A brief tour of my photo process

In the early days of my photography, it was easy. I shot C41 print film. I picked it up from the drugstore. I'd drop it back at the drugstore for the non-one-hour version of development when I was done. I'd stick the prints in a non-archival plastic tub.

Then digital cameras came along. And then I realized that I wanted some of the advantages of digital cameras but with a film camera.

My process is not the same for every picture. I pick out film depending on the situation and sometimes just use the digital camera. Sometimes I work in color, other times I'll work in black and white.

The role of a digital camera

I use the digital camera for safety and sketching. Whenever I'm in a particularly photogenic situation... like a model shoot or scenic shoot... I make sure I get at least a small number of good digital shots that I could use... and often I'll use it to figure out the lighting and contrast, even if I take the "real" version on a film camera.

Color Film

I use both negative film and slide film for color.

I've had a handful of rolls ruined by one-hour places, so I gave up on them. I usually take print film to either Kamera Korner in San Jose or The Darkroom in San Carlos, both of which do excellent jobs. The Darkroom, doubly so, as they'll crossprocess slide film and push.

I bring slide film to the Calypso Color drop box in Santa Clara or sometimes to The Darkroom. The Darkroom has better ergonomics (nicer slide mounts and a cuter box to hold the film) whereas Calypso is cheaper.

B&W Film

I develop all my black and white film myself in my bathroom. Once you get used to the control, it's hard to entrust the film to another.

Storage and archiving

I have a blessing and a curse. See, on the bright side of things, I'm married to an Archivist, so I know what to do. On the down side, I know exactly what not to do as well, so I end up spending a lot more time archiving things.

35mm slide film, I just have the lab mount for me and put a number and the date it was developed on the mounts. Everything else, I cut up myself with a pair of scissors from the sleeved, uncut rolls.

I make sure to save the unused clippings from the tail and leader, partially because I'm just a little obsessive-compulsive but also because I figure eventually if the film's decaying too fast for one reason or another, it'll come in handy to experiment on without risking good shots.

I put my film in binders. Right now, I'm using the Light Impressions oversize cardboard binder-boxes. I'm fairly picky about pages. I like the higher grade pages with thicker material. I like the ClearFile Archival Elite line, except that they discontinued the Type 17E pages that took a sleeved roll of 6x7 film. Now I use the 17B pages that aren't nearly as nice. I use type 14D pages that will ALWAYS handle a 36 exposure roll, even if I manage 37-39 exposures on the roll. And I use a variety of slide pages.

The way I figure things, it's the easiest to prevent the pieces of film from getting out of order over time by never ever putting two different rolls on the same page. So, even though some pockets are unused, I take two twenty-slide pages per roll of 35mm slide film. I label the pages on the top, at the very least with a roll number, and most of the time the emulsion, any processing notes, and any notes on what the roll contains.

If a slide ever spends more time away from its page, I write the roll number on the slide mount to make sure I don't have to spend much time bringing things back in order.

The rolls are numbered in order of processing, which actually makes sense to archivists. My logic was that I figured if I found undeveloped rolls that I hadn't accounted for by trying to number them in chronological order, I'd end up needing to re-number or invent progressively more weird variations (Roll number 51E ?)

I have a binder where I keep a log of the processed rolls, a log of developing sessions, model releases, and other information.

On the computer side, digital images are put into folders based on shooting date and film scans are put into folders based on the roll number. By browsing the thumbnails on the computer, I've got fairly rapid access to my entire collection.


I'm a strong believer in the digital intermediate process, so, even though my pictures are largely captured on film, they all get scanned. I generally scan them to a series of TIFF files en masse and then deal with them later. I don't like to sort through the digital shots taken in a session until I've got the film scanned and ready to sort through.

You'd be surprised at the level of editing that's done to the pictures.... although it's really about the same level of editing that is done in a darkroom, as my wet darkroom hand-printed images look about the same as my digitally edited pictures.

There's generally an overall curves layer as well as some masked curves layers. I usually make sure that my horizon is level and that any dust or scratches have been removed.

The notational final version of the work is pretty much the PSD file with all of the layers. I can then make sure that it's been cropped to fit the right size of paper and sharpened it exactly for a given output situation, as I don't sharpen things beforehand.

I used to sort them using ZoomBrowser, but lately I wrote my own package that I'm replacing ZoomBrowser with.