What Everybody Ought to Know When Naming Your Scanned Photos – Part 1

Photo Collage - menu item to save photo as Mom's Birthday 1??As my own scanned photo collection grows, it has really become obvious to me how thankful I am for the added attention I have been putting into the filenames I give to all of my scanned images.

When you’re scanning, it’s really easy to get into a “robotic” mindset where you are just trying to scan as many photos as possible in a sitting. So when you get to that blank field each time that asks you to type in a name for the file, it’s tempting to just quickly bang out a few descriptive words with little thought to how useful they will be to anyone later.

Even if you plan on only visually organizing your collection in an image manager like Picasa or iPhoto, you don’t want to ignore this root level of identification. You will reference them more than you may think.


Filenames are “Descriptive Tattoos”

I would like you to think of the filename like a permanent “descriptive tattoo” that will always ride along and identify the origin and story of the image. It’s kind of like those tiny rice-sized microchips veterinarians inject into dogs and cats to identify them in case they are found without a tagged collar. Or maybe you can think of it like when a baby is born. The baby’s foot prints and the parent’s fingerprints are immediately pressed onto an official birth certificate along with the day’s date and everyone’s full names to permanently record who he or she is in this big scary world.

I think it’s a surprise for people when they find out scanning their entire photo collection is less about being a technical chore as it is a time of investigation and discovery. You start out digitizing photos you are familiar with. You know everything about them because not only are you in the photos, but you were there!

Soon you’re scanning photos of your parents before they met you. They dated other people? Then you’re on to their parents before they met them. Who knew cameras were around back then. You’re calling them on the phone. “Who’s this dancing with you?” “Where was this one taken?” “Is that your sister’s first bicycle ride?” Before you know it, the pieces to your puzzle start coming together.

But time will pass and your memory will fade. And worse, 10, 20, 30 years from now, without having used a consistent and logical naming and captioning workflow, members of your family who inherited all of your hard work will have to start over – from almost the beginning!

How much will “Mom’s Birthday 1.jpg” really tell someone who has never seen this photo before… or know anyone in it?

Because of this realization, I came up with a naming formula that is not only easy, but is logical. This means almost anyone can make sense of your work years from now without your physical involvement.

And not only will using it save you time and headache later when you access your master files, with this technique, you will be able to look at a file and know exactly what scanning software and settings were used to create them. But we’ll get to that later.

My naming formula is made up of 3 separate but equally important parts:

Graphic - My 3-part formula for correctly naming your scanned photos


Part 1 –  Add the Photo’s Shoot Date

When you take a photo with your cell phone or digital camera, your image is almost always saved with an extra bit of useful technical information such as the model of camera, the focal length, the f-stop used to create your photo etc. In addition, the shoot date (the day the photo was actually taken) and time of day the photo was taken is also preserved in this (EXIF) metadata.

There’s no better way of realizing how amazing this feature is than when you start scanning your non-digital photos and find out not only will you often not know the exact month and year (let alone day) these photos were taken back then, but it’s completely your responsibility to make sure this shoot date is somehow attached to your new scan!

Your scanning software will add a date – yes. But this date is the date you scanned it, or the date you last modified it (re-saved it).

Create a Date Field in the Format of  – YEAR – MONTH – DAY

It’s important when you create this date field to put the year first and not at the end. If you aren’t used to writing a date in this order, it’s going to feel a little strange at first. This is probably because it’s not how you say dates out loud. For example we are used to saying “January first, two thousand nine” – not “two thousand nine, January first.”

The advantage of putting the year first is that no matter how many files you throw into a folder, you are guaranteed to be able to sort every single image chronologically by the shoot date.

Also, put the date field at the head of the filename. This approach is much better than putting it later because you will find being able to sort chronologically by date is far more useful later on than only being able to sort by the first word of your description – such as “Christmas” or “Birthday.”

So for example, using the above “arbitrary” (and unrecommended) naming system, here is how 4 photos saved with the shoot date added using three different methods will be listed in a folder when the name column is sorted by their filenames:

Graphic: Folder with scanned photos named the wrong way for chronological sorting

Graphic: Folder of scanned photos named in the best way to sort chronologically.

The methods in the first two examples are certainly a step up from just typing in a short description like “Grandma Sewing.” But, I’m confident you will benefit more from entering in the shoot exactly how I demonstrated above in the third example.

