Process 012 ☼ Why Every Photographer Should Keep Roll Notes

Giveaway: $150 worth of film + Moment fanny pack + more

Dear friends,

This week we’re talking about the benefits of keeping roll notes and how to get the most out of them. They’re so useful and underrated!

For our giveaway the good folks at Moment generously made available two Moment fanny slings (great for photo walks!) and two gift certificates for their newly launched film store ($50 and $100!). So many goodies for you my friends!

As you may remember from Process issue 004, I number every roll of film that I shoot as part of my archiving system. Keeping detailed roll notes is the second piece of the puzzle that makes my photo archive useful, searchable, and professional.

What Are Roll Notes?

If you follow me on Instagram you might have noticed that on photo walks I take notes in a small blue notebook.

I started this practice a few years ago when I got back into shooting film and have kept up for every roll since. That’s roughly 600 rolls of film and associated notes.

The idea of keeping notes for each roll might sound overwhelming, but it’s generally just sixty seconds of extra work per roll that saves me hours of work later on.

How To Keep Good Roll Notes

Roll notes can be as simple or extensive as you’d like. During studio shoots there may be less time or less information to note down so in that case I usually keep it simple.

The two pages above that are mostly from studio shoot that took up one full day on January 21st, 2020. Everything moved quite fast and I only noted down which film stock each roll was, plus my ISO settings and who the subject of that roll was.

After a shoot wraps, I add check marks next to each roll to make sure all of them are accounted for before we leave the studio. If you shoot this many rolls in one day it’s far too easy to lose one under under a couch somewhere and there is nothing more painful than to realize you’re missing a roll. (Side note: Yes my penmanship is gorgeous. I know.)

Below are 2 images from roll 228. If you look at my notes you can see they were shot on Kodak GPX Pro Gold 160 film, set to 80 ISO, on my Pentax 67ii.

(Models: Dave and Tino, hair and make up by Charlotte, Banshee, and Blanca.)

This film stock was expired by roughly 30 years. Noting down what my ISO setting was helped me determine that for a next roll I should over-expose a bit more, perhaps shooting it at 64 ISO instead to clean up the grain and color shift. Roll notes are a key factor in learning how your settings affect with your final results. Best way to learn.

When there is more time or more information, I will go into more detail in my roll notes. A great example of a day like that is when I go on photo walks and take portraits of strangers. Not only do I move more slowly during these days, I always note down people’s information so I can send them their portrait afterwards.

Here you see the date, the film stock, my ISO setting, which lens I used, the names of the people I photographed, and some (redacted) email addresses. After I get home from a day of shooting I clean up these hand-written notes and transfer them into Apple Notes so I can easily access them on my laptop and my phone any time.

When I need to find a photo I can search my notes by name, location, and even a rough time period if that is all I remember. Within seconds I’ll know which roll the photo is on and which folder to find it in. It makes my OCD brain happy, and my clients too.

Below are my street portraits of Robert and Richie, or “kneeling basketball court” guy, per my notes, from roll 082.

Take Aways

Keeping detailed roll notes helps me:

  • Find images fast and easy, saving much time and frustration.

  • Study how my settings affect my photos for each film stock I use.

  • Build an archive for the long term that others can maneuver effectively, whether it’s assistants, curators, or my great grand children.

That’s it for this week! Get out those note books and give it a try if you haven’t yet.

Blessings and peace for this upcoming week.


Process Giveaway!

My friends over at Moment launched their new film store, with free shipping to nearly 200 countries for orders of $35 and up. Aside from film they sell pretty much anything you need for your photography, including film lessons, and the nifty fanny sling below.

To enter email me at before November 4th 11pm EST and answer the following question:

Which three items would you put in your fanny sling for a photo walk?

My answer: Leica M2, a few rolls of Kodak Tri-X, and my roll notes book.

The winners will be randomly drawn and notified. This giveaway is for Process subscribers only. If you’d like to enter subscribe below:

Go show Moment some love on Instagram and check out their amazing store.

Congrats to Jeroen Pruijt for winning last week’s Matt Day book giveaway.

Would you like to support Process? Great! Tell your friends about it. Just click below:

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Process is a weekly letter from Wesley Verhoeve. Next week I will share the results from a test shot with Lomography’s new Instax back for large format 4x5 cameras.

Follow at @wesley.