Working with Camera Image Files & Folders


Aug 3, 2020
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Working with Image Files & Folders

I've seen it a thousand times. Since the idea of buying and processing film has fallen by the wayside, taking tons and tons of digital photos has become very common. Especially for beginners. Well, I suppose advanced photographers do this as well, but I've seen it occur mostly with beginners. The reason for this is because beginners are learning and because taking as many photos as possible is essentially free after the purchase of the camera. Let me be clear - there's absolutely nothing wrong with filling up your data cards with pictures of anything and everything. Before you do that though, you should learn what's happening behind the scenes and how you can organize your files so they're easy to locate and navigate. That's what I'll be discussing in this post.


If you visit the Image Quality settings panel in the Menu area of your camera, you'll find that you've got quite a few options to choose from. You can choose to capture JPEG images of a certain quality, RAW images, or both. Personally, I don't think there's any JPEG photo quality that's worth capturing besides the highest one (large). As for the medium and small options, I don't even know why they're there. Those options are available though, so if you'd like to use them, it's up to you.

The big questions is, should I shoot in JPEG or RAW mode? Well, to answer that question, you'll need to explore your goals. Will you be publishing your photos strictly on the web? Then JPEG is a good option. Will you be printing no larger than 8 1/2" x 11" prints? Then JPEG is a good option. Do you have a RAW conversion piece of software? If not, then JPEG is a good option. Can you even view RAW files on your computer? If not, then JPEG is a good option. Basically, for most situations out there, shooting in the highest quality JPEG option is a great idea. The files are going to generally range from 5MB to 10MB in size, which is great because they won't take up too much room on your data card. Also, when it comes to JPEGs, the camera does a lot of compression and editing work for you. It applies the white balance and color saturation and you won't really need to do a lot after that. Yes, you'll need to edit your images in Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom, and/or Photoshop, but that's only if they're for something special. Many photos in JPEG mode are great right out of the camera.

I was hooked on RAW images for a long while. For professionals, they're the only option. They're of the highest quality, they've got the most post-processing potential, and they can print very large prints. The problem is, the file sizes if these things are huge. The last I looked, I had a very RAW files that were between 30MB and 50MB sitting in a folder on my computer. For me, a person who prints sporadically and takes photos mainly for the web, that was a waste of hard drive space.

When trying to choose between JPEG and RAW files, just remember this: yes, JPEGS are of a lower quality and data is lost during the compression process that goes on inside the camera. But, most people will likely never see that lower quality because so many of us publish in the web. And I have to say, today's JPEGs look rather marvelous. Also, to edit RAW files, you'll need Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom, Photoshop, or a similarly capable application. If you're just starting out, this may be problematic. So really, save some space and stick with JPEG files if you're new. As you get more seriously into photography, you may decide to move into RAW mode to take advantage of its superior editing and printing options

File Names & Folders

I'd like to take a quick second here to talk about file names (pictures) and how folders on your camera's data card work. These things can be kind of confusing in the beginning.

When it comes to how your camera names each photo you take, it generally goes like this: there will be up to a four digit prefix followed by a consecutive number. My Canon T7i names my images like this: _MG_1234, but I've seen other cameras name their files something like this: IMGP_1234. No matter the convention, it'll be logical. Each image will have a number attached to it and those number will go in order. They'll start at 0001 and go all the way to 9999 and then those numbers will start over again. Just be aware, once you download the files from your camera to your computer, you can name them anything you want. You don't need to stick with your camera's naming convention.

Every photo you take will be stored inside of a folder that's held on your data card. Generally, this folder will have a name with a prefix and then normal characters. As for my T7i, when I attach my camera to my computer and then access the data card, I'll see two primary folders. One is named DCIM and the other MISC. The photos I take are held inside the DCIM folder. When I access that folder, I see another one called 100CANON. If I click into that folder, I'll see the photos I've taken, no matter if they're JPEG or RAW. The images that are held inside this file go from, again, 0001 to 9999. Once that top limit is reached, the camera will automatically create a new folder. In my case, that will be named 101CANON. That will continue as long as I let it. Also be aware that you can create your own folders on your memory card, but you'll need to follow the convention for your own camera.

Storing Photos on Your Computer

The topic of storage is pretty huge, so I'll discuss that in more detail later on. For now, let me say that how you store and organize all of your photos on your computer is of the utmost importance. I suggest you use a file organization application such as Adobe Bridge to keep things in check. Programs like this are instrumental for staying sane while attempting to locate images from long ago.

If you recall from directly above, I said that your camera will name your images with numbers from 0001 to 9999. If you were to transfer all of those images to one folder on your computer, you'd have a big messy pile of files. And once your camera began repeating names, you'd have an even bigger mess because you'd have many duplicates that want to write over one another. A better way is to create a bunch of descriptive folders on your computer by either date or topic and then transfer your images into them. Also, give these downloaded files naming conventions of their own. Adobe Bridge handles all of this with ease. You can even add keywords to each image if you wish. These keywords are used in the internal search of Bridge. And by all means, don't keep every single shot you've ever taken. As soon as you transfer them to your computer, keep the good ones and delete the bad. Keeping too many files will drive you nuts.

Okay, that's all I've got for today. Again, if you have any questions, please ask.
Working with Camera Image Files & Folders was posted on 01-13-2021 by WendyMay in the Photography Forum forum.

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