Film Friday: How I track each roll of film I shoot using a

A serialized 35mm film canister held up in front of a display showing my custom Notion database.

I’m not the most organized person. As such, I can’t count the times over the years I’ve accidentally shot through rolls of film and forgotten what camera they were shot with or how many stops I pushed/pulled them, making for less-than-pleasing results when sending them out to get developed and scanned.

To remedy this problem, I decided to try something new this year. I decided to create a database of sorts that would help me track every roll of film I take out of the freezer, load into my camera and send off to my lab of choice.

It’s not overly intricate, but it’s enough to help me stay organized and while I’m only 18 rolls into this new organization scheme, it’s already helped me in keeping track of what it is I’ve shot, what I shot it with and where at in my workflow a given roll of film is at any given time.

These simple little stickers are one of the two main components of my organizational system.

At the heart of this entire system are two main components: a cheap roll of serialized stickers and a custom-made Notion page that serves as a database for tracking all of the details for every roll of film. Notion, for the uninitiated, is a customizable productivity tool that lets you create various databases with different views and styles to better organize nearly any collection of information imaginable.

For the stickers, I use this set, which costs $8 and has individual numbered from 0001 to 1000. As soon as a roll of film leaves the freezer, I put a sticker on it and mark the number down in the database. In the case of 35mm, I simply put it on the outside of the canister, where it stays until it gets developed by the lab. In the case of 120 film, I place the sticker on the back of my Contax 645 until the roll is shot and put it on the outside of the spool (since 120 trades off spools when shooting and rolls over the paper backing I can’t place it on the original spool).

For the Notion page, I use a custom-made database in the style of a spreadsheet that fits my needs. As visible in the image below, my database consists of ten columns, each of which has a different piece of information about a given roll of film.

Click to enlarge.

This includes the film row number, the film stock used, the format used, the number of exposures on the roll, how many stops the roll was pushed/pulled, the status of the film, the camera used to shoot the roll, the lens(es) used to shoot the roll, notes about what was shot with the roll and, eventually, the folder name the scanned images eventually end up in when imported into Lightroom.

With each new row, which starts off with the sticker number I attach to the film canister, I add the bits of relevant information as I go through my usual workflow. This usually means picking a collection of rolls to pre-apply stickers to and inserting the basic information – such as film stock, format and exposures – into the database before putting the rolls in one of my film cases I’ve 3D-printed (a topic for a future Film Friday).

Once the roll has been loaded into the camera, I update the ‘Status’ column and pick from my pre-populated camera/lens drop-downs in their respective columns. Once it’s been shot, I update the status of the roll, update the lens column if I’ve shot with more than one lens (a rare occasion for me) and add the notes for what I captured with the roll and any other pertinent information. After the film has been sent off, scanned, downloaded and imported into Lightroom, I’ll update the relevant rows with the folder name I used for that roll in Lightroom.

From the time the canister is removed from the freezer to the time it gets developed, the sticker stays with it.

By doing all of this, I should, at least in theory, be able to quickly reference any given roll of film I’ve shot from here on out. It also makes it easy to add metadata to the scans in Lightroom since I know exactly what camera, lens and film stock was used.

This whole project is still very young and a work in progress, but it’s much better than the try-to-remember system I was using previously. I hope to one day add conditional formatting so the database will automatically know the number of exposures a roll of 120 is based on what kind of medium format camera I use, as well as a column for attaching a contact sheet of the roll for quickly referencing individual images without needing to open up Lightroom. But for now, this is what I’ve come up with.

The solution for 120 film is a bit less elegant due to the roll of film switching spools when shooting. But it gets the job done.

Should you want to create a database of your own, you can visit my sample template and copy it to your Notion profile to use and adjust as you see fit. It’s pre-populated with only a few cameras, film stocks and lenses I’ve used so far, but you can update the options to fit your gear. The best part is, Notion is about as device agnostic as it gets, so you can access it via a browser or through dedicated apps for Android, iOS and macOS. This makes it easy to build adjust the database on-the-go whether you’re using a laptop or your smartphone.

If you’re not familiar with Notion, you can check out the company’s product page and peruse the expansive collection of guides and tutorials Notion provides on its website.

If you do decide to use the template I’ve created, let me know in the comments below what tweaks you’ve made to fit your workflow!