Building a media archive of pictures and video clips

Last modified 16.02.2022 | Published 09.10.2012Media articles

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I was building a media archive. It was not tricky to include content from my digital photo cameras on a digital platform. It’s basically about saving them to a disk. But how do you organise them? At an early stage I set up an archive based on chronology.


Key elements of the archive

These are the key elements of the system I set up

  • I name a file by year, month and a sequence number, like this 2001-03_001. (Only a few months have enough files to force four-digit sequence numbers.)
  • I put the file inside a folder called “2001-03 March”. The “March” suffix is superfluous as it is covered by the “03” number, but make visual search and reading easier.
  • All twelve month folders of a particular year are placed in a mother folder called “2001”.
  • This folder is placed in a grandmother folder called “2000’s”, or “1980s” etc.
  • My top folder level is simply called “My photos and videos”.

I make no difference between photos and videos. They are placed in the same folders and numbered in sequence based on date and time taken. There are few deviations to this system. As discussed in my geotagging article this solution puts a heavy burden on getting the date and time correct.


Windows Explorer Screenshot

The folder structure for a year (month names in Norwegian)


What do others do?

Most people seem to put their media files into folders given a meaningful title at the time, like “Summer vacation in Spain”. I find that impossible to use given large quantities of photos. You will have your archive growing over your head, as illustrated here.

Currently (October, 2012) my media library consists of 27,871 picture files and 7,533 video clips lasting 62 hours.


Windows Explorer Screenshot

Image files (photos and video clips) renamed according to date and a sequence number. “Tittel” and “Koder” are EXIF tags.


More organising issues

My archive is simply the file and folder system of Windows Explorer. In addition I make use of Google’s Picasa. It works fine with my system of managed folders and has the added effect of communicating with my Picasa Web Albums.

I use EXIF fields very actively. (EXIF fields are information about a photo stored inside a photo file.) I pay particular attention to making these fields accurate:

  • Title: Giving a short description of the file. I used to write that in the Comment field, but that is a Windows proprietary solution and only the Title field gives you proper access to this EXIF feature across platforms.
  • Date taken: I even correct the date taken on scanned photos and photos I have copied from others. I always make sure to have my own cameras synchronized but not everyone else seems to take this seriously. Correcting the date on an old photo is easy if you have a good diary (like the pictures from this trip many years ago) or other tools to help you remember.
  • Geographical location (geotag): This is discussed in a separate post: “The art of geotagging“.


Renaming media files

My key to archiving media means that four pictures can follow a video clip in a numbered sequence. It is no easy task to make sure they do, and I will try to explain why.

As I noted in another article discussing how camcorder producers work against their customers, date is a feature that is often misleading on imported video files. The date shows the date of import (change) instead of date taken.

If you want to sort photo and video files in a sequence to perform a manual renaming of them, you have a problem because it’s time consuming. If you want to run an automatic job you have a problem finding the right software.

The Windows renaming tool renders separate numbering for photos and videos, and does not handle two digit numbers properly.

In short I have failed to find a good software tool satisfying my needs.

Previously I used to employ a version of FotoStation Easy that came bundled with one of my Nikon Coolpix cameras years ago. That program was my best companion for years and although it is old, it still works perfect in renaming a whole bunch of files. If I select two hundred files in a folder and name the first “2012-05_001” the rest will be given incremental numbering of “2012-05_002”, “2012-05_003” and so on.

The problem is that it relies a lot on having the media files selected in a sorted order. That is now almost impossible given the imported video files. My solution has been to sort photos and videos in Windows Explorer by date and rename them “001”, “002” and so on, manually. When that first step is over I can use FotoStation Easy for a final batch renaming, adding the year and month.



It may be that I’m doing this in a cumbersome way, but it works. On the other hand I will not stop looking for a tool being able to rename all my media files automatically. The number of files is growing by the thousands a year, so I would be happy to find reliable software.

There is no going back to the time of photo prints on paper and photo albums. There was a charm about the old albums but you will have to rethink it and find new ways of enjoying your media. Why not on a large TV screen, mixing photos and video?


Further reading

I am discussing the tremendous task of creating a digital collection of media in a series of articles.