If you argue it’s better to put the date at the end of the filename because you would like to be able to sort by the event – the occasion in the photo such as “Moms Birthday,” I would then add that this is actually an added benefit to putting the date at the beginning because all of your photos from one event will most likely happen on the same day or two. So not only will date first naming give you get a chronological order sort, but you will also get the sort by event capability.

Add Zeros to Single Digit Numbers

A lot of us aren’t used to writing extra 0’s in dates – for example when writing the date when filling out a check. We probably just write “3-2-2010” or maybe even “3-2-10.” Fair enough.

But when you are filling in the shoot date for your photos filenames, it’s actually best to get in the habit of filling in these 0’s for the sole purpose of uniformity. It will make a much cleaner looking and easier to read column of information.

Graphic: Folders of scanned photos using zeros added to dates correctly and incorrectly


Use x’s for Unknown Numbers

If you haven’t started scanning your collection yet, and you didn’t really catch what I said before, let me be even clearer here. More than likely you will have a lot of photos in your collection that don’t have the date the photo was taken identified anywhere on the print, negative or slide. And worse, you may have no idea how to begin figuring them out.

Lucky for me, through the years, my Mom has written a lot of information on the back of most of our paper prints. Sometimes she wrote out the full date – month, day and year. Other times it’s “Fall 1974” or “Christmas 1975.” And then there are ones where she wrote much less, “1975” or “Easter.”

The back of two scanned photos showing handwritten shoot date information - "1972" and "January 23"

So in order to solve this problem, what I decided to do was add a lower case “x” where I wasn’t sure of a number. Doing this will allow you to sort and organize the master files as best as you can while you are in the “investigative phase” of this particular image. What’s important is to get as much of the date into the filename as you can as soon as possible.

When you find out additional numbers later, you can always modify the filename – even if it’s being managed inside an image manager like Picasa or iPhoto.

Here is how you would deal with the various date information commonly found written on the back of your photos:

Date Info Found Enter This Reason
Fall 1974 1974-xx-xx Fall is in the later months of the year, but there is no way of knowing the month and day from just this bit of information.
Christmas 1975 1975-12-2x You could put 25 instead of 2x, but “Christmas” could mean Christmas Eve or a couple days around it.
1975 1975-xx-xx Since there is no month or day listed, this is all you can enter. It’s possible something in the photo itself can give you a clue.
Easter 197x-xx-xx Easter can happen anytime between March 22 and April 25th. But without knowing what year the photo was taken, there is no way of knowing which month and day. In the photo this example was taken from, I could tell I was only a few years old, so I know it was in the 1970’s sometime.
January 1965 1965-01-xx All I need to know now is what day the photo was taken.


Don’t Guess on Numbers

This is a really important tip. If you aren’t almost 100% sure about the accuracy of a missing number, don’t guess and put a number you think is correct. Believe it or not, you will be far better off working with an “x” until you are sure than you will be with a number you guessed on.


You need to establish from the beginning that any information you type into the filenames of your master images are based on fact and not assumption.

For example, if you have narrowed down a set of photos to have been taken in either July or August of a particular year, it’s not in your photos’ best interest to guess August until you are completely sure it’s not July. If you were to type in August now and next year you revisit this file, you will assume it’s a fact this photo was taken in August because more than likely you won’t remember your uncertainty.

You might allow yourself some exceptions here and there. You will have to decide how far you will allow yourself to stray.

Scanned photo border showing magnified portion with Jan 73 printed on itFor example, I have a lot of photographs in our collection from the 1960’s and 70’s printed on 3.5x3.5” paper with white borders around them. Often a month and year is “burned” into the left hand border in a nice shade of aqua blue. This isn’t the date the photo was taken. It’s actually the date the paper photo was printed.

Makes sense doesn’t it? I mean how would the developer have known when each photo was taken when she was only just handed a roll of film?

I usually allow myself the liberty of using this date information in my filename because I know my Mom and she is not really a patient woman when it comes to “surprises.” If I mail her a Birthday card and it arrives in her mailbox a couple days early, it’s going to be opened almost immediately!

And she was the same way years ago. After a big event, if there were a few unexposed frames left on the roll in her camera, she would shoot pictures of the dogs sleeping around on the carpet so she could get the film off to the developer as soon as possible! If the photo was printed with the date “May 1976,” it was most likely shot in May of 1976.

So that’s it! That’s all there is to adding in the shoot date which makes up “part 1” of my naming formula.

