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How many times have you taken photos and later forgot exactly what it was you photographed? This is a common problem that can be remedied by doing what is known as slating. Slating is merely a technical photographic term meaning something like “note taking.” The name comes from the old days when photographers would use chalk on slate boards to document their shoots.
Do you really need to do this? It's one thing when you are in your own town, getting pictures of a location. That type of subject is usually easy to recall. What if you are traveling somewhere you do not really know? Now that's a different problem.
I was visiting London a few years ago and used a very simple method for slating. I wrote down the name of what I was about to photograph, took a picture of the name and then a picture of the object. As you can see, the slate is even reusable and even doubled as a travel journal. This is a simple, no-nonsense, quick way of staying organized and helped me recall what I was looking at when I returned home. If you have never been to London, it is filled with old buildings, churches, bridges, circuses, squares and other things with mysterious, famous names. It pays to take this simple step to ensure you later remember what you saw.
When I am in my studio, I use a different kind of slate – a small, erasable white board. In the studio I often have time to record more information such as date, subject, ISO settings, f-stop, shutter speed and a few other things I find useful to have. In this case, I was photographing my friend Jonny Goldstein, a local video host and new media guy. I know Jonny personally, so it is unlikely that I would confuse his photos with anyone else's, but it's helpful to document this sort of thing as a habit. I have had days in which I photographed numerous individuals or groups and found it incredibly helpful to have this little bit of organizational framework once I sat down to edit the photos.
A third type of slating I do is simply photographing a sign. This is especially handy for locations with long or foreign names. In this case, I was photographing Wat Yarnna Rangsee, a Thai Buddhist temple in Sterling, VA. I could have done what I did in the first case, above, but I don't trust myself to write foreign names the proper way, especially when transliterated from a foreign tongue. Photographing the sign not only ensured that I got the right name for the location, but helped me make sure that I got the name right, which is just as important.
Whatever method you use to keep everything together, simply be sure it works for what you need and helps you stay organized. You will likely develop your own method that works best for you with a little bit of practice. What methods do you use currently or have you heard of?