Greetings Chromacomers, after a few recent requests regarding how to organise one's work, (especially with regards to film shooting) I have decided to address the issue this month by sharing how I do it. It seems pertinent as a post at the closing stages of another year, a good time to get organised. Perhaps your system is better than this but I have found my way of working to be solid and reliable year upon year and certainly worthy of consideration for those who might find themselves getting too swamped in a mess of negs, scans and prints.
As the old adage would have us believe, in life you must choose between one of two kinds of pain: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference of course being that the pain of discipline is only measured in ounces whereas the pain of regret can be weighed in tons. I'm making an appalling butchery of it I'm sure but if you'll excuse the paraphrasing, it at least goes something like that. I think this is highly applicable to getting on top of storing and sorting your photographic work and all the media it is on (analogue or otherwise) and that those without the discipline to have some kind of efficiency to it all are on a surefire trip to Regretsville further down the line.
To be even clearer about this month's post: I am aiming this at you if you are an a film shooter who develops your own film and scans at home, a film shooter who also shoots some digital and has a load of developed films stuffed away in a drawer or two or a film shooter who never does any developing or scanning of your own but you just have all the negs and prints slowly gathering in weight and size somewhere all willy-nilly without any kind of properly sorted system.
My solution, and it really does work well for me, is the old 'five numbers' approach. As with any system, it has its flaws and is not 100% perfect but for me and what I want (and I suspect many of you too) this has served me well for many, many years and I see no reason to change.
Here's how I work: After I develop my own films, I scan them using my own preferred system and equipment at home (no time to get into the specifics of that for today's post), I like to do this a few hours after the dev work is done to allow the emulsions on the film to toughen up a bit but it's hot and humid here in Bangkok and the films dry straight and wonderfully flat with a tough finish in a short space of time, things may be different in your locale. I then do my post processing to get the images looking how I want them, this step is of course highly subjective and so I won't comment further on that for this post. I store them into proper film negative sleeves (in recent years I have used the brand 'Matin' from Korea whose sheets I really like in both 120 and 35mm) and on the very top of each clear plastic sleeve, I write a five digit number in a permanent marker (or 'Sharpie' as they seem to be known to many). The first two digits will always be the year, the last three digits are always the roll order number for that film within the current year from 0-999. I have never yet had a year where I have shot more than 999 rolls so that is just fine for me but I suspect that busy 80's and early 90's fashion photographers with high speed cameras like Nikon F5's might have gone over that as I know they often used dozens of rolls for a single studio shoot. So, for example, a roll might say 18235 and that would be the two hundred and thirty fifth roll shot in the year 2018. If it sounds simple, it's because it is. This plastic neg holder sheet is also the analogue central information pillar of the system as a hard copy, around the sides of this sheet I also write make small but clear notes with the same pen about the camera, the lens (es) and the place/subject plus quick notes about how it was devved such as times and chemicals and any other salient observations (such as 'the fixer seems to be going off a touch here and these negs are not the usual steely grey, must use fresh chems for stop and fixer on the next roll' etc). If I have or had two of the same camera at that time, I might also make clear notes about exactly which one this was so as to be able to distinguish between them in case of issues in the work or help in highlighting something like an intermittent equipment failure down the line. It's also a great way to really test a new (old) film camera against other already trusted equipment and keep track of such information.
For all of these negs in their sheets, I use nothing fancy to hold them in, just a bog standard, common or garden ring binder/folder of the largest size you will find in any standard stationery store. In a good year, I will have several of these such folders absolutely bursting with negs sheets by December time. Once you have about 50-100 sheets, it's a good idea to just get a second or third folder for that given year. For some years I have had as many as five or six jam packed ring binders or as little as one. I am a firm believer in NOT trying to separate colour work from black and white or other film types and sizes by folder. Just put everything in correct order for the year into the SAME ring binder. That's why in my folders for some years you can see 35mm neg sheets back to back with 120 film neg sheets and even a rare appearance of colour positive E6 slides all in proper sheets in order with a five digit number on every sheet for that year.
I sometimes also include a contact sheet either neatly hole punched and inserted before or after the negs sheet, with the same number as its corresponding neg sheet clearly scrawled in large numbers over the top. In a perfect world, I would like to have a contact sheet for every roll but in reality, I only bother with this step sometimes. I find it most useful if the rolls formed part of a dedicated project that I might have been working on at any given time and I would like to double check my 'final selects' a bit more often. There are two kinds of contacts sheet prints that I have in my folders, the first (and rarer) kind are the traditional darkroom contact sheets made in the classic way. The second and much more commonly used version is a simple 'quick and dirty' modern day, hybrid style of contact sheet that works really well for my needs. Indeed, I might elaborate more on this kind of contact sheet in later blog posts.