In part 2 of this series, I’ll be going over how to describe what’s actually in the photo so someone unfamiliar with it or anyone in the shot will know all about it. Also I will explain why “Dad Fishing” or “Mom’s Birthday 1” isn’t an effective description for your filename.

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43 Comments on "What Everybody Ought to Know When Naming Your Scanned Photos – Part 1"

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Andrew Cole

Great tips. I have struggled with this for years. From this point on all my scanned images will be organized this way. The only other issue I have to address is images that I have already scanned (not using this method) that have been imported into iPhoto are sorted by (incorrect) date because they have the scanned date. Does anyone have suggestion on how to get iPhoto to sort when we don’t know the exact day or even year? P.S. One other thing that I do when scanning (this is a time consuming process) is that I also scan the back (almost always) whenever there is a handwritten description/date on back. I then increase the canvas size (using Photoshop) of the scanned image so that the back and front of the picture are shown side by side or top over bottom. You then get the feel of still looking at the picture of Grandpa fishing with Grandma’s handwritten caption. In some cases if the caption is only the year or just a few words I may actually just superimpose it on the bottom or top of the image if it won’t adversely affect the look of the picture. Takes a bit more time but adds a personal touch.


Hi Curtis,
Although my current priority is to be able to match physical photos to digital files, so I don’t use the exact same naming technique, your advice is sound and clearly stated – much appreciated! However, I might also add that some might consider using yyyy-mm-dd. I was myself at one time using xxxx-xx-xx, but a fellow genealogist (and more experienced as I only dabble), suggested that using x’s does not solve the problem of people discerning appropriate dates. I noted in my article that something with “12-xx-19xx could mean December something 19something OR the 12th DAY of some month, 19something. Instead I use the above, because when portions of the date are uncertain (I agree about not guessing!), by using yyyy-mm-dd, you are being crystal clear which section designates month and which section designates date. I am also in complete agreement about leading zeros as a way to maintain a consistent length for that particular section of your filename.

Patty D.

First, I do like this idea of naming and dating the photos this way. I started organizing my digital photos that way a couple of years ago instead of by subject, etc. I’m just starting to archive all the photos my mom has. As we are taking them out of the albums (which, by the way, I hate those old “magnetic” albums–the photos stick to the pages), she is telling me who is in the pictures, etc. Most of the ones we are doing now are the real old ones–her family photos and my dad’s family photos. Some are dated and/or have captions to help identify them, but several don’t. The problem is she can’t always narrow down the date enough to come up with a year. So that’s causing me to have a lot of photos with “19xx-xx-xx” as the date. . There aren’t really any other family members who will know the answer so I doubt if the dates will ever be completed. Any suggestions as to how to handle situations like this so I don’t have a long list of “19xx” photos? Thanks for your help.

Bill Zam

Love this article and your suggested naming conventions! Question on the dates: I’ve been using, e.g., “20130519” instead of “2013-05-19” to help shorten file names. Is there a reason to include the hyphens other than readability?


I did find out the hard way that aperture seems to not like “dots” as in 2003.05.09.125
Upon exporting…it did not export with the dots…just changes it to something else…so I’ve spent A LOT of time retyping file names…
and yes, I know that I can batch change them…but I haven’t figured out quite yet…how to get the exact numbering sequence I want w/o aperture tagging on a few numbers.


I have a unique issue with Aperture and scanning. When you import images that were scanned, Aperture uses the metadata from the date the images were SCANNED, not the date of the actual trip or event of course. But new devices like the new iphone photo gallery now automatically sort your photos by date and location, and so while I had a few dozen trips in the last ten years, I have thousands of images now showing up as March 3, 2008, the date I had my old slides and photos scanned. Aperture has a menu item to ‘change date and time’ and you can select further to apply to the original files, but it doesn’t work consistently. I haven’t been able to figure out why it gets hung up, but on about 1/4 of my images, the date change doesn’t stick and they revert back to March 3, 2008 (and yet many of the others in the same batch process will work). There are a lot of blog posts about this, so I think it’s a bug, but one that has been going on for years. I also bought a few EXIF converter programs to export the files out and change the dates and bring them back, and that also is not consistent. Wondering if you have any suggestions on this one? I really felt I could live with it until I got a new iphone which now sorts automatically my images by date…!


Because of my problem with numbers could I just rename the pictures with the date in full & the people/places in them?


