The Importance of Naming Digital Files.

Article Dedication

in Honor of

Art Kane & John G. Morris


Taken in part from my forthcoming artists’ book:

Presenting Photography to Curators and Museums

I never used to name my photos until I started to deal with museums. When you are discussing museum acquisitions, it is much easier to relate to photographs that have a name that means something as opposed to photos that are named Untitled #1, Untitled #2, Untitled #3, Untitled #6, Untitled #9, Untitled #11….Untitled #37. My advice…make it easy for the Curator, Head Curator, Deputy Director, Director, Acquisition Committee, Board of Directors and Registrar to deal with the acquisition and execute a purchase agreement or deed of gift.

I do have a few untitled photos, but only about 3 of them.

Untitiled no.1 copyright 1971 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

Los Angeles, CA 1971  Untitled No.1  by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

Beside museums placements, there is another benefit of naming you photographs if you use your work is on the net. Now, the anal, stingy photogs that are soooo worried someone will download a low-res image of there pix and maybe make a 5 x 7 print without paying them will never go for my technique.

Well, let me tell you something. In 2001 a flood destroyed over 2 decades of my work…all gone.

Note: Link is dead. Tumblr banned me in 2019 and shut down all 48 of my websites.

I wish some of the destroyed photos were spread around the internet so I could recover something now.  Cloud storage was not popular back then. I would tell the stingy, anal photogs to be more worried about their photos dying with them than being worried that their photos are being enjoyed by others.  Of course, this is all a matter of personal opinion – we are all free to do as we like…be stingy, tight and anal or be open and relaxed.

I discuss two ways artists are gratified here:

If you are of a less anal nature and like your work used wherever it can be usefully used and enjoyed, then what I will present here will help you out with getting credit where credit is due as well as give you a bigger recognizable internet presence. (And for those photogs that think their cloud storage will fix all their woes; as soon as you are in arrears for 30 days the cloud starts to delete your photos. Same with a website that is in arrears…it goes poof!)

It is important that you name the files in a way that identifies you if when someone wants to find out who shot the picture. As an added benefit, naming your files help with image searches related to your name.

If you can’t come up with individual names, you can use the image serial number and project name such as

DSCF4184 Selection from De Wallen 2014 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

DSCF4184 Selection from De Wallen 2014 Daniel D. Teoli Jr. mr

Names can also explain a photograph or give some added details to it.

Display of Postcards Amsterdam copyright 2014 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

Display of Postcards Amsterdam 2014 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

Download this photo and what do you get for a file name?


Here is a photo by Michel Folco called Friday, 31 August 1979.

Note: Link is dead. Tumblr banned me in 2019 and shut down all 48 of my websites.

The title of the pix tells you no backstory. I think a better title to follow the image could have been:

‘He bought the shotgun with his first paycheck and was showing off to his friends.’

If you can use Lightroom you can imbed copyright information, tags and all the details you like.  Bottom line, if someone wants to strip the information they will. I prefer to use the ‘shotgun approach’ I have developed for ID’ing my photos. I found it works fine for me so I don’t have to depend on just LR’s metadata.

If the photo in question has been around the web for a while there are always a few copies of the photo that retains the file name and information. And if all copies on the net are stripped of identifying information, a Google image search will still bring the investigator back to one of my websites.

Now, I don’t have one website…I have a number of websites. Each of my websites do not use the same photos. But there are cases where the same photos are used on 8 to 10 of the websites.

Do a Google image search for Hakenkreuz in a Dress

My photo pops up first thing.

Hakenkreuz in a Dress copyright 1973 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

An American Nazi in her bedroom Los Angeles, 1973 – photo is not staged.

If you download the photo here you will get hakenkreuz-in-a-dress-copyright-1973-daniel-d-teoli-jr. as the file name.  If you download the same image on  Tumblr you get tumblr_n52kxgOhye1tampwso1_540 as the file name.

It does not matter if Tumblr removed the file name. An image search on Google will produce 9 other versions of the photo. The 9 other versions have my identifying information on the file.

When I send out prints of Hakenkreuz in a Dress the description printed on the back is: ‘An American Nazi in her bedroom Los Angeles, 1973 – photo is not staged .’ I did a poll on the photo at a photo forum that has subsequently banned me.  For some reason the subject came up and they someone thought I staged it. So I figured I’d better poll the people to see if that was a common opinion. A majority of the sunset shooting camera fondlers on the photo forum thought I staged it! (I can’t remember, maybe 65% or so thought it was staged.) So you need to get all the info you can down as one day when we kick off there will be no one left to give the details.

