One of photography’s all time great tools of the trade has been the contact sheet. The first time I saw a contact sheet was the first time my grandmother helped me make one in her darkroom. I’d just developed my first roll of Black and White film under her tutelage and we wanted to see what kind of shots I made. So, we cut up the long strip of 35mm film into chunks, slipped them into a negative page, and then laid that page on top of a sheet of 8×10 photo paper. The result was magic. In one place I could pick and choose the image I wanted a bigger print of.
In the digital darkroom, contact sheets serve a different purpose. We don’t need them anymore to pick and choose our own photographs. Instead, we have star rankings and stacks to help us with that task. But, they still serve a very useful purpose when we hand over a pile of JPEGs on CD or DVD to a client. In my last few assignments, in addition to handing off a CD or DVD, I’ve been printing out contact sheets and giving them to my clients. This allows the client to navigate through the hundreds of files I might give them. And, my clients love them. It gives them a something tangible to hold and flip through.
Today, while assembling the distribution DVDs for two recent gigs, I had another ah-hah moment. I decided that not only would I print the contact sheets, I’d place a PDF of the contact sheet onto the distribution disk. This will let my clients print out additional copies of the contact sheet if they like, or simply have an electronically navigable index to the JPGs on the disk. They don’t have to have Aperture, Lightroom, Bridge, or iView. All they need is a PDF reader and they’re good to go.
It’s a simple process to save off the contact sheet and put it onto the distribution disk. It’s so simple that I kind of wonder why I didn’t think of it before. But now that I’ve started doing this, I can’t imagine shipping off a distribution disk without one again.