Directory Structure

The folder structure on your hard drive is a fundamental part of your file organization.

What is directory structure?
Purpose of the directory structure

What is directory structure?

The directory structure is the organization of files into a hierarchy of folders. It should be stable and scalable; it should not fundamentally change, only be added to. Computers have used the folder metaphor for decades as a way to help users keep track of where something can be found.

Folders are very limited as an organizational structure, however. There must be one top-level organizational construct, which can only be subdivided in a limited way before the system becomes too cumbersome and breaks down. Which is 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; however, folders provide an ideal tool for managing the data itself. We suggest you should use folders principally for storage, rather than for organization.

By storage, we mean containing the images, putting them away, moving them around, and other handling issues, distinct from the organization of the images that is best accomplished by using metadata.

In the physical world, storage and organizational structure are often inseparable. In the digital world, we are not so constrained. We’ll see how you can use folders in a simple, straightforward way to stack files up so that you can back them up, validate them, and restore them in the event of a problem.

This does not mean that folder naming is irrelevant as a content-organizing tool; it means that content organizing is a secondary job.

Purpose of the directory structure

Although catalog software is often the best way, a directory structure can be used to keep track of camera originals, copies and derivatives.

The dpBestflow® recommendation is to separate camera originals, whether they are camera raw, or original JPEG, from any copies or derivative files.

Possible exceptions:

  • Some may choose to either replace proprietary raw with DNG, or
  • Convert to DNG with the proprietary raw files embedded in them. Consequently, they may feel secure in eliminating the original proprietary raw files.

Why archive the original captures or converted DNGs, with or without the original raw files? To maintain file integrity and avoid accidental deletions.

It is best practice to put camera originals away once and treat that portion of your archive as “read-only”. Write-once optical media (CD, DVD, Blu-ray) fits this criterion. However it can be more cumbersome and time consuming (storing and properly labeling optical media) compared to hard drives for image retrieval.

Hard drives make image retrieval quick and easy, but it is also easy to delete or overwrite image files unless you have procedures and safeguards in place.

Keeping original image files separate from derivatives is one such safeguard. A good plan is to determine all the categories of derivative files you normally generate and then create a folder structure to accommodate them.

Examples of these categories could be:

  • Camera originals
  • DNG
  • Web galleries or proofs
  • Master files
  • Derivative files
  • Delivery files

organized by file type Figure 1The directory structure shown here organizes by file type, which is easier to catalog, back up, and migrate.

Not only does this method protect camera originals from constant updating of derivative files, it makes cataloging the archive much easier. The catalog program can auto-update watched folders without adding proofs or other categories to the catalog, and it makes it easier to search for originals, master files, or delivery files separately.

Another consideration is when it comes time to migrate the image data, having the different types of files stored separately can make that process easier.

It is likely that proprietary raw files will need to be migrated to another file format on a different schedule from JPEG or TIFF formats. Segregating them from derivative files will make that process easier to automate.

organized by job Figure 2 This directory structure is organized in more of a job or project basis — storing all files related to that project in one folder.

We recognize that there are some workflows where it makes perfect sense to organize your directory structure in a job or project basis — storing all files related to that project in one folder.

Wedding photography might be one such workflow type. The logic is that the wedding files are worked on intensely for a relatively brief period, and then seldom revisited once all the photos and prints have been delivered. Keeping each wedding project categorized by folder name and date will keep all the image files, from original captures to proofs to final prints all in one place, and that place is easily found.

Art photographers may find this form of directory structure organization works for them as well.

While there are different schools of thought on the best way to create a workable folder hierarchy, the most important aspects to consider are to build a system that meets your needs and one that you will follow. Folder hierarchy needs to match how your brain works. This is critical to ensure you follow your rules and maintain an effective folder structure and system for organizing your work.

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Last Updated September 22, 2015