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Thread: Long trips without a darkroom

  1. #1

    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.

  2. #2

    Long trips without a darkroom

    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.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    St. Simons Island, Georgia

    Long trips without a darkroom

    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.

  4. #4
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Rio Rancho, NM

    Long trips without a darkroom

    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.

  5. #5
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    Long trips without a darkroom

    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.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    San Francisco

    Long trips without a darkroom

    Another vote for readyloads on the road. IMHO life is too short to futz with loose film away from home.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Middletown, NJ - Land of the Living Dead

    Long trips without a darkroom

    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...

  8. #8

    Long trips without a darkroom

    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

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Long trips without a darkroom

    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.

  10. #10

    Long trips without a darkroom

    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!

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