Have you ever lost anything or, to be more politically correct, temporarily
misplaced something? Or even worse, have you ever loaned money to someone and you
forgot to who or how much? I have. In fact, I was told I lost my mind once or
twice. And as far as money goes, if I got ten cents back for every nickel I loaned
out and didn't get back because I forgot to who I loaned it to, I'd be rich! It's
frustrating, isn't it? One thing I won't lose or misplace though are my slides.
I've got thousands of slides tucked away in a file cabinet and can find any single
one of them in a matter of seconds, OK, maybe minutes. Also, I've sent up to twenty
slides to a magazine picture editor and didn't get them back for months. However,
I knew exactly where they were at all times. If you shoot a lot of slide film
there's a very simple way to keep track of things so you can retrieve a particular
image(s) without pulling your hair out looking for it/them. Let me share with you
my method. It's a proven method and has been around for awhile. In fact, I got my
idea from Mr. John Shaw, a world renowned natural history photographer. I've
changed his method to suit my needs but it's still pretty close to what he does, and
it's pretty foolproof.
If you want to get an in-depth and detailed explanation on how to do this, skip
this article and get Mr. Shaw's book "Business of Nature Photography" by Am Photo
Books. I got my copy from Amazon.com and it's proved itself to be an invaluable
asset to me on several occasions. I use it as a reference tool all the time.
The first things you're going to need are some slides. If you don't shoot a lot of
slide film or you don't anticipate making money on your slides, this reading
probably isn't necessary. But, if you're constantly sending your slides to picture
editors, card or calendar companies, you should get organized to the point where
you can store, retrieve, track, etc., your slides very easily. Storing them isn't
much of a problem and I recommend you get some slide storage pages from a
photography store. Usually, the pages will hold up to twenty slides per page and
they're either made to be stored in a file folder or can be hung directly in a file
drawer. Also, each page can be placed on a light box where you can view all twenty
slides without having to remove each slide from its protective pocket. The pages
come in a pack of 25 to 50 and cost somewhere around $10.00 for a pack of fifty.
Next, you'll need some sort of a database where you can store all of the
information you'll need for identifying the slides. If the database is good
enough, you'll be able to print slide labels, search for a particular slide or
slides, and prepare tracking documentation of each slide you have out. Microsoft
Works has a database that would work and their Access program is surely
powerful enough to do everything you'd need or want. There are also ready-made
programs out there specific to slide film tracking but they can be costly. I've
seen programs that'll run up to $700, $800, and even $900! GADZOOKS! I happen to
own one of those ready-made out of the box programs. It's called Slide Scribe
and is marketed by ELLENCO out of Tijeras, NM. Do a Goodle search and I'm sure
you'll find them. If I remember correctly, it cost me about $150. They also have
the slide labels you print the data on and then stick to the slide.
The next things you'll need are a computer and printer, obviously. I won't get into
brands but I highly recommend you use an ink-jet or laser printer for your labels.
You can get by with a dot-matrix printer but the quality of the type will be much
better with an ink-jet or laser printer. Also, with a dot-matrix, you'll be
limited with the fonts and font sizes you'll want to use. Remember, you're sending
your slides out to a picture editor and you want to give that professional
OK, let's back up to the program. As I mentioned, I use Slide Scribe. It didn't
cost me a whole bunch of money and it does absolutely everything I need or want it
to do. There are a few very minor flaws with it but, nothing I haven't overcome
with a little practice and experience. To get going, I had to create a database
but, it wasn't very hard to do and took only about forty-five minutes to start
storing the information I needed. On a blank piece of paper I drew an outline of a
slide. Then, I put the information I thought I'd need on the cardboard portion of
the slide. Off to the side of my drawing I put other information of what I thought
I'd need for cross-referencing my slides but wouldn't be included on the labels.
Then, in the program I created the fields for the information, both for what was
going to print on the labels and my cross-reference information that would not be
printed. Some of the fields I use for printing are Title of the slide,
Sub-Title, Location of the slide, Description of the slide, File Number,
Season, and my Copyright. Depending on what the image is and what category
it's in, I'll either have more or less information on the label. Scenics don't
need a Scientific Name, so I don't include it in my database for scenics. But, my
Mammal and Flowering databases need Scientific Name. More on that in a few
minutes. As you can see on the first slide, I've got all the basic information
needed for a picture editor to use.
