What I Should Have Been Doing All Along (Or, 10 Tips For Organizing Your Film Photography)

When I began shooting 35mm film, in September of 2011, I had no clue what I was getting in to. I just knew, like with writing, I wanted to explore the world, and find stories to share—even if I was the only audience member.

Seven years on and I’m only now getting archival sleeves and a binder for my rolls of film. I’ve lost and rediscovered rolls. I’ve wondered which camera or lens was used when reviewing shots. I’ve even wondered what month or what year a roll is from. These were all things that, when I was photographing, I expected to never forget, and so felt no compulsion to document as well.

Fast forward to now and I dread opening the tub that is the unorganized assortment of film and tools for organizing said film.

So, here are 10 things I should have been doing from the get-go. Mind you, this assumes you’re using a professional photo-lab (hopefully using a Fuji Frontier system), and not Walgreens or Costco to develop your film. (If you’re doing your own black and white at home, the principle still applies, you just need to find your own adaptation of this.)

1. Ask the lab to scan your roll to an index card when you drop it off for development. An index card is a 4x6 print of all the images on the roll. They’re just big enough to not need a loupe for examination, but if you’re going to try and use it like a contact sheet, then you’ll need a loupe. (Although, you can do that in Lightroom I think.)

2. Write all the data about the shots, dates, locations, exposure,
anything, on the front and back of said index card. Cut your film up
into whatever length strips you have (4, 5, or 6 shots per row), and
sleeve them, then punch a hole in the index card with the data and place
it with the sleeved roll of film. Now you have everything together.

4. Organize your binder chronologically. Don’t fret TOO much if you can’t remember if a roll was shot first or second, or if you’re shooting two concurrently, don’t worry about which is first or second, just put them both under the month and forget about it. If it’s easy, then do it. If it’s not, don’t bother. Now you can use your binder as a reference for your digital catalog to make sure everything you have sleeved and indexed you also scanned at the resolution you desire. Furthermore, now, for that digital catalog you have an analog reference to make sure you did indeed use Portra 400 and not Fuji Superia Xtra 400.

5. Don’t buy an old consumer-level film-only scanner. I wasted hours, upon hours, upon hours, trying to learn how to get the largest scans from an old Minolta Scan Dual IV. All the scans came out with a blue layer over them, due to, I think, the scanner not being able to adjust well for the orange backing of the film—or perhaps I didn’t ever quite figure out how to get it set up properly. Anyways, the same money (and time!) I spent on the scanner, could have been spent on a flatbed, or on good, high quality lab scans with Digital ICE (it removes all the little hairs and bullshit).

6. Get your film printed. Print your film. Your film should be printed. You want to have prints from your film. Review your film and get your favorites printed. Say fuck it and print doubles of every frame from every roll you ever shoot. Don’t wait, get your prints printed. Print them on a crappy printer. Print them at CVS. Print them at B&H. Print them at your local lab. Just get your shit printed.  When friends come over, it’s way cooler to hand them a stack of your favorite shots then it is to ask them to sit at your computer and this way you get to avoid the awkward decision making process to determine who actually presses the button to go to the next image. (I always get excited to show people, and then when they’re looking I feel bad and end up pressing the button ahead for them so they don’t have to sit through it, or I relax too much thinking OF COURSE they want to see these photos and they have to politely scroll through each one.)

7. - 10. Ignore everyone who says film is for hipsters. Ignore everyone who asks, “Does your camera work?” Ignore everyone who says, “I’d shoot film, but I want high resolution images.”

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