three things are certain...death, taxes and lost data. Guess which has occurred? - david dixon

Fortunately, for me, only two of the three have occurred. Sadly, the lost data has happened twice. Both were early in my career, and both caused so much anxiety and stress I didn't sleep well for days. I can honestly say that one I still think about to this day. It's physically hurts my heart.

As a self-trained photographer, the one component that had little information available was about HOW to save data. Sure posts were talking about always backing up data, but not naming of files, distribution of files, and additional backup procedures.

Recently I've seen quite a few posts in a local photography group about photographers losing data so I'm going to offer some standard operating practices that ensure data is where it needs to be so you don't have to worry about loss. Ever.


My first essential tip, and this is especially important for new photographers, DO NOT get a camera with only one card slot. You'll indeed spend more money on your initial investment, but I promise you it is vital. My follow-up tip to this is if your budget doesn't allow for that, DO NOT take money from paying clients until you can purchase one. Set aside your coffee shop, wine shop, dining out, or whatever budget item it is that is unnecessary spending into a new camera account. A camera with two slots is important because your second slot is always designated backup. That way you have TWO cards with the same content when you finish the session. More on the TWO to follow.

Stock up on memory cards. SD cards are notoriously easy to damage (the plastic ribs bend) so I suggest only purchasing ribless ones (Sony Tough). Always have extras with you just in case. Make sure you monitor online retailers for their big sales because you can get significant discounts on cards a few times a year. My cameras only take CF Express cards and they are significantly better quality and don't damage as easily, but even they have a lifespan. Put dates on your cards so you know how long you've had them. SD cards have an average lifespan of 10 years but there are no guarantees.

SSD (Solid State Drive). Another important addition to your business is a backup drive during ingest. SSDs are not only faster for saving data, they are also more reliable. Spend the extra money and get a 2 TB SSD. This is another item that can't be overlooked. Your computer WILL run out of space and even if you have room, it needs to be a rule of thumb that when you are ingesting it automatically goes to a secondary location. I don't ingest without an SSD attached to my computer. Ever.

I am a firmer believer that data is ALWAYS in two places. My external DAM (Digital Asset Management) AND a cloud-based system. I use BackBlaze and it continually backs up my desktop and my external storage devices. It's another expense, but part of my business practice is that clients' files are stored for 5 years and I want to be able to fulfill that promise should they ever need it.

Nothing is formatted or deleted until I know, and verify, that my data is in those two places. That is another reason why you need a sufficient number of memory cards. As your business grows you'll get busy and there are times you won't always be able to ingest your cards before your next session. Too often photographers think their data is saved and it's not. DOUBLE CHECK. EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Do not put more than one client's image on one card. Even if it's two families back to back, even if it's a day of mini-sessions. Your client and your ability to deliver images is paramount so treat each card like one client.


Now on to the fun part, organization. My file system is effective and simple. This is for all of my regular photo session clients. For corporate work, structures change drastically because the scope of work is vastly different and usually includes file distribution for sponsors, partners, staff/volunteers, celebrity/pro, etc. but for beginners, this is all that you need to be organized from the start.

All of my images are written as GC1, GC2, or GC3 (I renamed them in my camera menu file) depending on which camera body I am shooting on. All of my client's files get renamed when they go into the final folder.

Since we are using a regular client session as the example. those get renamed to the client's last name, year, and original file number (Coleman23-1311.jpg) as shown in the image below. This is done on the images in the final edit batch that will go into the client's final gallery.

Folder: Client Name and Date of Session (Coleman12/23)

  • Raw - this file contains all of the raw images from your session.
  • To Edit - these are the files selected from your raw full take and will be processed and simple edits done (crop, batch adjustments.
  • Preview - these are the initial files I deliver to the client that have a watermark. I do not give clients a big selection of images as their package. That is a waste of time and money. Quality over quantity every single time. My clients are allowed to select a certain number of files from the preview based on the package they purchased for final edits.
  • Final edit - Those images the client selects from the preview
  • Final - These are the files you deliver to the client after the final edits.

All of my client's full folders get stored on the DAM for 5 years. After that, the Client Folder Final is the only item I save. I don't promise that in my contracts, but I still do it.

Ultimately, how you name your files and organize them needs to make sense for you. If a client is seeking an image that someone lost or wants to be printed, I am going to search by their last name and the year to help streamline the search since many of my clients are repeat ones.


Metadata, the information on each image, is key. This shows who took the photos and who owns the photo. For personal use, simple is best. Commercial clients usually require specific wording and SHOULD provide IPTC data for you to import. I personally use Photo Mechanic to write and ingest my files. Some people use Bridge and most use Lightroom. I prefer PM for culling and metadata because it's extremely efficient, but for this blog I'm showing you the Lightroom module since most beginners start out with that.

In your Lightroom Menu:

  • Metadata > Edit Metadata Present > Save
  • The below screen shot is information you need for a simple set up.

This ensures you are identified as the creator should some random image of yours ever be used without your permission.

You can also add keywords to your metadata: Ginnie Coleman Photography, Des Moines Photographer, Professional Sports Photographer, Freelance, Volleyball, get the picture. Anything that comes to mind when someone is searching for an image based on description would be a keyword addition.

final thoughts

File processing isn't the most exciting part of your business, but it is essential and simple methods and steps learned when you first start your career guarantee success now and in the future.