.  This step brings the data from all the images together and begins creating relationships between the images.  

Preserving and Backing Up Your Image Files

Once you've named and organized your images, you'll want to know that they'll be around for the future.  If your files are in proprietary format (software specific) pay attention to any changes from the company regarding the updating of files.  A better practice is to save your files in standard file formats (jpeg, TIFF, etc.), as they are more likely to remain accessible over time.  It's good to save your images in several places: on your computer where you use them, on a separate hard drive, and perhaps in cloud-based storage.  Remember that if you make changes or additions to your image files and folders, you'll want to update your files and folders in all your storage places.  Make a habit of updating and backing up your files regularly.


Naming Conventions Best Practices:

Stanford University Library: Best Practices for File Naming (an older site, but most of advice is still relevant and useful)


Controlled Vocabularies / Ontologies:

Stanford University Library: Metadata Tools

Art/Architecture Vocabulary:  Art & Architecture Thesaurus

Museum Object/Artifact Vocabulary:  Cultural Objects Name Authority

Plant Vocabulary:  Plant Ontology Database

IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) Subject Vocabulary: NewsCodes Concept List


Metadata Resources:

Dublin Core Basic Metadata Element Set (old)

Dublin Core Metadate Initiative

CCO Commons: Cataloging Cultural Objects

VRA Core:  Data Standard for Description of Images and Works of Art and Culture


Data and Digital Preservation

Library of Congress Digital Preservation (useful tips for archiving and preserving personal collections)