Your Digital Legacy – Part 3. File Numbering

When I bought my first Canon digital camera in 2005 it was very disappointing. I used it a few times and went back to film. The camera gradually passed from person to person and became the tool for eBay snaps only. However some happy snaps of the family are still in the collection.

The images have a file numbering that consist of “IMG” + 4 digits for the image number. So the first image was IMG0001.

In 2007 I bought a Canon 350D and put the film camera aside. The first image I took with it was IMG0001.

I stored my images on the Mac and catalogued them. I was careful to put images in different folders by year and groups of image numbers. However without even being aware at the time I was creating a huge problem.

By 2009 I had clocked up 10000 images and the little counter went over from IMG9999 and the next image or so was IMG0001.

I took about another 700 images with the 350D before buying the 5DMk2 in 2009. The first image was IMG0001. (Actually _MG0001 if shooting in AdobeRGB)

Even though all of these duplicate number images were in different folders, when you start to edit them and import them into catalogue programs, the software only knows them by the file name, IMG0001. When I opened a thumbnail image and got a completely different image I knew I had a problem.

I then spent the next two weeks renumbering every image in my collection. All Raw, all JPG, all TIFF all PSD.

The solution is that you must make every image file uniquely numbered as soon as it is imported and before editing. There are a lot of programmes that can do batch changes to file names. I just used the Canon Digital Photo Professional programme that comes with the camera. You select the folder, “Select All” the images and hit the “Rename Tool”.

You can then specify how you want the image number changed. I went for the shooting date/time plus the existing image number. So IMG0001 shot on 10 November 2007 became 2007-11-10_IMG0001. If you are paranoid or know that you will using multiple cameras on the same day you can add the Hours, Minutes and Seconds or a text string like “5DM2”.

Because the images are now in reverse chronological order it’s very easy to sort them.

I also took the opportunity to rearrange the hierarchy of folders.

MORAL 3. Ensure an enduring unique file name for each image.

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