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View Full Version : Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth



Jim Noel
2-Apr-2017, 10:07
Why donít people learn how to use a Dark Cloth correctly?

I see post after post concerned because of light leaks.

When I was 7 years old a photographer friend gave me my first large format camera, a 4x5 Speed Graphic. He also gave me a dark cloth which was larger than I was. My memory says it was somewhere aaround 5 feet square. One of the admonitions he gave me was to never
use a too small dark cloth as they only lead to problems. I have never forgotten that.

Later in life I went out to photograph with Cole Weston. Cole was a good six feet plus. When he set up his old Calumet 8x10 and pulled out his dark cloth I was amazed. When draped over the camera the cloth touched the ground on both sides, it must have been 12 feet long.. He
focused and then with the cloth draped over his head he leaned over the film box and removed one of the old holders he inherited from Edward, then slid it into the camera. The moral of this paragraph is keep your film holders in the dark and stop worrying about light leaks.

Look at photos of photographers of the past. My vision of them is they were usually draped with a very large dark cloth. Learn from them.

I recently completed my 88th trip around the sun, and I still use large and ultra large cameras. Almost every time I see other LF photographers, I see people with the tiniest cloths imaginable. I have little doubt that these same people are the ones who write into the forums wondering why they have light leaks. Often included in their post is,"I checked the bellows with a flashlight and found no leaks."

Well, surprise, surprise there are a lot of other places on the camera where light is attempting to enter. The only way to be assured of keeping it out is to use a large cloth, and use it correctly. I know they are difficult to find, but they can be made. Have one made out of good
materials and you wonít ever need another one.

My primary dark cloth is 5x8 feet. I have a little 5x6 foot one which I sometimes use with the 5x7 when I am in a studio.

Here are some common errors and solutions.
1. Get rid of the handkerchief and get a big cloth, no less than 4x6 ft for 4x5 camera; at least 5x7 feet for 5x7 and larger camera.
2. Do not Velcro it to the rear edge of the camera, or clamp it there. Drape it all the way to the front standard so it covers all of the bellows as well as the back of the camera.
3. Carry your holders in a light tight container and keep it in the dark of the cloth when open.
4. Never have your holders in the light, keep them covered.
5. Forget those devices which fasten to the back of the camera and provide a nice dark view of the glass. They serve only one purpose, focusing in the dark. They do nothing to protect from light leaks, one of the primary purposes of a dark cloth.

Mark Sampson
2-Apr-2017, 11:55
Well said, sir. Good advice!

karl french
2-Apr-2017, 12:17
6. Get off my lawn.

Thalmees
2-Apr-2017, 12:35
Well said, sir. Good advice!
+1 INDEED.
.

... Almost every time I see other LF photographers, I see people with the tiniest cloths imaginable. ...
Thanks so much Jim for your time writing this important thread.
If you also just noticed the tiniest three legged object below the camera:confused:! That's another story.
April joke this year came supporting the trend on tripods.
PROJECT ICARUS: https://www.3leggedthing.com/icarus
Do not know if they are serious! It's second of the month!
Thanks again Jim.

John Layton
2-Apr-2017, 13:12
I also went out with Cole back in the day - he behind his "Green Monster" C-1...and yes, a pretty substantial dark cloth!

...but I do tend to be extremely careful not to leave anything draped over the camera which might catch even light movements of air - which, in most cases it seems for where and when I choose to photograph, are almost always present.

Otherwise...and especially while working in blazing desert sunlight on a still day - yes indeed...a dark cloth often goes over the camera, black side in, white side out.

Leigh
2-Apr-2017, 14:26
Hi Jim,

Great guidelines.

I always do a full drape because sh*t happens, regardless of how careful or meticulous you are.

And it always happens with a once-in-a-lifetime shot that can't be repeated.

- Leigh

BrianShaw
2-Apr-2017, 14:31
88th solar orbit and still photographing... good for you. I hope to emulate you one day.

Randy
2-Apr-2017, 14:45
For many years now I have covered the bellows and rear standard with my dark-cloth during exposure, but I have always felt it was overkill on my part. I am glad to find out that others with more experience than me have the same habit. I have been shooting LF since the early 80's and can not remember the last time I have had a "light leak". Matter of fact, my 8X10 camera is about 90 years old, original bellows, uses odd sized wooden film holders (so the plastic ones I use are smaller than the camera back call's for), but because I always cover the bellows and rear standard with my dark-cloth, I have not had a light leak in almost 20 years of use.

