What is a contact sheet and do I need one?

What is a contact sheet and do I need one?

They're beautiful, they're useful and they're pretty affordable — behold, the humble contact sheet.

Today, we're going to talk about what they are and how you can use them to help with your photography practice.

What is a contact sheet and how are they made?

A contact sheet is a great way of seeing what's on your roll, without having to hold your negatives up to the light and carefully squint at each frame.

They're made by taping the film on to a glass contact sheet frame (see below) and exposing a piece of light sensitive paper directly underneath.

The result? A 10x12 inch record of everything that's on the roll of film you just shot. 

What are contact sheets used for?

The best bit about contact sheets is how they make it really easy to see what's on your film. If you plan on printing individual pictures in the darkroom, you can go through them with marker pens and mark out your selections.

It's a good idea to keep a contact sheet alongside the roll of film it came from, perhaps in a ring bound folder. 

Keeping your archive organised is such an important part of film photography, and it's something we recommend getting on top of early.

How to read your contact sheets

As well as being a convenient way to see what's on your film, a contact sheet is also a great way to see how consistent your exposures are.

If you have some frames that look perfect - with a good range of highlights and shadows - and others that are super bright or dark, you know that something is up.

It means that some of your images are over or underexposed, which is something you can address on your next roll.

Once you learn how to 'read' your contact sheets, you can start to see where you've gone wrong and what you need to change next time, which is all part of the learning process.

If you need a bit of extra help with understanding your negatives or you want to brush up on exposing images, we're always here to help. Drop in to the lab for a 1-2-1 or join a workshop and we'll help you to make your exposures more consistent.

OK, I want some contact sheets!

If you like the idea of having contact sheets for your archive, there's some good news. We can make colour or black and white contact sheets for you, or you can come and learn how to use the darkroom yourself and print your own!

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