The cross reference information you don't see are Desert, Sunrise, California,
Provia (the type of film I used on this shot), Horizontal, etc. Let's say a
picture editor wanted a picture of a Desert Sunrise and wanted the format to be
Horizontal. That'd take a lot of looking. But, all I'd have to do is do a query in
my database and in a matter of seconds this particular slide (information) would
pop-up with a dozen or so more. Then, because I've got the File numbers listed in
the database, all I'd have to do is look for those numbers in my file drawer.
Because the slides are stored in the plastic pages (numerically), I'd look for the
numbers, place the pages on my light box, and choose the best one(s) the editor
would probably want. SEE HOW EASY THAT WAS? Aren't I smart? Just
kidding, remember, I just changed Mr. Shaw's method so, I can't take all the credit.
Do you see anything wrong with the information provided in the Location? If you
can't tell, I'm not going to let you in my mistake but, I've since change the label
so it's correct.
I've got several databases made up for the different categories of photography I
do. Let's face it, there's no reason to have Scenics mixed in with Flowering shots
or National Parks with Mammals so, I made separate databases for each category.
Here's what I've got and their corresponding Index Number (file numbers with the
first or second initial of the category):
- FC: Fall Colors
- F: Flowering Plants or Wild Flowers
- M: Mammals
- NP: National Parks
- N: Non-Flowering Plants
- S: Scenics
- ST: Structures
- T: Transportation
Take a look at the first example titled Manly Beacon. In the lower left corner is
the file number S345.000. The S stands for Scenic and it's the 345th image in
the scenic file folder(s). I'll explain what the other three digits are for in a
little bit. So, in my query, when the twelve or so numbers popped up, S345.000 was
one of them. The pictures of the others included vertical shots or were the wrong
time of day so, number S345.000 was the one. By the way, I could've put this
under the category of NP (National Parks) but for some reason I listed it as a
scenic instead. Don't ask me why, as I stated earlier, someone said I lost my mind!
But take a look at the Location line on the slide. It says Death Valley NP,
Beatty, CA. With that information I'd probably look in my National Parks database
to see if anything else comes up that fits the parameters of the picture editors
want list. Nifty, huh?
Let's look at another slide under a different database category, Mammals.
You'll notice I've substituted the Sub-Title with Scientific Name. The reason I
did this is to show everyone how smart I am. Sheesh, how arrogant! Not really.
It's because if a magazine asked for a picture of a Canis Lupus, I'd have it.
Notice the file number M244.001. M stands for, you guessed it, Mammals and it's
the 244th second picture. What I mean by second picture is it's an exact copy of
another picture or, simply put, a duplicate. To be honest with you, it's not an
exact copy but a bracketed shot. With slides I always bracket to be sure I get it
right. Usually, two of the shots are pretty darned close in exposure so I'll keep
those two. The other one ends up in the trash. So, M244.000 is the first slide and
M244.001 is the second slide. If there were a third slide of the same picture it'd
be labeled M244.002. I rarely have a .002 picture though. By the way, a picture
editor doesn't need all that information and it's probably a good idea not to
volunteer that stuff either. The rest of the information is pretty much
boilerplate. Oh, always let the viewer know what they're looking at. In this case,
the Description is A Female Grey Wolf posing on a stump.
Another slide similar to Mammals would be Flowering Plants.
As you can see, it's got the same information as the Mammals picture but it's of a
Flowering Plant. Course, the file number begins with the index letter F and it has
an entirely different number. And of course, it's in a database all its own,
Flowering Plants. The reason I put Locations on all my slides is because of
picture editors. If an editor asked for pictures of Wild Flowers in the Steptoe
Mountains, Eastern Nevada Mountains, Great Basin Desert, or even McGill, Nevada,
I'd have all the bases covered with a quick query (say that three times fast). One
of the non-printing fields in my database is color. In this case the color would
be pink. So, if the editor wanted pictures of red or pink flowers I'm covered
there too. Am I amazing, or WHAT? And to think, I didn't do all that well in
Onward and upward! Let's take a gander at another slide, Scenics.
