Aperture 3 and Film - Part 0

So I shoot film, and I use Aperture 3. More than a couple of people have asked me about my work-flow and how it relates to Aperture in my film process. Although I am more than glad to share it, I do have to put a disclaimer out there that my work-flow is somewhat of a mish-mash. This is due in part to the nature of the beast as well as the fact that I am somewhat of a mish-mash and my own internal organization makes sense to me but not nessesarily anyone else. With that being said, on with the show.

First understand that my film world is dived up into a couple of different universes. Maybe universes is not the proper analogy, let's use the whole biology related analogy instead - Kindoms, orders, species - remember all that stuff from highschool biology? There is the flora or plant kingdom - black and white. There is the fauna or animal kindom - color. The reason I divide these up is that my work-flow in the analog world is so very different for these two great divides. Yours does not have to be but mine is simply due to the fact that I outsource processing and scanning of my color and develop/scan my own black and white.

For the color work, I shoot it, send it to a lab, and get back then negatives/positives as well as pretty darn good scans that I then import into Aperture 3. That's it about as simple as can be. The scans that I get back are all about the same file size no matter if I shoot 35mm or 120 medium format. This is purely an artifact of the processing/scanning machine that my particular lab uses. These are NOT custom drum scans at super high resolution but they look great for %99.9 of anything I am ever going to need them for. Aperture 3 chews these files up like they were nothing. Very little if any post processing is required and for the most part Aperture 3 is purely an asset management tool and image database.

The other kingdom of black and white is a mixed bag. I don't scan every single frame so every single frame is not indexed in a computer somewhere. Sometimes I scan contact sheets, sometimes I scan a roll of negatives at low res/low bit depth on my flatbed, and sometimes I don't have a digital record of the entire set of images from roll film. In addition to these scenarios I may choose to scan individual frames at various resolutions. With black and white I also have the absolute requirement of post processing to some degree the raw scans - they are not even close to finished. At the very minimum I need a contrast curve of some sort to even make them look like a strait print. Sometimes I do this in Aperture 3 but other times I cannot due to the gigantic file sizes that I choose to scan. This is especially true if I need a high resolution (4000 DPI) of a large format negative.

Here is the important part of marrying the physical part of my work to the digital part. I have a very strict filing and numbering system for my film. Since film is a physical object and I need to physically order it in some way and in only one way at any given time, I choose to do that by date and sequence. I know that I advise that this may not be the best way to do it digitally with a database but that is due to the nature of a database having the ability to get at the same objects in many different ways - date being the easy one.

Here is my physical filing system:

  • All black and white roll film gets a roll number consisting of a four digit year and the roll number which is merely a sequence starting at 1 of any given year. With in that roll the frame numbers are inherent and run from 1 to 36, or 1 to 12, or 1 to 10, etc depending on the format.
  • All color roll film gets the same treatment as above with a 'C' tacked on to the end of the roll number.
  • Sheet film gets it's own unique sheet number consisting of the year and sequencial sheet number. In theory the onese with a 'C' tacked on the end are color. In practice I don't shoot color sheet film for more than a decade. Maybe I will and I will still use the same numbering scheme that I used way back. *These numbers are assigned when the film goes in the camera and never change. Sheet film is assigned when loaded in the film holders and never change.
  • When the film is developed it is put into sleves the roll number/sheet number is written on the sleeve along with some other notes and put in a three ring binder along with matching contact sheets if they exist. These binders are in sequential order, the pages are in sequential order. My files are completely seperate for color roll film, black and white roll film, color sheet film, and black and white sheet film. Get it?
  • Based on the roll number or sheet number every single file that gets scanned into my computer gets that same prefex along with the individual frame number along with that 'C' differentiator. Even if I add an additional suffix to denote some other meaning like scan resolution or bit depth that unique roll number/frame number never changes and is always there.
  • Obviously (or not) contact sheets just get the roll number.

By strictly adhering to this regimen I am able to look at any image shot on film and retrieve the negative or posative in about 10 seconds if needed. Using Aperture 3 even helps me out when printing in the darkroom. I don't have to sorta remember kinda where a negative is filed if I want to print it in the darkroom. I just do a search in Aperture 3 and I have the negative sheet. Done. I used to try this in a custom database back in the 1990's but that is pain in the neck.

I try to add lots of keywords to my scans - it's easy. I am iffy on the EXIF data and it's hit or miss. If I do a "serious" scan they I usually take the time to make the EXIF correct if I have the notes from the field. If not, I am usually too lazy to use a tool other than Aperture 3 to deal with it prior to import so I may add some technical info in the keywords like film type, etc.


Ps. The title of this post is Part 0, if anyone is interested more in film-digital work-flow along with some thoughts on post processing with Aperture and other tools I will be glad to post a smattering of thoughts. This is obviously the very start of my process. I thought I would share it since a few people have asked me how I file my film negatives and digitized counterparts. I know you were looking for a magic answer but this is what I do. Nothing magic, hopefully it will, if not anything else, confirm what you may already be doing just as a sanity check. I will share some other details of how I make this quicker and easier for myself using some Aperture specific features - these might even apply for those of you that shoot JUST digital…

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