It depends, but if I want a long term record, I usually write my notes in a small notebook I have for the purpose. Sometimes if I'm shooting 4x5" I'll write my notes in the white space on my Grafmatics and transfer them to the notebook later. I find the notebook most handy for travel shots where I want to keep track of locations or for studio shots where I want to keep a lighting diagram.
For 8x10" and 11x14" I'll either use the notebook or blank Post-It notes. Post-It's are handy, because I can transfer the note from the filmholder to the lab receipt if it's color and finally to the negative sleeve in the file, or sometimes I'll re-write the info directly on the sleeve.
I suppose that if I wanted to be really efficient I could carry around neg sleeves and write my notes on them when I shoot, but I don't usually sleeve negs immediately. I file them temporarily and decide which ones I like and discard those that I don't think I'll ever print.
I've been through several of the iterations mentioned above. I finally settled on two small notebooks. The first is a small 3x5 notepad for recording negative info; sheet holder number, subject, N or N+ or N- ect for development, once in a while, the shutter speed and f stop. I also assign a sequential number based upon the format, year, and exposure number for the year. For example, the fifteenth 8x10 neg taken in 2004 would be numbered 84015. A 4x5 neg would be numbered 44015. This provides the crossreference index that is carried over to the printing info.
The second notebook, daytimer size, is used for the printing info. Take the negative number, paper brand/type/grade, exposure info, developer, development time, contrast filter if applicable. For the final version, the "fine print" all the above is noted along with any burn/dodge info.
Short, sweet, no forms, no holes to punch. I can easily find print info for any neg I've printed.
Those little GI message books are great if you can get them. My horded supply ran out years ago. (Duhhh, the daughter is in the service now!)
Burn/dodge info I record on separate sheet or sometimes directly on a contact or work print. I've taken to notating the amount of burning/dodging in stops (e.g., +1, -1/2, etc.) rather than by time, as I once did. This allows me to apply the same information to different sized prints without having to recalculate and gives me a good starting point if I want to reprint at some point in the future with a different paper/developer combo.
When I'm shooting and find I want to keep notes I always write on the polaroids then staple it to the proof sheet. I also keep printing notes and attach those to the proof sheets. For the most part though while shooting, being in the moment, seems to be enough to bring back the memory for the details of the circumstances while pursuing the shot. Unless I'm testing, note taking is a distraction. Each shot I take I do save the final polaroid and attach it to my print work sheet. Being involved in absolute detail for me does not give me the freedom to be in the moment.
Some years ago my daughter gave me a tiny tape recorder with a voice activated control (vox). I slip this in a shirt pocket or equivalent and talk out loud throughout a shoot. One might think this would elicit some strange looks, but it usually goes unnoticed. When in the privacy of the “office”(?), I record succinct information in bound journals like Alex above. I have capitulated to modern technology in the use of the Mate’s ink-jet printer to put proper information on the back of 8x10 proof prints.
I have found the above procedure(s) very helpful and it offers hands-free operations when it is necessary.
I have a form I devised that I use until I get to the stage that I can predict how a film/developer combination will react, then I stop using it. More often than not, I would forget to record anyway, my mind obsessively thinking about the next shot.
The forms still come out whenever i change my practice though, at least for a while.
Every negative I possess is on an Excel spread sheet. The laptop synchs to a Palm Vx, which has an abbreviated form for exposure data, filter factor, bellows extension, and development. Every holder has a label and gets a "*" if there is a note for when I return to the darkroom. I've used this system since 1996 and it has saved my bacon on numerous occasions.
I have uploaded two photos of the notepad I use and the type of notes I take.
They are in the non-Gallery section of the gallery.
This little book works very well for me and cost next to nothing. I can replace the paper insert, the pages are the type you can tear out and their is a carbon sheet in the back in case you want to make a copy of your notes to give someone else.
I place adhesive mailing labels to the film holder listing exposure info, film ei, filter used and development required and the date. I will usually make a notation about the location in a notebook at home with the corresponding file number for the neg. I will also record the date and location of any neg
I keep on the margin of the negative if it is sheet film. I will also record in the notebook the developer details.
In the darkroom I try to tape record important information and then later sort out and record the important stuff on the back of a proof print. I will also use a marker and indicate on the proof areas that have been burned or dodged, with what filter and by f-stops.
BMAC - Make up your own forms and such, if you feel it is necessary. This is part of the lifestyle of a Zonista. The exposure record is all well and good only if you are committed to reviewing the field notes and comparing the negative with your visualization. IF you are committed to recording, studying and (most importantly) using the knowledge to change your zone placement (a big IF for most photographers) then exposure records are a good tool for learning and improvement. Once you can place a zone, then you can leave the notebook at home and spend more time photographing.