Contact or Proof Sheets in the darkroom or Photoshop.

Contact or Proof Sheets in the darkroom or Photoshop.

A proof or contact sheet is a direct image of photographic negatives printed in contact with a sheet of photographic paper.
If you are working with a complete digital workflow then these have become somewhat redundant, although your teacher may require them. They can be printed from Adobe Bridge, and Lightroom.
Contact sheets are very useful in many ways. They are the thumbnails of film, so you have a quick positive visual record. More importantly, they give you a good idea of how well you are exposing the film.
The key to contact sheets is being consistent when making them. Keep your enlarger at the same height; keep the exposure time and the enlarger aperture the same each time. And don’t forget to keep the glass clean.

Making a film contact sheet.

The easiest way to make a contact sheet is to buy a contact sheet holder. The best ones have clips at each end that hold the film strips in place. The film will usually need to be cut into 6 frame strips for 35mm film. (This is also usually the length for the film storage sleeves.)
Once your negatives are dry…

  • Clean the glass (use mentholated spirits or window cleaner) and make sure the foam backing is clean.
  • Clip your film into on to the glass. The shinny side of the film will be on the glass.
  • Turn off the white light in the darkroom.
  • Position the contact sheet frame under the enlarger (remove the easel if necessary).
  • Turn on the enlarger and wind it high enough so that the light covers the frame area.
  • Place a 2 ½ or 3 filter in the holder or adjust the colour enlarger yellow and magenta filters to 2 ½ or 3 equivalents.
  • Set the lens aperture to 5.6.
  • Place the red safety filter over the contact frame.
  • Set the enlarger for an initial 15 seconds (This is a starting point only – no two enlargers are the same.)
  • Carefully insert a sheet of 8 x 10 inch paper between the foam and the negatives. Close and lock the glass in place.
  • Expose the paper.
  • Remove the paper and process as you would a normal print.
  • Areas that have been covered by parts of the frame should be a very clean white.
  • Areas that were not covered by the frame or the negatives should be very black.
  • This may take a few prints to achieve.
  • Once the print is dry, you will have a long lasting record of your negatives that can be used in your folio to show the variations of your shoot.
    It is also easier to judge which prints you may wish to print.

    Making a digital contact sheet using Adobe Bridge.

    CS6 and later (Photoshop or Bridge CC and CC 2014). Bridge and Photoshop use the same “engine”, so whilst the methods vary slightly the results are the same.
    To create the sheet do one of the following:

  • In Photoshop select File > Automate > Contact Sheet II.
  • In Bridge choose a folder of images or specific image files. From the Bridge menu, choose Tools > Photoshop > Contact Sheet II. Note: you must select specific images, otherwise the contact sheet will include all the images currently displayed in Adobe Bridge. You can choose different images after the Contact Sheet II dialog box opens.
    In the Contact Sheet II dialog box, choose an option from the Use menu and specify the images you wish to include.
    Note: If you select Bridge, all images currently in Bridge are used unless you selected images before choosing the Contact Sheet II command. Images in subfolders are not included.
  • In the Document area, specify the dimensions and colour data for the contact sheet. Select Flatten All Layers to create a contact sheet with all images and text on a single layer. Deselect Flatten All Layers to create a contact sheet in which each image is on a separate layer and each caption is on a separate text layer – this can be useful for minor changes later.
  • In the Thumbnails area, specify layout options for the thumbnail previews.
  • For Place, choose whether to arrange thumbnails across first (from left to right, then top to bottom) or down first (from top to bottom, then left to right).
  • Enter the number of columns and rows that you want per contact sheet.
  • Select Use Auto-Spacing to let Photoshop automatically space the thumbnails in the contact sheet. If you deselect Use Auto-Spacing, you can specify the vertical and horizontal space around the thumbnails.
  • Select Rotate For Best Fit to rotate the images, regardless of their orientation, so they fit efficiently on a contact sheet.
  • Select Use Filename As Caption to label the thumbnails using their source image filenames. Use the menu to specify a caption font and font size.
  • Click OK.
  • Your contact sheet will be generated and can then be saved as a pdf for sharing, or printed.

    Photoshop CS x series – CS5.5 and earlier.

    If your computer has Creative Suite installed (CS x) you should have the file organiser Bridge installed.
    Bridge is also useful for batch renaming your files.


  • Open Bridge. Make sure any external drives are connected.
  • Select the files that you require on your contact sheet.
  • Turn on the export panel in the Window menu.
  • Select the left PDF button at the top of the panel.
  • Select the 5*8 Contact Sheet preset from the Template drop down.
  • Click Refresh Preview.
  • Make any adjustments to the font etc. to suite your preference. (This is a fairly long panel, so scroll down for further options.)
  • Click Save (Check the View PDF After Save box so the PDF opens straight away.)
  • You can now print the PDF in normal way.
  • If Bridge proves troublesome or is not installed, you can do a similar thing in Photoshop. This requires the installation of a plug-in, so if you are at school you will need to ask your teacher to get the IT people to install it. If you are on Apple computers and running 10.7 (Lion) or higher and you are running Photoshop CS5.0 or CS5.5, make sure that Photoshop is running in 32bit and NOT 64bit mode.
    To run Photoshop in 32bit mode right click the Photoshop icon in the Applications folder (not on the Dock) select Get Info and check the Open in 32-bit mode box.

    Last updated: November 2014.