I’ve mentioned in the past what I think is one of the greatest things about shooting film these days: the ability to combine analog qualities with digital tools to create a unique, hybrid workflow to your film photography. One of my favorite things about working in the darkroom or picking up rolls of film from the lab was the contact sheet. Some people like the nicely stacked set of prints. I liked the contact sheets, full of organized, easy to view frames all in one place. After looking at the sheet with a loupe I’d three hole punch and insert it into a binder with the sleeves that held the negatives. There they remain to this day, on the shelf where I can easily walk up to any binder and by quickly scanning the contact sheet find the frame of film I’m after. I don’t have to turn a computer on to find a negative and I like that.

Create a Contact Sheet in Photoshop with just a few clicks.

Create a Contact Sheet in Photoshop with just a few clicks.

Working on ways to streamline the hybrid workflow has me revisiting contact sheets – but now using Photoshop to create them, not the darkroom. True – before, a contact sheet was created prior to putting a lot of processing time into the roll in order to choose which images you want to work with. Now – a lot of work goes into the roll prior to generating the contact sheet. So I suppose the reasons you’d make a contact sheet differ from the old days. I use it the same way, though: once created, print it out and stick in the three ring binder with the negatives as a quick reference to the images on the roll.

It couldn’t be easier to create a contact sheet in Photoshop. For this I’m using the most recent version of Creative Cloud Photoshop, 2014.2.2 – but I know it’s also possible prior to this. My version of Photoshop CS3 has the same plug in installed.

Once you’ve scanned your images (and embed them with exif data using meta35), open Photoshop. Under the File menu go down to Automate, and select from the fly-out menu Contact Sheet II.

Adobe Photoshop's Contact Sheet II options

Adobe Photoshop’s Contact Sheet II options

This gives you a dialog box with a few settings.

Here you will:
a-Navigate to the directory containing your scanned images.

b-Set the contact sheet’s size, shape and resolution. I use a typical 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper because that’s what my printer uses. I also create the contact sheet in landscape mode because that’s the orientation of the rest of the pages in the binder.

c-Set Mode, Bit Depth and Color Profile

d-I leave Flatten All Layers unchecked because I like to have some flexibility to edit the layers once they’re created – rather than having Photoshop flatten the document it’s about to generate.

e-For thumbnails I like to go across first and check the box that says Use Auto-Spacing. Across first mimics closely the horizontal presentation of the film strip.

f-For Columns and Rows I suppose it depends on how many images you’re working with. In this case I was working with 35 images and knew I’d probably need to go two pages for it. Most of the time I’m working with fewer images on the roll (I typically don’t scan every frame). So you might choose to size your thumbnails so they all fit nicely on one sheet. This took too much math at the time so I let Photoshop figure it out.

g-I selected Rotate for Best Fit to avoid the odd horizontal and vertical shots – preferring instead to have all images nicely aligned in one row (the OCD in me comes out).

h-Choose the font and size you want the image names to appear in – then hit OK.

Presto. Photoshop chugs through the images in the folder flattening the layers of images that exist as PSD’s and writing the image’s name neatly below the frame on the page.

It’s default is a white page which is ideal for your printer (because it uses less ink to print). I made the background black here just to show one of the benefits of not Flattening All Layers in the earlier check box.

Your images are now all presented on one, neatly organized and labeled sheet to do with as you please. I like to print and stick in the binder.

It’s a simple thing, but a great way to easily and quickly create a useful print out of images from an entire roll for cataloging.