Some photogs use watermarks. When I first made the transition from film to digital I used watermarks . Then I gave up on the practice. If you Google my name and see the images connected with my name I’m sure you will agree…my images are not easily confused with other photogs images. More important, a simple internet search will always lead the investigator back to me if there is a question of authorship.

When someone Google’s your name, only your best images and projects should show up. When a curator looks up your name, you don’t want them to see your non-professional work. Or worse…junk from other photographers mixed in that could be mistaken for your work.

Don’t make the mistake that many photographers do by diluting a portfolio with lots of garbage and personal photos. They will have 20 versions of a so-so photo on Flickr. Just pick one photo. It looks like the photographer doesn’t know what they are doing. It looks like they are using the ‘shotgun approach’ in away that is hurting them, saying “Here, I don’t know if any of these are any good…you pick.”

Now, if your goal is to get ‘likes’ and ‘thumbs up’ then none of this matters. But if you aspire to be above that, if you’re serious about getting your work in museums and public collections – then what you present professionally matters a great deal.

Also be careful where you leave online comments if you’re using your real name online or an account that is connected with your name. While it is nice to encourage upcoming photogs, the other person’s photos will show up on your image and web search. I don’t want their pix showing up on a search of my name. So, I had to stop that practice.

Here is an example. I left a comment on a blog and now his photo shows up on an image search for my name. (See photo circled in green.)

Image Search 2015 Daniel D. Teoli Jr. mr

                                         Click on photo to enlarge

I like his photo and it is not a hardship on me to have his image show up in my search, still it confuses things. Even worse, I don’t want an image search of my name to show up lots of bad work that is not mine and dilutes my portfolio. It also works the same if you have your images used by others. Their images can show up in an image search for you and your images.

I made the mistake of putting some of my lower end photos on Wiki Commons. Someone used it and did a bad job on exposure and now it shows up in an image search of my name. (See the photo circled in red.) Same with another person that chopped up one of my photos. The butchered photo shows up in my search.

This is what the photo circled in red should look like.

Steeplechase Copyright 2005 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

You want to keep a body of work focused and not all over the place…be consistent. My work in over 130 museums and curated collections around the world. When a curator looks up my name I don’t want them to have to sift through lots of junk and be turned off. So keep a clean and focused profile with Google, Bing, AVG and Yahoo.

If you don’t have focused portfolios, make them. I have 45+ Tumblrs.  Every project gets a Tumblr of its own. Some photogs on Flickr have hundreds of pages of pix and no focused portfolio. You will lose a curator right there. No one is going to spend half a day looking through your work. A focused portfolio is a must.

You should be Goggling your name every week and looking at the images and searches connected with your name. If you don’t like what you see…change your M.O. Also have a complete BIO or CV easily available on the net. Don’t make the curators work too hard. A search of my name produces my bio first thing.

Note: Link is dead. Tumblr banned me in 2019 and shut down all 48 of my websites.

I see some websites where the photog was trying to be cute by designing an artsy website. Some of them are very tough to navigate though and are soooo slow. I just give up after a short time before I move on. No shortage of photog websites out there to view. Make it easy for curators to like your work. No one cares about your cute website if it does not work.

Some photographers like to do testing or illustrated tutorials online. In the beginning I used any old photo for the tests. Like clockwork the low end test photos started to show up in my search results. So, if I do any testing that is connected to my name I use decent photos now or I post results anonymously if I don’t want the photos to come up in my search results.

'Left Silver Gelatin Print - Right Hahnemuehle Ink Jet Print' Copyright 2013 Daniel Teoli Jr.

A comparison test of a silver gelatin print versus an inkjet print.

Left vintage silver gelatin print on Agfa Brovira paper 1972. Right inkjet print on Hahnemühle Ultra Smooth Matte paper 2012.

Edit: 10.27.20

I wrote this post many years ago. Since I wrote it, my online photo presence  has expanded a lot. I am not so strict about not using my name when leaving comments on other’s blogs. If things get mixed up a little I can live with it. I have made entry in many institutions, so I am not as much a stickler for not mixing up my online presence as I used to be when starting out with museum placements.

I also went back to using small watermarks on some things. Mainly in the Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Archival Collection. I use them for advertising and the historical record; to show there was such an Archive at one time. I started this policy after the Internet Archive banned me after 6 years volunteering for them.

Here are the details…

The Internet Archive turned out to be not very archival – Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Archival Collection (

Daniel D.Teoli Jr. Archival Collection
Daniel D.Teoli Jr. Small Gauge Film Archive
Daniel D.Teoli Jr. Advertising Archive
Daniel D.Teoli Jr. VHS Video Archive
Daniel D.Teoli Jr. Audio Archive
Daniel D.Teoli Jr. Social Documentary Photography


De Wallen Graffiti copyright 2014 Daniel D. Teoli Jr.