View Full Version : Dust and scratches worries moving to film holders and analog printing

Marco Annaratone
25-Jul-2004, 15:45
Hi everybody,

I have been shooting in the past five years mostly B&W with 6x12 and 6x9 cameras. I develop the negative and then scan it to print it with an ink-jet(Lyson inks). I typically spend fifteen minutes or so on a single scanned negative to get rid (photoshop) of dust spots, scratches etc.

Sometime ago I decided to buy a 4x5 camera and fell in love with LF. I use quickloads (Acros 100). In some sense my workflow has not changed that much compared to the MF above: develop, scan, ink-jet print.

The curiosity to go contact printing is just too great though at this point, and I am considering to buy an 8x10 or larger camera. The problem with it is that any format greater than 4x5 will force me to abandon "sealed" film (120 or quickloads) and start using film holders. Read: more dust and scratches.

I read in this forum of people absolutely frustrated by having to deal with dust and others that flatly say they never had a problem with it. I read of people investing significant amount of their time in fighting it, from vacuum cleaning the filmholders to keeping them in ziplock bags, to increasing the humidity of the room when to put the film in the holders. I certainly do know that I am not the kind of person who is willing to put up with hours of painstakingly (manual) retouch of prints because of dust problems generated by the film holders.

So, this is the help I need from you all. HOW BAD IS THIS PROBLEM, REALLY? How much time do you typically spend on a single print to retouch it? I have already dust and scratches problems on my negatives, with non sealed film is it going only to get worse, right? And while fixing this problem in photoshop is a bore but doable, doing it with a brush and inks on a print may very well be beyond my skills. And, anyway, as I said above, I'd rather spend my time doing something else.

Thank you all for any suggestion or comment you can share with me.

clay harmon
25-Jul-2004, 16:26
I think the real answer is: it depends. I live in Houston, Texas which is humid for most of the year. I can't say that I ever have problems with dust - and I shoot ULF sizes, so quickloads are not an option. If you live in the arid dusty desert, I can see where things might be a little challenging when it comes to dust problems. One thing I always do is take an anti-static cloth and wipe down the darkslide that will be facing the lens before I put the holder in the camera. A lot of dust problems come from environmental dust that gets introduced to the interior of the camera when you withdraw the darkslide. If there is any electrostatic charge to the film after the slide is withdrawn, the tiny particles will race toward it like a magnet.

Frank Petronio
25-Jul-2004, 16:34
Photographers have dealt this problem since 1838 or so. If you want to "cover yourself" shoot extra film, especially if you photograph a lot of smooth expanses like skies.

25-Jul-2004, 16:38
Well, if you consider Michael Smith's observation that "dust is equally attracted to static electricity and anxiety", you're probably screwed. But since you already have a 4x5 camera, why don't you get some standard 4x5 film holders and try it for yourself? People have successfully contact printed large format negatives for a very long time before the introduction of Quickloads and Readyloads.

tim atherton
25-Jul-2004, 17:52

I think the pixelographers are already well recognised - they get all the good MoMA, SFMoMA etc shows and their pixel prints usually beat out the "analogue" stuff at auction... :-)

John Cook
25-Jul-2004, 17:58
Working in commercial studios for four decades, I have never had a problem with dust. Perhaps one or two spots on an 11x14 print to hit with spotone, but thatís it. In the old days I used to get orders for 500 8x10 glossies at 50 cents each. I couldnít afford twenty minutes spotting per print.

(1) Clean the holders before you load them. Vacuum or compressed air. Especially the felt light trap (tap on it vigorously with the dark slide removed). Then donít leave them lying around to get dirty. Plastic bags are helpful. If you keep your holders clean they will need only a light touch-up each time you use them.

(2) Remember that compressed air moves the dust from the holder temporarily, but does not get rid of it. If you go crazy with an air gun in a small room you will blow everything up in the air, only to settle back onto your holders right after you put out the light and begin loading.

(3) My commercial studio is an office-type space. Lots of clean shiny surfaces. As they say, donít try this at home. Loading film holders in a room with wall-to-wall carpeting, drapes and upholstered furniture is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps a cheap plastic shower stall (with door) in the cellar might make a perfect film loading area.