I am just getting started on my project. At the moment, I am using file names like this:
“1907 Paternal Grandfather Wedding Notice” or “1971 Christmas at Broomall PA”.
For me (at age 76) it is enough to know just the year and I suspect my heirs will find that true also. In some cases, where I am unsure of the exact year, I think it better to make my best guess based on the factors you suggest (instead of using 19xx). I am using the Keyword/Tag field (using IrfanView) to add info about who is in the picture. IPTC has a lot of other data fields that can help a future viewer narrow down the who, where, when info. I do appreciate the posts you are making here, very helpful.


Well, I tried using the 194X-XX-XX format for filenames of photos where I didn’t know the exact year. I ran into a few problems that I think I’ve solved. For one, there are few if any photos where just the month or day are known without the year, so having all the extra X’s after the first one are sort of redundant, taking up extra space and time when writing out the file names. So if I’m not sure of when a photo was taken, but am pretty confident of the decade, I’ll just start the file name with 194X without all the extra X’s. If perchance I do have a month or day known without the year, I’ll just include that information in the caption field.

Most modern Windows operating systems perform file name sorts by treating a sequence of digits as a number rather than as individual characters. The file beginning with 196X will be placed before a file beginning with 1943 since it sees that 196 is less than 1943.(This is different than early DOS days and for Windows versions prior to XP, where name sorting was done purely as characters): Hence, if I name my files using the XX method, they would be sorted by most photo viewing programs the following way:


This is not how I want to have my photos sorted. I realize that some programs can sort by the “capture date” assuming you’ve set this date in all your picture metatdata. I’d rather not rely on this, so I’ve devised a slight variation on the XX method of photo file naming. For the dates shown above, I would rename them as:


When name sorted by Windows, they would now show up as:


This is a much more useful sort order for me when viewing the pictures. The letter “e” after the year alerts me to the fact that those corresponding digits are Estimated and should not be taken as factual values. By default, I’ll use a zero for any Estimated digits, but there is no reason why I can’t take my best guess and use that number. I still can easily see that it’s estimated by the “e” that follows. I would then fill in the rest of the file name with the event – location – people data as discussed in these excellent blogs.


Hi – very helpful article. I just have a quick question as to replacing the xxxx-xx-xx format with the following:


Would there be a sorting issue with using yyyy-mm-dd in place of xxxx-xx-xx?


You saved me!! Thank you so much!! I’ve got this mess with scanning medical bills, saving, forwarding by emailing. Been copying and sending by US mail. So far I learned how to scan, name and rename. But, now I’ll go thru & name and/or rename your way. it makes so much more sense.

Next. How to file the bills for easy access: what to name the file, knowing what’s in each file, how to email groups of bills to two different places, and not all of the bills go to both places. Would welcome suggestions on how to save & file them, name the files, and group them to send some but not all to 2 different places.


Here is my complete target naming convention if it helps.
I use the embedded metadata where possible for easy searching (except for AVI files which are being converted to MP4)
I make sure not to use spaces in case i need to make media available on a webpage.

19991231-245959-999 (digital camera files with embedded metadata, optional milliseconds used for fast sequences)
19991231-245959_Event_Name.avi (video files that use sidecar XMP metadata, i use the start time of the video)

Now for the many different physical formats:
19991231-N135-999-36 (35mm roll start date, roll number and frame number)
19991231-S135-99-144 (35mm slide carousel/book number and frame number)
19991231-N110-999-12 (110 film roll start date, roll number and frame number)
19991231-S110-99-144 (110 slide carousel/book number and frame number)
19991231-240-999999-40 (APS film -IX240- start date, serial number on the cartridge and frame number)
19991231-4X6-99-999 (dimension of print, Book/Box number and print number)
19991231-1X2-99-999 (wallet prints)
19991231-99X99-9999 (Anything larger than 8×10)

Ideally all images will have the following types of tags:
Names (“unknown name” tag if i need help)
GPS (“unknown place” if i need help)
Text or signage that stands out (not misc. text that can’t be read in a large thumbnail)

Author tag will correspond to the most likely author
Copyright tag will have my email.
Permissions will either be Restricted or Creative Commons
Timestamps of all images corrected to the nearest month, or down to the second of the capture.
Timestamps of all event videos will use the nearest starting time if possible.


