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Start Me Up: file browser essentials > Creating a Contact Sheet for Your CD

Creating a Contact Sheet for Your CD

All right, your CD of “digital negatives” is burned; but before you go any further, you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration down the road if you create a CD jewel-box-sized contact sheet now. That way, when you pick up the CD, you’ll see exactly what’s on the disc before you even insert it into your computer. Luckily, the process of creating this contact sheet is automated, and after you make a few decisions on how you want your contact sheet to look, Photoshop takes it from there.

Step One.
In Photoshop CS, you can access the Contact Sheet command by either going under the File menu, under Automate, and choosing Contact Sheet II, or by choosing it directly from the File Browser’s “mini-menu” in the top left-hand corner under Automate (since this is the File Browser chapter, we’ll assume you’re going to choose it right from within the Browser). NOTE: People frequently ask me why it’s called “Contact Sheet II,” rather than just Contact Sheet. It’s because it’s the second version of Contact Sheet. When Adobe first introduced this feature back in Photoshop 5.5, it was, well...pretty lame (and that’s being kind). So when they updated and improved it in the Photoshop 6 release, my guess is that Adobe was afraid people who had tried the previous Contact Sheet wouldn’t try it again, so they added “II” to the name to let people know this was kind of like a version 2.0. By now, in Photoshop CS, it’s been updated twice since Photoshop 6.0, so technically it should probably be called Contact Sheet IV. Personally, I’d prefer to see it named “Scott’s Contact Sheet” but thus far, Adobe hasn’t bought into that naming concept. Too bad—I think it has real potential.

Step Two.
When the Contact Sheet II dialog appears (opposite page), under the Source Images section, select Folder in the Use pop-up menu, then click the Choose button and the standard Open dialog will appear (shown here). Navigate to your newly burned CD and click the Choose button in your Select dialog. This tells Photoshop to make your contact sheet from the images on your CD.

Step Three.
The rest of the dialog is for you to pick how you want your contact sheet to look. Under the Document section of the dialog, enter the Width and Height of your jewel box cover (the standard size is 4.75” x 4.75”) and the Resolution for your images. (I usually choose a low resolution of 72 ppi because the thumbnails wind up being so small they don’t need to be a high resolution; and Contact Sheet runs faster with low-res images.) I also leave the Mode as RGB Color (the default), and I choose to Flatten All Layers; that way, I don’t end up with a large multilayered Photoshop document. I just want a document that I can print once and then delete. The Thumbnails section is perhaps the most important part of this dialog, because this is where you choose the layout for your contact sheet’s thumbnails (Columns and Rows). Luckily, Adobe put a preview box on the far-right side of the dialog, using little gray boxes to represent how your thumbnails will look. Change the number of Rows or Columns, and this live preview gives you an idea of how your layout will look.

Finally, at the bottom of the dialog, you can decide if you want to have Photoshop print the file’s name below each thumbnail on your contact sheet. I strongly recommend leaving this feature turned on. Here’s why:

One day you may have to go back to this CD to look for a photo. The thumbnail lets you see if the photo you’re looking for is on this CD (so you’ve narrowed your search a bit), but if there’s no name below the image, you’ll have to launch Photoshop and use the Browser to search through every photo to locate the exact one you saw on the cover.

However, if you spot the photo on the cover and see its name, you just open Photoshop, and then open that file. Believe me, it’s one of those things that will keep you from ripping your hair out by the roots, one by one. The capture here shows the font size being chosen from the Font Size pop-up menu.

There’s also a pop-up menu for choosing from a handful of fonts and font sizes for your thumbnail captions. The font choices are somewhat lame, but believe me, they’re better than what was offered in the original Contact Sheet, so count your blessings.

Font sizing: When you’re choosing a font size for your contact sheet thumbnail captions, make sure you decrease the default size of 12 to something significantly lower. You’ll need to do this because of the long file names assigned to the images from your digital camera. In the example shown here, I used the default 12-point font size setting, and you see only the first 6 digits of the file name, making this contact sheet worthless.

© BRAND X PICTURESWhen you put a lot of thumbnails on your contact sheet, you need to make the font size smaller, or you’ll see only the first few characters.

I had to lower the font size to 6 to actually be able to read the entire file name under each thumbnail. So how small should you make your type? That depends. The more thumbnails you’re fitting on your contact sheet, the smaller you’ll need to make the font size.

Here’s the same contact sheet with a much smaller font size, enabling you to see the entire file name.

Step Four.
Now all you have to do is click OK, sit back, and let Photoshop do its thing. (It may take up to two and half hours to create a single contact sheet. Kidding! Had you going there, didn’t I?) It only takes a minute or so, and when you’re done, you’re left with a contact sheet like the one shown at right, with rows of thumbnails and each photo’s file name appearing below it. (Note: I lowered the font size to 8, and could still see the full file name, but not the “.jpg” at the end; but since every file was a JPEG, no big loss).

Step Five.
This is more like a tip than a step, but a number of photographers add a second contact sheet to make it even easier to track down the exact image they’re looking for. It’s based on the premise that in every roll (digital or otherwise), there’s usually one or two key shots—two really good “keepers” that will normally be the ones you’ll go searching for on this disc. So what they do is make an additional contact sheet with just the two or three key shots on that CD (as shown here), to use either as the cover or the inside cover of their CD jewel case (the regular contact sheet is visible on the outside of the jewel case, and this additional contact sheet is on the inside). They include a description of the shots to make finding the right image even easier.


If you’re only using two or three images, you don’t need to use Contact Sheet II—you can just create this second cover yourself.

Step Six.
Here’s the final result, after the contact sheet has been printed and fitted to your CD jewel case.



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