I don't want to overload the label with too much, especially with unnecessary
information. All the basics are there, Barrel, Pump, Belmont Nevada, B&B (Bed and
Breakfast), etc. so, a query would work here. So, just the Title and Location
are needed on the top portion of this scenic shot. As you can see, in the
description portion of the label I changed the font size. The sentence was too
crowded in a larger font so I made it smaller to keep it aesthetically pleasing to
the eye. Also, as mentioned in the side text of the graphic, I keep all my
verticals oriented so the top is at the copyright side of the label. There's no
reason I do this other than being consistent. One thing you should know about
submitting slides for review, if the image is selected for print, they're going to
remove it from the cardboard sleeve and, when they're finished, they'll put it back
in so the slide won't be damaged during transport. However, they might not put it
back in oriented the same way you sent it and the cardboard sleeve will probably be
damaged. So, have a few empty cardboard sleeves handy for remounting. You'll also
have to make another label for the new sleeve.
If you noticed, on all my examples I've omitted the date and substituted it with
the Season. The reason is pretty simple and reasonable after you read my
explanation. About three years ago, an editor asked me to send in a couple of
Fall Color shots showing the variety of foliage in Eastern Nevada during autumn.
I didn't have anything from that year, yet, so I sent in some older shots (nothing
more than two years old though). I used to have the dates in the same place I now
have the season located. They were all rejected because she wanted new colors
and not old colors. Now, I don't know about anywhere else, but here in Eastern
Nevada, last years fall colors look pretty well much the same as this years fall
colors. So in reality, she was looking at the date and not the picture. That's
how picky picture editors can be. So, unless you're not going to submit you images
for sale or publication, I recommend you leave the date off and substitute it with
the season. Or you can put the date in a non-printing field.
And finally, a slide without all the little circles and lines, to show-off my
prowess with Adobe Photoshop, as it appears in my slide page.
Hang in there, you're almost done! Now that I've got all my slides labeled how I
want them to be, I have to store them in the plastic pages I mentioned earlier.
The pages I use are top loading but, you can also get the side loading ones
too. There's no price difference between the two. I just selected the top loading.
Each page'll hold twenty slides, four across and five down (I figured that out
without using my fingers or toes). I load the page from the top left to the bottom
right with each row beginning at the left side. It stands to reason that each
slide is placed in the page numerically. Also, I only put Fall Colors on one page,
and continue until I'm finished with all my Fall Colors. Then it's off to Mammals,
Scenics, National Parks, and so on. Each Fall Color page is placed in a hanging
file with other Fall Colors. And so on with the other categories. The pages I use
are meant to be stored in a binder so, there's a tab on the extreme left side of
the page with three holes for the binder rings. On that tab I put the beginning
file number and ending file number of the page. This helps speeding up in locating
the specific file numbers of the slides. Here's an example of the page once it's
Click the author's gallery image on the top of the page to view the author's photographs.
You can't see the tab on the left but, it's there. Each file folder will hold about
five or six full pages so I just insert another folder and fill that one up and then
on to the next. After awhile I found out I needed a four drawer file to hold all my
existing slides but, I'm starting to get the drawers filled up again so I'm looking
for another file cabinet (do you know how expensive they can get!).
Well, that's it in a nutshell. This system works great for me and if you decide to
go this route for storing your slides, you can tailor it to fit your needs. A
small note for 35mm print film guru's. This system would work for you too but,
you'd have to stick the labels on the file page instead of the film (duh). Also,
you'd have to cut your strips to individual frames but, most labs don't like that
and prefer the film remained in strips of four to six frames per strip. However,
if you're going to have an image drum scanned, they'd prefer the frame to be
individual so, my method would work.
If you decide you're going to get your slides in order for publication or sale, I
highly recommend John Shaw's book I mentioned earlier. It's got a lot more
information than what I provided and explains much more in detail. For you
computer geeks out there who can manipulate a database faster than most people can
walk across the street, I'd just use a good existing database program, otherwise,
for people like me who have a hard time finding the on-off switch to the computer,
I recommend a program like the one I use. What a life-saver it's proved to be for
Since I've started using this method, I've never lost or temporarily misplaced a
single slide. I've always known where each and every slide was when it was out.
Now, if I could only find my glasses!