Large Format Photomicrography part: IV

Photography Basics / Darkrooms

Not having a darkroom doesn’t mean giving up on large format photography; there is a darkroom solution for every problem out there, ranging from fully equipped professional quality spaces all the way to under a comforter, with the lights out, at night. One could run over to a site like to see the spaces available in ones area and, if fate is kind, find out a nearby space can be had for a nominal fee. If everything is hopelessly far away or self reliance is more ones style it’s just a question of expense. Free solutions can be as simple as waiting for nightfall and putting towels over every bit of light in evidence in a darkened bathroom, or cleaning out a little space in a closet.

Buying a photographic changing bag or darkroom tent is certainly an option. A changing bag is essentially a darkroom, for ones hands. A fairly large changing bag may be found in the $25.00-$40.00 USD range on any of the countless “we have everything” web-stores, just search for “changing bag.” If going that route don’t try and save a little cash by purchasing an undersized bag that’s really only useful for 35mm work, unless of course that’s ones ambition. Except in cases where every penny must be pinched it’s generally good advice to buy the largest changing bag one can afford; something about darkness turns a meter into a millimeter.

Photography Basics / Holders for 4×5

With some sort of perfectly dark place, a box of film, and a film holder one’s all set to load some film. The assumption here is that one will be loading up 4×5 film into a 4×5 holder.

If working in an improvised dark room take a moment to lay everything out that will be needed in an orderly way. It’s imperative that the box of film be fully reassembled as the final step; it’s no fun at all to have the lid of a box go missing as a result of a cluttered workspace. Where at all possible bring everything that is needed and only what is needed into the darkroom, whether that darkroom is a closet or a changing bag. It’s a good habit to open up the dark slides of the film holders as shown before going dark; closing the holders then only after film has been loaded. In this way one avoids both failing to load film and wasting time trying to load a sheet in a full holder.

Before the actual business of loading a few notes on film holders and loading 4×5 film. Holders usually have two sorts of indicators to avoid loading film incorrectly and double exposures. The first indicator is less universal and is based on two colors, white and black. One side of the dark slides handle is apt to be painted white or molded from white plastic. By convention this side is placed facing out when the film is un-exposed; it’s ready to see the light. After exposure the dark slide is placed back with the opposite (black) side facing outwards, indicating that the film has been exposed and should only be removed in the blackness of the darkroom.

Vintage or antique film holders are liable to have plain metal dark slide handles (or to have had all their paint worn off). Moreover, one can hardly observe the color on the dark slide when working in a darkroom or changing bag. All film holders thankfully have a second indicator which most commonly takes the form of  one or more raised or recessed dots on the upper right hand corner of the dark slide when viewing the un-exposed indicating side.

In addition to indicating the exposed or un-exposed state of a loaded film holder the raised dots serve as a reminder of how to properly load film. Every sheet of film has two sides, the emulsion side and the back. The emulsion side is the side which has been coated with light sensitive material and is the side which should be exposed to the light from ones camera lens. Unlike 35mm film which can only be loaded in one direction (as a result of the cartridge construction) 4×5 film can easily be loaded backwards. To address this issue every manufacturer includes a small indicator on each sheet of 4×5 film.

The indicator takes the form of one or a series of shaped notches in on corner of the film. Different patterns of notches indicate different types of film, speeds, manufacturers, and emulsions. Explanations of the notches is beyond the scope of this post, see the film makers documentation for details. Just as the raised dots of the dark slide should be in the top right when the film is un-exposed so too should the notches in the film be in the top right when loaded. If the notches are loaded such that they are in the top right, whether one loads the film by sliding it up from the bottom of the holder or down from the top, it is not possible to face the emulsion side away from the lens. Thank goodness for chirality.

Photography Basics / Loading 4×5

One should prepare for loading 4×5 film holders by giving them a good clean up. Take a clean, 2″ paintbrush, just the sort one would use for painting trim or moulding, and brush out the film holders. In a similar vein it’s frequently recommended that one use some sort of air duster for the task. The thought of so powerfully propelling dust into the air at a time when it would rather be settled seems enough to proscribe that practice. Pull all the dark slides out only so far as to expose the channels into which the film will be slid. Don’t pull the dark slides out all the way, doing so only serves to clutter up the work-space. At the same time do not think to simplify the task by only pulling out the dark slides a very minimal amount; one should be able to bend the partially loaded film slightly upwards to tell that each side is uniformly slid into its channel, a task that’s impossible if the dark slide itself is holding down the film.

If a picture is worth a thousand words I own at least one now.

Well there it is, enough to get anyone loading 4×5 in no time at all.


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