The digital scans for my film rolls are stored under folders which are simply named with the exact same five numbers, there should be NO OTHER information in the folder name so that it will be stored neatly in order alongside its peers as your database grows. This then goes to two IDENTICAL external hard drives, they are formatted from the get go so as to be equally readable and writeable by both Mac and PC's, I forget the exact system at the time of writing but I think the exFat or FAT32 system is the one I am talking about. I don't know if it slows things down too much for some but I have found that this filesystem is solid and reliable on all kinds of computers that I have plugged it into over the years. The folders are stored as the root level directory, meaning that there is nothing else on the external hard drives except these folders all named with a five digit heading. You don't have to go into subfolders labelled 'my photos' or any other such steps first, just plug it in and there all the five digit folders are in order, I highly recommend not burying them into subfolders at all. It should just be that you plug the HD's into just about any computer and then you see (hopefully or eventually) a long list of folders all in numerical order going back neatly over the years as time goes on. Remember that in terms of IT, the golden rule is that if the data doesn't exist in at least two places at the same time = it doesn't exist at all. In other words if you only have it in one place, you are just waiting for the inevitable and certain disaster that WILL happen one day whereby you lose everything. Every few years, I buy two new hard drives and migrate all of the folders neatly over before either retiring the older ones or using them for less critical roles. For added bonus points on the safety front, it's also not a bad idea to have each of these HD's stores slightly apart from one another rather than both right next to each other. That way if there's a fire, a meltdown or a large cup of spilt coffee on one of them, it doesn't automatically ruin the other. You could also use cloud storage of course and this is one option that causes some split in opinions. I think one off putting aspect with the cloud (apart from the usual security issues) is the massive initial upload time it would require if you have been shooting for years and never put anything on a cloud platform, it could take several weeks or more for a good sized collection of stuff to be correctly uploaded. For the really anal, a third HD backed up and kept at another house (perhaps of another family member) which gets a six monthly update would be an uber safe route down which to travel.
I mentioned that the film negs in the plastic sleeves are the pillar of the system and I always continue to prefer that way of looking at it. If I find stuff on the digital system that interests me or I am confused by anything, I simply go and pull out the corresponding number's negative sheet and look at the negs and the notes I made on them during the initial processing and storing stage. This is why it's really a great idea to make the notes on the sleeves there and then as your memory of what you just did will be as fresh as the negs themselves and this will always be the best info you have, and often include all the clues and extra info that can prove highly pertinent down the line. I never include any such notes in the digital folders anywhere but I suppose you could also do that. I'm trying to keep the number of steps in the process reduced in number, let's face it...analogue and hybrid film and digital workflows are already pretty long and drawn out enough as they are.
Any digital camera shoots that I do can also be stored into a folder for the year, with the (imaginary) 'roll' number fitting in between the film roll numbers for the year. The digital shots (usually likely to be greater in number than say 36 exposures in an analogue shoot) can still be kept inside these folders. Of course, they will have loads of additional metadata in the files anyway and so I don't need to make notes for these on a sleeve or piece of paper in a folder anywhere, it's just nice to have them in a folder, in the correct order alongside the stuff that is film based. I don't shoot with a digital camera very often but it makes sense to follow the same protocol regardless.
The final analogue output stage for me might be either a real darkroom (optical) print or a print made from a scan, the hybrid workflow version as it were. I store these neatly away from the negs, often with sheets of paper between prints to hopefully reduce any sticking together. This is where a humid climate is perhaps not the best. I really do encourage you to make prints of your work, at least two or three times a year. People simply don't do that enough these days. For me I do it maybe twice a year but in big blocks, I choose the best stuff every six months or so and then either make prints from the negs themselves or have them printed from the finished scan files using a hybrid workflow.
The joy of having the negs all neatly processed and properly stored of course is that you are free to revisit them and rescan anytime you like, both now and many, many decades into the future! In case you are wondering, I don't put any time into cataloguing my database into any software, such as anything Adobe or Iphoto or any other such app. I did this years ago but I always found that it usually ends up going the same way: basically they either update the programme to work in a way that I no longer like or the app goes out of date, isn't supported, gets orphaned off or everybody migrates to some other thing etc. I simply can't be bothered spending my time painstakingly keywording everything and setting up perfect little folders to have it all go the way of the dodo a few years later. Sure, when you have such a system working well, it is much better than my primitive folders only system and it really excels in quickly locating only those shots you search for by keyword based on a certain camera, lens or subject matter and location. However, my system is super stable, not much to worry about in terms of forwards and backwards compatibility (especially when you get new hardware) and works on any computer system including PC. Mac and Linux equally well. I also never worry about the lack of keyword searching as I have found that I can usually guess the year (and which part of that year) fairly well as a starting point for the shots that I'm looking for and so I am often pretty close to begin with and then it only takes me a few minutes of sniffing at the most to find the exact neg I want. Sure, once in a blue moon I get stumped or tricked by my recollection of what camera I had used where or two similar rolls shot at the same place but during different months but honestly, it works well enough for my needs and has proved to be very robust and drama/headache free.
Anyway, that is how it is done at Chromacoma HQ, how about you?