One of the benefits of digital picture files is that you can embed information in them or use tools to make them searchable. Looking for that picture of a smiling seal you took – who knows when? All the software tools exist to find it, and all the other pictures that are similar. Simples.
What do you do with physical objects though, like negatives and slides? Fine if you scan and label them all, but over years of shooting you could be looking at pterodactyls of storage and months of boring filing.
When I was young and had more time than money, I started a card filing system. I would make a contact print of my negatives and then add the film reference number to each relevant subject card. I could go to my Seals card and find the references, then pull the matching negative sleeves from their ring binders and eyeball them to find the one I wanted. This rigour and discipline lasted maybe four years. What killed it was when time got shorter (university) and the rate of taking pictures exceeded the time I was willing to put down my books (ho ho – beer, more like) to do filing.
That lasted a fair bit longer than four years, as both time and money reduced to zero.
Then, one day, I bought a scanner.
That started a craze of poring through negative sheets and slide boxes and scanning things that took my fancy. Which, obviously, all ended up in random folders without any identifying information. And I still hadn’t the time or inclination to scan every frame and log them.
What I did eventually do is take myself in hand (insert a Kenneth Williams ‘ooh!’ here).
This was mainly because I bought some proper negative filing sheets to let me move stuff from envelopes to proper A4 sheets. This made them visible. So my next trick was to drop a complete sleeve of negatives on my lightbox and take a digital picture. Same with slides: arrange into a rectangle and shoot.
So the random and invisible pictures became a set of named folders, each containing the digital equivalent of a contact sheet. And still no way of finding the smiling seal.
The final step was to add a plain text file in each folder, with the same name as the contact sheet and the folder itself, containing a description of the pictures. Basically, a simple list of what is on the negatives or slides, whether it’s good or bad, film type, development notes, location – all that jazz.
And the big question on everyone’s lips is “fine, but how do you find that picture of a smiling seal?”. Every set of pictures gets its own folder on the hard drive. The folder is named for the date of shooting in YYYY MM DD format so that they sort in date order. The folder will also probably have the main location or activity added after the date. This makes it quick to find the main home of a set of pictures, or if I have been to the same place or shot the same thing several times, I can find the occasion I am looking for. If I need to do a better search than that, I fire-up a search utility (Agent Ransack, but other products are available). This will zip through the text files in each folder and find things like ‘smile NEAR seal’.
It’s a lazy-arse and simple method, but it works for me.