So, I am just starting, literally. Of course, was too busy raising the kids to keep the photos in any order, now in the sweet spot between them grown up and no grandkids yet. My ex is doing the videos, and I am doing the photos, hope to have a good start by Christmas. I am up at my lake cabin in the wilds of northwest Montana, prepared to do a couple of hours a day for the next couple of months, between paid work and fun on the lake.
1. Do you have a “first day what to do” post I can’t find?
2. I have a MacBook Pro, and am keeping my iPhoto library on an external hard drive, which I DO back up smile On your recommendation, I just received an Epson.
3. Out of the box, it crashed repeatedly so I went and downloaded a new driver which seems to work. The epson scan image appears on my computer.
4. I have studied up on the filename thing, resolved to start right. Here are my two problems:
A. Do I save to a folder in pictures, then import those into iPhoto? Can’t I just save right to iPhoto library? How?
B. EpsonScan will not allow more than 12 characters in the filename, after the date info (I was going to do my test scan on a great postcard my son sent to my now-dead mom from Hawaii when he was in college). I have the date, so following your system, wanted to name it “2008-03-27 Spencer’s postcard to June from Hawaii-00001”
EpsonScan will only let me get as far as: “2008-03-27 Spencer postc” Suggestions?
C. While I am at it, how do I do a double-sided thing like the postcard? I want to get his sweet message in his handwriting too, on the back side…?
THANKS for your work on this great subject, and for any comments from anybody. I want to start slow and right


Hi. I am having trouble getting started. I have the Epson perfection V600 and Picasa that i don’t know how to use much yet.

i feel like there are 3 parts to what im trying to do and im not sure im doing it correctly which i feel is taking up a lot of my time.

1st i am scanning and putting the pictures on an external hard drive for now
2nd im naming which im not sure if i should be doing in windows explorer or if it’s easier in picasa which has me confused
3rd im tagging people in picasa and im not sure if that is the absolute last thing i should be doing?

im overwhelming myself which is making me not get started. i’ve scanned about 37 pictures so far….


What is the difference between tagging and metadata? I’m so confused. I don’t want to have to keep going over and over pictures putting in details in different places. I am putting a naming of each picture “2012-12-23 – Mom’s birthday – Joe, Bill Lastname, Michael Lastname”. I want to capture as much data as possible for future generations of who people are. But I don’t want a million peoples names in the file name (at least I don’t think I do). Then there’s the tagging. I can put these peoples names in the tagging (currently only working with Windows Explorer and Picasa – no other advanced programs). Mostly working in Windows Explorer just renaming the files and making sure the dates/titles are there. And then there’s metadata that I’m not sure about at all or where to even start with that.


Stacy, I really like the way you are naming your files – very similar to the way I do it. The nice thing about digital photos is that they can hold more within them than just pictures. Metadata is a generic term for all that additional information that can be stored digitally within the photo file. There are many different types of metadata. Digital cameras will automatically embed the camera make and model, shutter speed, lens aperture, and a whole host of other data about how the photo was taken within the picture file. This is all considered to be metadata. The people that devised the standards for jpeg files and tiff files (www.metadataworkinggroup.com) allow for very specific pieces of metadata information to be embedded within the files.

The metadata types that I find most useful when organizing my old photos are the ‘Caption’ (also known as Description in some programs, and Title in Windows Explorer) and ‘Keywords’ (also called Tags in Windows Explorer). You can think of the Caption/Title field as a free-form area where you can write about the photo. I usually include any relevant history as well as people’s names here. I like to think of it as the “back” of the picture and include whatever I normally would expect to be written on the back of a photograph. This can be as little or as much as you want. Whatever you think will be helpful to future viewers.

The Keywords/Tags field is a bit more structured. It’s main purpose is to allow easy retrieval of desired photos from a large collection. As an example, let’s say you insert the keyword ‘Dog’ for every picture that includes a dog. In the future, if you ever want to find all your pictures that have a dog in them, you just have to do a simple search for the keyword “Dog”. You can have as many different keywords as you want for any picture file, but keywords should be separated by a semicolon. Also, a keyword can contain spaces (‘Disney World’ could be used as a keyword/tag). The key (pun intended) to using keywords/tags is to plan ahead of time how you might want to search for your photos in the future and stick to a well regimented set of specific keywords. Photo management software such as Lightroom and Zoner Photo Studio do an excellent job in managing keywords. I haven’t used Picasa in a long time so I’m not sure about it’s capabilities.

One you’ve taken the time to enter your metadata (Caption/Title and Keywords/Tags) into the picture file, it becomes a permanent part of the file. If you make a copy of the file to give to someone else, the metadata goes with it so future generations will always have the benefit of your hard work.


