Contact sheets are kind of a lost art that you usually only see film photographers using to assess their images from a roll of film. That doesn't mean you can't do it with digital images as well, you just have to learn how to pace your shooting as if you are using film.
What are Contact Sheets?
Contact sheets are basically just sheets of paper on which a photographer prints all or some of the negatives from a roll of film for critique. The whole point of a contact sheet is to allow the photographer to see in full the images shot on a roll of film in order to analyze their thought process while shooting, what went into each composition and exposure, whether or not the image's elements work, and how to be more efficient and successful on the next roll.
Above is a contact sheet I made for a roll of film I shot back in September of last year as I was very interested in how this roll turned out. It was my first time shooting a roll with a new lens and I wanted to see what kind of quality I would get out of it while also practicing some exposure tricks. Obviously, some of the images are crossed out while others are outlined. The crossed-out images are the shots that I deemed uninteresting or poorly exposed while the outlined ones turned out the way I wanted them to while having at least semi-interesting subject matter.
Some have writing around them with an explanation as to why they are crossed out or outlined, such as the first shot being heavily underexposed and just generally uninteresting. But it also shows what I am searching for in my images. This roll in particular really shows why I take the pictures that I take when walking around the ghost town of High Point as each shot has very dynamic lighting. Most of them do not have a clear subject, but they all show interesting shadows and light cascading on different scenes.
Benefits of Making a Contact Sheet.
For each contact sheet I critique, I try to go through as subjectively as possible (yes, I said subjectively not objectively) in order to better figure out what I really want to see in my images and what direction I need to go in during each photo walk or shoot. I also try to pick a "best of roll" in order to motivate myself to not only keep shooting but prove that each roll can make me proud and appreciate the work that day.
Contact sheets are a great way to look at your body of work as a whole and as a narrative. Each roll of film or each collection of images from your memory card are supposed to tell a story because that is what we as photographers are: storytellers. We create narratives with our eyes as we explore our environments and the inhabitants therein.
Contact sheets help us narrow that vision and understand how to make the next round of shooting more cohesive and engaging not just to whoever views our work, but most importantly to ourselves. Photographers need only shoot for themselves as our opinions and feelings about our work are truly the only ones that matter. We do this for ourselves because it brings us joy and a passion unlike anything else, and that is the way it is meant to be.
I love making these for each roll of film I shoot or each shoot in general because I just find it interesting to see my train of thought and creative process. I find it fascinating the way I utilize my environments and in what order things catch my eye. All in all, it's pretty neat if you ask me. Feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me on social media if you have any insight on how contact sheets have helped you or any other comments or suggestions. I'd love to hear them! Thanks for reading and stay tuned because pretty soon this blog will be evolving into something a little more interesting and comprehensive... Now get out there and get shooting!