Sometimes in life you come across something so simple and yet at the same time such a great solution to a problem that it almost makes you wonder why you didn’t think of it first. To my mind, Mike’s PhotoMemo books are a perfect example of this.
For those who’ve been living under a rock (or perhaps only recently stumbled their way into the film photography community), Mike Padua runs an online shop called ShootFilmCo. It’s purpose is spreading the word of film photography through often amusing stickers, patches, and other film photography paraphernalia.
My first bit of advice would be to just go straight there and buy something that makes you smile. Whilst you’re there though, make sure you add a few PhotoMemo books to the cart…
Mike recently got in touch so say he was sending me something for some feedback. When they arrived and I opened the packet to find two of these PhotoMemo books. PhotoMemo books, as described on the ShootFilmCo website are “a versatile, easy to use, and inexpensive way to keep organized notes and technical data for your film exposures.” They are quite simply 48 page notebooks that are designed around the notation requirements of the film photographer.
PhotoMemo Vs Field Notes
Of course, these aren’t the only books that have been doing the rounds on social media as used by photographers. I was given a couple of those ‘Field Notes’ books a little while ago, and whilst they’re lovely things, I’ve not used them, not even once. The issue was, simply by merit of their name, the Field Notes books had led me mentally down a path of usefulness that I didn’t really feel applied to me. If you’re a regular large format shooter, making notes when you’re out shooting about exposure and intended development etc is pretty much part of the deal. Out in the field with a roll of 35mm, I personally don’t find myself ever needing to make notes.
As such, I must admit when I first opened the packet from Mike, I was initially a little underwhelmed. On face value at least, I expected Mike’s books to see the same fate… That was until I took them out of their polythene packaging and turned to an inner page. Unlike the plain pages of the Field Notes books, these books contain headings, and these headings made me realise just how useful these books were going to be to me.
The big difference with the PhotoMemo book is that its purpose – whilst still a little open to individual interpretation – is considerably more defined. It’s also arguably geared more specifically toward people who shoot roll film, which as mentioned, I shoot a lot more than sheet. But, what really made them work for me is the instant realisation that the more defined purpose of these books had the ability to solve a problem that I had never otherwise got around to trying to fix. That problem being, the one where I repeatedly forget what film I’ve loaded into the vast array of cameras I have kicking around.
I am my own worst enemy when it comes to this sort of nonsense. My camera collection has honestly never been as big as it is now. Taking into account the box of point & shoots I have it’s probably approaching 100 cameras. Of course not all of them have film loaded in them, but in the last year I’ve seen the loaded camera rate go from a couple to sometimes as many as ten.
Shooting only HP5 and Portra has seen my issues with this reduced through a system of just setting the film reminder on the camera to 1600 for HP5 and 400 for Portra. But of course, that system is very much open to failure, mainly through me forgetting, or worse not trusting I’ve remembered to stick to it. The system completely falls apart when I pick up a camera loaded with film, the ISO reminder is set to 400, yet I’m convinced I loaded it with HP5. This had happened on a number of occasions and as a result I have taken to such extremes as taking a roll of film back out of a camera just to check what it is, before reloading it and shooting it back to a frame of so past where is was previously shot to. The maddening thing is, all this has ever proven is that sometimes I do forget to set the ISO reminder.
PhotoMemo to the rescue
Opening a PhotoMemo book and seeing the information headings on each page made me realise those days were over. All I need to do is make a note of the film I put in a camera each time I load one. Then, even if I only shoot a shot or two before putting the camera back on the shelf, I shall know where I’m at next time fancy takes that camera. Simple.
This probably sounds blindingly obvious, and something I or anyone else could do on my iPhone notes app or in any old notebook. Well that is true, but what these books provide above and beyond a normal notebook is the formatting. Each double page spread is dedicated to a single roll of film, this creates just that bit of discipline needed to help keep the notes well formatted, logical and easy to refer back to.
Since using these books, I’ve also found a couple of unexpected gains. The first is that I now have a note reminding me which films I have sent off to be developed and which I haven’t – it might seem daft, but I’ve been known to lose track of this sort of thing, and sometimes it plagues on my mind.
I also have a clearer idea of what I’ve shot with each roll through a habit I’m forcing myself into of writing down subject matter in the big space below the headings. I’ve not yet got to the stage doing this religiously, but am working on it, as I already find myself reaping the benefits of doing so. First and foremost, I’ve found this great for just being able to look back at what images to expect from the roll, but more than that it’s triggered a desire in me to get more organised.
My intention is to use the books to help catalogue/index my negs. Time will tell as to whether or not I follow through with this, there are some serious bad habits that need breaking here… but hopefully this whole process of becoming a little more organised will provide me with the encouragement and the step in the right direction that I need to break them.
So what’s missing?
Unfortunately very few things in life are entierly perfect for everyone, and since Mike did ask for feedback, I thought I’d highlight what seems to me to be an obviously missing feature of these books. To my mind there is a lack of index page at the front.
I guess you could make the argument that as it is it leaves the page to be used as anyone who buys one of these books sees fit, I just can’t think of anything else I’d personally use the opening page for. If the pages were numbered, and there was a list of those page numbers at the beginning of the book with a space next to each number to make a quick note, to my mind it would just bring an extra level of organisation to them. And if there really is need for some completely blank pages, maybe the first double page spread could be left blank..? That said, I do feel this is me nitpicking a little bit!
In summary, I’d fully congratulate Mike (and those who helped him on the way) in what he’s brought to market. I really do think that if you’re anything like me, on first glance you might not see the whole point in these, but get yourself a couple and I’d be almost certain you’d feel like you’ve found the missing piece of a puzzle in your film photography process! I feel quite strongly that not only do I want to keep using these PhotoMemo books, but actually for my own sanity I need to!
Get yours here (and don’t forget to add a sticker or patch to your basket whilst your at it! 😉 )