The film photography & darkroom work of David Kirby

Never Underestimate the Importance of...

Contact sheets.  Contact sheets are one of those things that can easily be skipped but pay a big reward if you take the time to do them and do them well.  Early in my printing career (although saying that, i've only been printing for a few years) I never used to make contact sheets.  Perhaps my excitement to print overruled my thought processes.  Whatever the reason I would regularly just stick my negative in the enlarger and get cracking, completely unaware of what I was missing out on.

Now I see contact sheets for what they are - absolutely invaluable!  A contact sheet will tell you many things.  First, you can observe each frame of your negative as it would print (normally at grade 2).  This means you can inspect each frame for composition and tonal range etc.  You will also be able to analyse each frame for flaws - blemishes on the negative perhaps or out of focus areas.  Both of these factors greatly influence your choice of frame to print - especially if you have made multiple exposures of one scene. 

Another valuable piece of information the contact sheet will show you is how well your negative prints at grade 2.  If your roll of film has been properly exposed and developed then this will show in your contact sheet - you will have a full tonal range with good highlight and shadow detail.  But you may see a lack of detail perhaps, or slightly blown highlights meaning you may need to increase or decrease from grade 2.  Without a contact sheet you wouldn't know this until after your test strips.

Finally a contact sheet will give you a rough idea of any dodging and burning that may be required.  Perhaps some more density is required in the highlights or perhaps you want more detail in shadow areas. 

So don't be so quick to get printing, take the time to make a contact sheet and inspect it carefully before printing.  I have just made contact sheets for each of my eleven rolls of film from my recent trip to Iceland and they have been invaluable in selecting which frames to print (speaking of which the first print is under way).  Plus,  they look great when filed away with your negatives!  They almost make me look like I know what I'm doing...