Thanks Dave for your great response. I too think of it like the back of the photo where i’d write everyone’s name for posterity smile. So I just went into the properties of the picture (in Windows Explorer) and saw the Title area and the Tags area. Thank you for your wonderful examples of the 2. So now a couple questions come to mind:

1) If I put in the title peoples names (aka what I’d write on the back of a photograph) can I search by that. So if I want to see all pictures of Joe Smith will that come up or is the search only for the tags.

2) is there a most efficient way to change all the metadata? I have to look into that Lightroom program that everyone talks about… But right now I’ve been changing all of the “file names” as I mentioned above to “2014-09-19 – Ryan’s baseball game” and I have all events in separate folders for the most part so it’s been easier to batch rename all of the IMG2726 file names to whatever date and event they were. But even that’s been taking a looooooooong time to get through. I’m thinking to “title” and “tag” each individual picture with peoples names and keywords would take forever because I have to go into each individual pictures properties to do so. Just wondering if there’s an easier way to get to that metadata so it’s all easier to enter.


Yes, you can search the Caption/Title field. In Windows, just go to the folder that contains your photos and in the search field (top right) type in “Joe Smith” and it will bring up all the photos that contain Joe Smith in any of the fields. Of course photo management software, such as Lightroom or Zoner Photo Studio will make it easier to find specific pictures. While Windows Explorer searches all the metadata fields, these other programs let you search by any field individually and you can set up sophisticated search schemes. You can also edit your metadata more easily in these photo management programs. For instance, you can select every photo that includes Joe Smith in the picture and then add ‘Joe Smith’ to the keywords/tags for all these photos at once.

FYI, when using Windows Explorer to work with photos, it’s easiest when the Details Pane is visible on the right. If it’s not showing, just press Alt-Shift-P to display it (in Windows 8.1 at least). This will display the title and tag fields for any photo so you don’t have to go into properties to edit them.

I use Adobe Lightroom as my main photo management app. Although it’s rather expensive, it does a lot in both managing a photo collection as well as in tweeking photos to look their best. It took me a while to feel comfortable with it and I found a book by Victoria Bampton, Lightroom the missing FAQ, was very helpful in getting me up to speed. Now it feels like an old friend. I also own Zoner Photo Studio, which can do most of what Lightroom does for less money and has gotten good reviews. I never spent enough time with it to feel as comfortable as I do with Lightroom though.


Thanks Dave. Sorry for being a pain. One more question. Since I don’t have Lightroom yet (and especially if it’s expensive and I can’t get it for a bit), if I take the time to do all the titles and people naming and tags in Windows Explorer, when/if I do get Lightroom will all that info transfer to that program or will I have to do it again?


The metadata fields are all standardized. Once you enter the data into the jpeg or tiff file, it will be available to any program that can read the metadata, including LIghtroom. The only thing that I’ve found confusing is that different software programs may refer to the the same metadata by a different name. For instance, when you enter data into the Title field using Windows Explorer, it will be displayed in the Caption field in Lightroom.

So the work you do today will carry over into the future, whatever software you end up using.


Ok now I feel like I’m doing redundancy —

Filename – 2014-03-22 – Beach
Title – 2014-03-22 – Name of Beach – people in picture (if there are any)
Tags – Beach, name of Beach



The answer is yes and no. The information you include in the filename is helpful whenever you want to browse through a directory of filenames. It lets you quickly recognize what the picture is without having to actually view it. Starting with the date in the format you are using lets you quickly sort pictures chronologically in almost all photo viewing software.

Having the date in the Caption/Title may be somewhat redundant, but there is nothing wrong with it. Since viewing software often can display the Caption/Title when looking at the picture, it will easily let you see the date. There is a specific metadata field for the date the image was taken. This is automatically filled in with most digital cameras. If you are scanning old photos, you will need to fill this date in manually.

Tags/Keywords is a different story. If you want to retrieve photos based on specific tags, then you should place your desired tags in the tags/keywords field, separated by a semicolon. You should do this even if that information appears elsewhere. That way you know your tag searches will always be accurate. You won’t have to depend on generalized metadata searches.


Ok Dave I got lightroom. I’m trying to understand it all. So there’s a Title field and a Caption field in Lightroom. Do you use both?

