View Full Version : Long trips without a darkroom
Got a few questions for you fellers about going on the road with yer large format, questions about how ya manage yer film when ya donít got access to a dark room.
A couple of time a year I head out fer a few days to a couple weeks on the road. I go to agricultural fairs (steam engines) or Cowboy Action matches. Iím usually busily involved in the activities but they are also excellent places fer a photographer. This is my first year with the 4x5 camera and my first trip away is at the end of the week, so I am not prepared to be an active photographer this trip, although I will load up all my 11 holders with B&W film and try to get some shots.
I would REALLY like, in the future, to be very active on the road. I know I will need a loading tent of some sort but I donít know how you keep track of exposed films until you get back to the darkroom. Do you just shoot them all the same and keep the exposed B&W in one box and the colours in another box? T'ain't like shootin roll film whar ya jist stick the exposed rolls in yer bag 'n' ferget about 'em 'til ya get home.
I'd be interested in what "systems" you experienced folks have worked out.
If you don't mind the extra expense, you could go the Readyload/Quickload route. These systems (Kodak for the former and Fuji for the latter) have single sheets that go into special holders, much like 4x5 Polaroid film. You put in the sheet (with care so it's seated correctly), pull out the protective cover, shoot, push the cover back in, then release the film and remove it. I've only used Readyloads (having picked up an older holder for cheap), but those at least have an "exposed" sticker that folds over the end, keeping the cover from sliding away by accident. There is also a spot on the cover for recording exposure info and any processing notes, like N+2. A nice side-benefit is that you don't have to lug a changing tent and you don't get dust on the emulsion. The down side is that you have a small choice in types of film available to you.
I've used a couple of systems. Since I'm a packrat, I had a number of empty 4x5 film boxes. I marked one for color - I used only one color transparancy film at the time. Others I marked for B&W by the development I'd need. Since I was using the Zone System, I marked boxes N-2, N-1, N, N+1, N+2. I had numbered my film holders and kept notes, so when I unloaded the holders, I knew which box to put each negative in.
More recently, I make notes on each exposure and load the film into a single box in the same order as the notes. I'd still separate color and B&W if I still did color. When unloading the B&W film from the box, I know which development pile to put each negative in by the notes.
For me, color film is the easiest. On the road, I shoot only Fuji Quickloads because dust is an even greater issue with color film - it's a pain to spot. Quickloads solve that problem. For B&W, I simply take along extra film boxes that are labeled with "N", "N+1", "N-1", etc. and use small Post-It notes on the holders to designate processing until the film is unloaded. I also supplement that with 4x5 Polaroids on which I make notes about location names, etc. That way, once the film is developed, I can visually match up the negs to the Polaroids so I know what the images are. If I need to make more complex notes, I do that in a steno pad with a reference back to the location name on the Polaroid.
I usually take my Leica M along with me for more casual shots on trips. I "punctuate" the images on the 35mm film with pictures of city, road, and location signs that identify the location, too. I've found this to be an easy way of supplementing the written notes.
Another trick is to cut notch codes in the film guides of the holders, so negs can be tracked back to the film holder in which it was exposed. Although I haven't done that myself, I can see where it would be handy.
David A. Goldfarb
For 4x5" I usually carry 2 or 3 spare film boxes. In one I have several cardboard separators with tabs that I can feel in the dark, so that I can tell which is the top and which is the bottom and keep the five separators in order, and I use this arrangement for +2, +1, N, -1, -2. The other boxes are for other things, like film I'm planning to process in a different developer or another emulsion or sheets that I want to be sure are all processed in the same batch, like a multi-frame panorama. If I shoot enough to empty my box(es) of unexposed film then those can become storage boxes as well for exposed film.
Another vote for readyloads on the road. IMHO life is too short to futz with loose film away from home.
I'm rather fortunate, I have a large Fuji changing tent that I got from a minilab that was going out of business. It has a hinged wooden base which, when unfolded, is about 2 feet square. There are metal poles at each corner which support the rather large tent, and it has the necessary light tight sleeves for arm access. I have enough room in there for a pile of 5X7 holders and several film boxes. I use it in the back of my van for film changes. It's MUCH nicer than a changing bag...
The simple solution to your problem is film in packets - Kodak Readyloads, Fuji Quickloads, or Polaroid packets. Packet film systems address all of the problems you face - namely, a large quantity of conventional film holders will be bulky, heavy, and expensive, and having a small set of holders and reloading them in the field requires some portable darkness (e.g. a film changing tent/bag, or a way to black out a room) and will run into dust problems.