I may start using a dark-cloth when I shoot digital...

Merg Ross
2-Apr-2017, 15:29
Excellent advice, Jim. Thanks for posting.

I was given similar advice when 12 years old,and it has served me well for sixty-plus years. The Weston's were famous for using lots of cloth; I think Cole probably the most!

My first 4x5 camera in 1953 (Brand 17)

163377

Jim Fitzgerald
2-Apr-2017, 20:52
Jim and Merg, sound advice. I have large dark cloths for all of my cameras for the very reasons you speak of. The one for the 14x17 is huge!

Vaughn
2-Apr-2017, 23:07
I thought one was just suppose to use one's black t-shirt? :cool:

I can just hear the t-shirt guys, "Yeah, it's the ones that have 6 pound darkcloths that complain about getting old and how they can't carry their cameras very far anymore!"

LabRat
3-Apr-2017, 02:00
Excellent advice, Jim. Thanks for posting.

I was given similar advice when 12 years old,and it has served me well for sixty-plus years. The Weston's were famous for using lots of cloth; I think Cole probably the most!

My first 4x5 camera in 1953 (Brand 17)

163377

Who is it this time Batman??? Riddler, Joker, Penguin??? :-)

But I think your "growing pains" outgrew your tripod...

Did you have time for puberty while chasing your dream while growing up???

Great you stuck with it!!!!!!!

Keep up the good stuff!!!!

Steve K

Jim Graves
5-Apr-2017, 00:35
I thought one was just suppose to use one's black t-shirt? :cool:

I can just hear the t-shirt guys, "Yeah, it's the ones that have 6 pound darkcloths that complain about getting old and how they can't carry their cameras very far anymore!"

+1 here ... great advice obviously to always use an ample dark cloth ... but it sort of depends on how you shoot.

I started out with LF while backpacking ... cutting the handle shorter on my toothbrush to save weight. In 14 years of LF shooting ... 4x5, 5x7, whole plate, and 8x10 ... I've never used a dark cloth. Always a light weight black jacket or hiking rain jacket and diopters on my glasses for focusing close to the glass.

I use the jacket to shield the back of the camera when I pull the slide. I'm also extremely careful pulling and replacing the slide. Then I hang the jacket over the back of the bellows and camera as I'm shooting.

I'm sure I've probably lost a shot or two from light leaks (but I don't remember any) ... but I know I've lost a number of shots from the classic list of other bonehead LF errors that we've all made.

There's just no way I'm hauling an oversized dark cloth around with all the other LF gear ... maybe if I'm shooting in a studio or right next to my car ... but that's not how I normally shoot.

Pfsor
5-Apr-2017, 06:54
There's just no way I'm hauling an oversized dark cloth around with all the other LF gear ...

Don't worry, you're not the only one. In more than 25 years I used a small dark cloth maybe twice or so (at the beginning, before I tossed it out of my bag). And I was selling my photographs for the same long time. Go figure.

Vaughn
5-Apr-2017, 07:42
I like a large darkcloth and am more than willing to carry it. But I spend a lot of time under it behind the camera. I print full frame, so I spend a lot of time composing. And in Death Valley last month, the white side was very nice to have...kept me, the camera and film cooler. I have used the darkcloth to keep the camera semi-dry when a waterfall shifted in the wind and came right on top of me. I have used it to keep warm during long exposures at night. And I can pick my nose under it without anyone knowing...

John Kasaian
5-Apr-2017, 08:33
Wise advice.

Bruce Barlow
5-Apr-2017, 08:55
I have a really big black T-shirt, stuffed inside a really big white T-shirt. It fits over the back of the camera. My sister kindly sewed up the armholes. I put a shoelace and a lock-lace thing through the bottom hem. It's nice not to have all the light coming from below - I have tunnel vision, so to speak.

Works for me.

Vaughn
5-Apr-2017, 10:21
True, Bruce -- light reflecting off the ground at one's feet can be obnoxious.

Cor
6-Apr-2017, 00:07
It's all sound advice..but but I use a darkcloth only for focussing, never during an exposure (too windy most of the times). I am convinced if your camera's bellows, ground glass/film holder and your film holders perform as they should AND insert and remove film holder and darkslide with care and caution, there should no be a need for extra light shielding (oh and let the sun NOT shine directly on the felt trap of the inserted holder) there should not be any problem (and I haven't had any in 20 years..but I should not tempt the Photo Gods I guess..;-)..)

best,

Cor