Filename – 2014-03-22 – Beach
Title – 2014-03-22 – Name of Beach?
Caption: people in picture (if there are any)??
Tags – Beach, name of Beach:

Sorry I know I’m being anal I just don’t want to keep doing it over and over. It takes sooooo long


Stacy, I personally don’t enter anything into the Lightroom Title field. This doesn’t mean that you should or shouldn’t. It all depends on how you will be accessing and using this data in the future. The topic of metadata is rather complex, since the fields available have their origins from several different sources – EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format), IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council), and most recently
XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform). There is occasional overlap of the information contained within these various metadata fields. Let me tell you what I do to give you an example, and then you can modify it to suit your specific needs.

I rename all my photos so they at least begin with the date (1945-12-25 …). If I don’t know the date, I’ll make my best extimate for the year and add an “e” after it so I know it was an estimated year (1938e, or 1938-10e if I know the year but am not sure of the month). For old scanned photos, I’ll also include the Location (ex. Beach, Grams house), Event (ex. Jeff Graduation), and relevant people (ex. Joe Smith, Jeff’s friends) if any of these are pertinent to the photo. No need to get very specific in the file name, because you can add any details when you write the caption. My scanning software will automatically number each scan sequentially. I keep that scan number at the end of the file name. This allows me to have multiple files with the same name, as is often the case when scanning a batch of pictures. They’ll just end with a different sequence number. I do all this renaming in Windows Explorer because I find this the fastest. The primary benefit of this detailed renaming is in organizing your photos after importing them into Lightroom and also to aid anyone who receives a copy of the file. Also, I find it easiest to now change the Date Taken to a more correct value using Windows Explorer in the Details Pane. You can also do this later after importing into Lightroom (top toolbar, Metadata; Edit Capture Time…), but it takes more steps.

When I scan, I try to scan a batch of photos from the same source, such as photos that came from my Mom’s collection or photos from my wife’s Grandmother’s collection. When I import them into Lightroom, I have Lightroom automatically add the source name into the ‘Source’ field. That way I always know the origin of a particular photograph. Along the same line, I will have Lightroom automatically put my name in the IPTC Creator field and if you want to get fancy, you can include other info here, like Creator Job Title of “Scanner and archivist”. That way future generations will know who to thank for all this digitization work smile

Once the photos are imported into Lightroom, I will add a Caption. Here I add as much detail as I know, including the names of everyone prominent in the photo. If there was anything written on the back of the photograph, I’ll include that here as well with the notation, From Back: ” … “. I try to add whatever I think might be of interest or helpful for someone exploring their past. As a side note, it’s good to be relatively consistent here when naming things. That way when you search for a particular word or word grouping, you’re more likely to find it. For instance, I can search on “From Back” to find all the photos that had something written on their backs. The reason I use the “Caption” field is that this seems to be a fairly universally utilized field in most photo viewing apps. If you have a favorite photo viewing app that utilizes a different metadata field, such as Title for it’s display, then by all means, enter data into the Title field also.

I’m still learning and tweeking my archival methods as I go along. I haven’t mentioned anything about how I do my keywording. I have tons of pictures left to scan, as well as hundreds of slides to photograph. I’m currently using Lightroom 4, and find it to be a big help. Good luck with your project.


awesome! thanks


Here are some other sources to learn about Lightroom. Scott Kelby books are very helpful for importing and organizing photos in Lightroom, but 3/4 of the books are about editing your photos. Adobe has some free videos that might be helpful: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/tutorials.html. Another one is Lynda.com. Some public libraries have subscriptions to Lynda.com, and if you are a member of the library, you can access the classes using your library card. The Lightroom CC Essential Training (2015) class looks like it would be very helpful, especially the first few sections about importing and the catalog.
One thing some first time users get confused about with Lightroom is the catalog. They think their photos are copied into the catalog when they import them. During import the catalog builds an entry for the photo that contains the file name, file path, metadata, and other information. The photos stay on your external drive. Once the photos have been imported into Lightroom it is important that any file renames or movement of photos should be done within Lightroom. If you rename the name of a photo in Lightroom, it will also rename the photo on your external hard drive, and likewise if you move a photo in Lightroom, it will move the photo on your hard drive. If you do any of these actions outside Lightroom, it will lose track of the photo. It has tools to relink to the photo, but if you don’t notice that Lightroom has lost track of a photo until months later, it could take some time to relink to it.
I hope this is of some help.



Thanks, this information will in handy when uploading thousands of pictures of my dog.


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