The downside to packet systems is that it roughly doubles the cost of the film. This seems extreme but in my experience, the expense is worth the freedom from hassles. Beyond that, on any extended trip, even when I use a large quantity of film, the film costs are generally small relative to gas, lodging, and food.
An in depth discussion of the various packet systems can be found at http://www.butzi.net/reviews/readyquick.htm
Always having plenty of holders (which the commercial clients paid for) I have never owned a tent. But I understand that a Harrison is the best. And the bigger the better.
As far as keeping films straight, just four suggestions:
First, number your holders. Being a neat freak, I canít bear to paint on them freehand. I use narrow black Dymo marker tapes on the top ridge of the dark slides. Then shoot and unload your holders sequentially.
Second, purchase 4x5 film in 25-sheet boxes (instead of 100's) for a while until you are awash in small empty boxes. Store small quantities of your exposed films in these. And label them just as you would a roll of film.
Third, shoot two sheets of film identically for each shot. Begin by running half (holder) sides and see what you get. If film needs a push or pull, perform those operations on the film from the second side of the holder.
Fourth, it is helpful to work out some way to mark each individual sheet of film so you donít get mixed up if you lose count. Our lab man bought a high quality ticket punch which cut a tiny vee-shaped notch in the side of the film, outside the picture area. Films 1 through 4 got that many notches along the top. Film 5 got one along the right side. Films 6 through 9 got one on the side and 1 to 4 on the top. Film 10 got two on the side, and so on. Not only did the films never get mixed up, he could identify them in the dark by feeling the notches.
I'm so tempted to recommend Grafmatics since they're six-shooters. ;-) But still they must eventually be re-loaded like conventional holders. Count me in as another Readyload/Quickload fan. It's the best thing since sliced bread. Loading film holders in the field is the pits, especially if you're around a group of people with other varied activities.
Good luck with the cowboys!
Readyloads are great for traveling (although more expensive), and if I shot 4x5, I'd use them. When shooting 8x10 B&W on a long trip, rather than using multiple film boxes or dividers, as I unload exposed film from holders and place in a film box, I clip off the tips of the corners of each film sheet in a pattern that tells me how to develop (no clip=N, right upper corner=N+1, right lower corner=N+2, left upper corner=N-1, etc.). When I get home, I can then sort the film in the dark by feeling the corners and develop appropriately.
Back in the day of film holders, my friend had a rig that allowed him to use the compressed air in his spare tire as a giant can of compressed air. No oil, no freon, no frozen splotches. It was a nice trick - he assembled it with a hose and fittings from an auto parts store.
But Readyloads really are so much easier and cleaner...
I prefer to travel with regular holders and boxes of film. Quickloads and Readyloads are bulkier than boxes of regular sheet film. I prefer a changing tent; however, if space is tight a changing bag works just fine. If you are carrying boxes of sheet film make sure to have a spare to show the security guys at the airport what they look like inside. To date I have only once had to xray my film. Luckily it didn't show any ill effects that I could see.
Organizing your film is definately a time to be anal. Instead of 25 sheet boxes I prefer the 100 sheet boxes from ilford. Perhaps this is because I shoot alot of film? I take notes and unload my holders in order. After shooting I label each holder with a little sticker that say E6, N, N-1, or N+1. I usually try to match the developing of each holder on both sides.
For my trip next week to yellowstone and glacier I am taking over 1000 sheets. Fedex mailers are ready to go to send the chromes to photocraft. The B&W sheets go in 100 sheet boxes labeled for the proper development. This trip will keep me in negatives for my winter printing sessions.
one thing to add... if there is a lab nearby that processes 4x5 film, they probably have a bunch of extra film boxes thay will give you.
On a recent trip I had 2 extra boxes with me and a changing bag. I labeled one box for B&W and the other for chrome. As I used up a box of fresh film, it would become the new storage for next box.
If you are using zone adjustments, I guess you could use a box for each adjuctment... just make sure to label each box.
Heres a big help: If you cant afford or find a changing tent, make sure you get the largest size changing bag you can find. The tents are very nice, but I dont think they are necasary (sp?).
Another hint: Double-check your exposure settings when switching from film to film. I have a numbe rof shots that are over/under exposed by 2 stops because I was swithing back-and forth between 400-speed BW and 100-speed Slide. I am just going to have to use all 100 speed from now on.
David A. Goldfarb
Readyloads and Quickloads have their attractions, but choice of film is not one of them, unless you shoot color 4x5" exclusively.
One more peice of advice... don't answer forum posts at 1:22 AM.
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