Exposure: Film Notes on the Go!

If there is one place where the world of digital photography reigns supreme, it would certainly be information.

One need only peek into the Exif data in one's RAW or JPEG files to discover loads of information on the accompanying images, including, but not limted to the date taken and the camera used, as well as the ISO setting, aperture, and shutter speed.

Those last two bits of information can be extraordinarily handy, particularly when putting a new camera through its paces to see what it is capable of.  Aperture is perhaps the most important facet to know, as it gives you a good starting point of knowing the capabilities of a lens regarding peak sharpness, depth of field, and bokeh characteristics.  It is an invaluable piece of data to know when looking at a finished image, so that the photographer can optionally use similar (or different) settings to achieve their desired look in the finished image.

Film however, gives no such information with its image, unless you are using one of the few models with an optional "data back" to etch the information onto the film, or record it internally.  All of my film cameras I currently use come from at least two generations ago, and function without batteries, so there is no such luxury to be had.  It is thus up to me to try to remember what my settings were on a particular image, or I can write it down.  And I am trying to do more of the latter approach given that I'm pretty awful at doing the former approach, save for a few memorable experiments such as time exposures or shots taken with the aperture at its widest.

The question quickly becomes how best to do this.  One can carry a small pad and elect to jot down exposure notes or other bits of information if they are so inclined, but I personally find I need a little more coerced and simplified structure to prod me into improving my exposure note taking.  I'd explored the online marketplace expecting there may be some sort of app to track exposure notes readily, but I came up empty handed.  Besides, in reality, if it is too much trouble to jot down a little bit of info on paper, firing up an app every time I take a photo would certainly not be any more convenient.  Thus, I determined it was up to me to figure out an "analog" solution that was convenient and easy to use, and I elected to try a pair of formats to determine what works best for me.

Resourceful use of an MS Office Suite Application helped me create two very different styles of sheets to take with me on the go and assist in recording exposure information.

My workspace for this project comes not from any art program, though truth be told, Adobe Illustrator could have probably been a great way to create an awesome note taking space. No, for this project, I resorted to the ubiquitous staple of the Microsoft Office Suite - Excel! I've always liked how Excel can be fairly readily adapted beyond a spreadsheet for crunching numbers into a fairly useful form design tool, and with a little bit of tinkering, I created a pair of sheets to help me do a better job of recording my film exposures instead of hoping on memory.  

The first is a very compact little "receipt size" note about 1"x 3" in size.  It is actually designed to be taped directly to the back of the camera to jot down aperture and shutter of each exposure, and can readily accommodate up notations for up to 16 exposures, perfect for shooting all the way down to 6 x 4.5 format.  A small header at the top includes a few bits of info to help in later linking a roll with the camera in which it was shot, as well as the date  I can print 18 of these on a single piece of paper.

The first format is condensed to maximize portability, requiring me to only pack along a pen in my camera bag to make notes of the exposure and aperture settings used.  The leather grain of the Ikonta A 521 can be a bit of a challenge to write neatly upon.  

The second concept uses a lot more real estate, but appeals to my liking of "checklist" style formatting versus open entries.  Each frame has a visual pair of "scales" for both aperture and shutter with the possibilities already provided.  In the field, I can simply mark off the aperture and shutter used directly on the scale.  Since shutter speeds differ across cameras of varying decades, I created versions for common folding camera shutter speeds as well as an updated version for TLR cameras.  As well, the use of a scale makes it easier to denote the use of intermediate apertures not on the scale, as it is very common for me to shoot "between f/8 and f/11" rather than adhering to the typical aperture stops.  

Even folded over three times, the scale format won't readily affix to the back of the camera, but it can still be marked off very quickly and carried along for reference.  The scale adapts pretty well to the some of the odd shutter speeds on the Franka Solida such as 1/200, or apertures like f/2.9.

I've got a roll of film loaded in each of a pair of cameras, and will be using one style of note sheet on each to see which one seems to work better in practice.  Hopefully one or the other will help me better adhere to my desire to have exposure information on hand when I get a roll of film back and want to know what my settings were for each shot.

Interested in these little note memos?!?  Great!  The mini version can be found here, while the scaled "graphical" versions can be found here (current shutter scale) and here (1930's shutter scale)!