David Van Gosen
25-Jul-2004, 22:16
If I've read correctly, didn't Adams and Weston manage in fairly primitive conditions? I recall reading that Adams loaded his film holders in the bottom of a sleeping bag. I bet he'd have really appreciated a can of Dust-Off.

Ralph Barker
25-Jul-2004, 22:25
You've already recieved some good advice, Marco, but let me take a slightly different approach. Dust is an issue with almost any type of photography, even original digital capture. While you've minimized the issue on 4x5 with QuickLoads, it's still there. Dust on the inside of the camera can jump on your neg when you pull the paper sleeve, too. It just won't be hiding in the holder from the original load.

Environmental factors (humidity, air quality, etc.) have an effect, as does "cleanliness" in practices. With just a little bit of extra effort and care, however, the dust problem can be managed nicely in most environments. And, one of the things that typically sets LF photographers apart from those who prefer smaller formats is attention to detail (what smaller-format shooters call "being anal"). So, if you're doing OK with QuickLoads combined with all of the other LF details, you'll probably be OK with conventional film holders, too. Plus, you'll open yourself up to the much wider range of films that are only available in regular sheets.

Trying regular holders with 4x5 sheet film, as previously suggested, is a good first step. If you can manage there, a larger format will be easy. Remember, enlargements of 4x5 negs also enlarge the dust - not an issue with contact prints of 8x10 or larger. (The dust might still be there if you're not careful, but it will be much smaller, and less noticeable.)

ronald moravec
26-Jul-2004, 05:13
I load my holders in the wet area of my darkroom that is also used for developing and drying film. Keep ceiling, shelves, walls dust free, and use a hepa air filter before drying film and loading holders. Keep holders CLEAN.

I almost forgot how to spot prints including 35mm.

Charlie Skelton
26-Jul-2004, 09:58
Re: Ansel Adams and primitive conditions. I visited the Ansel Adams at 100 exhibition several times when it was in London looking at the images in different ways. One visit I was looking at print quality and was surprised at the number of prints with dust, film faults ( perhaps caused by the fire), and in one case on a large exhibition print, a fine enlarged thumb print! The images were strong enough to bear these 'faults', but I bet that any of us would only see the fault, not the image in its entirety and get back in the darkroom. My thesis is that these things can get blown out of all proportion ( and that's not a dig at over enlarged prints). Given the hypothetical situation of a marvellous image on damaged media, where does one draw the line as to whether the image stands or not?


Frank Petronio
26-Jul-2004, 10:44
When you do a really large black and white print, as Ansel did, you see tons of crap that you never would with a typical 11 x 14 or 16 x 20. Like the pixelographers (love that name) of today, the standard excuse was "proper viewing distance."

In my case, eliminating dust spots is one of the major advantages to a digital print workflow.

Wait until you get a DSLR and have to clean the CCD sensor - several times - it will make cleaning film holders look easy and fun!

David Vickery
26-Jul-2004, 11:16
Get the 8x10, do the basic stuff, and don't worry about it. It will not be a big deal. As previously mentioned, the dust will not be enlarged like with 4x5 or smaller formats. And, the 8x10 contact prints will be unlike anything else that you have done.

John Kasaian
26-Jul-2004, 11:40

My SOP is to vacum my holders before each loading session, keep the holders stored in bags(I think Brawny makes zip locks to fit my 8x10 holders---the standard 1 gallon size won't fit) and vacum my bellows every so often. This works well for me. I use a little Shop Vac with the micro cleaning attachment kit that gets in the difficult places. YMMV. Good luck!

Marco Annaratone
26-Jul-2004, 17:07
Wow, this is truly a community of exceptional people. Thanks a million for (in order of importance, I guess) the psychotherapy session, the support group session, and the "LF photography how-to" session.

Yes, I will play with 4x5 holders first and if everything checks out...and it will :-) ... yes, I will likely take the plunge and carry around some big-big toy.

Contact printing here I come ...


27-Jul-2004, 07:51
I rarely have a problem with dust (4x5). However, last weekend I had one shot with a dozen or more small hairs (less than 1mm) all over it (20 or 30 of 'em). The next shot (reverse holder, open 1 stop, pull slide, shoot) completely clean...

Moral: you can't tell when it's going to bite you.

FWIW, my SOP: with an empty holder after unloading, open slide 25% and hit with a burst of air; close slide; put in plastic box (holds 6 holders); keep in box until loading; wash hands before loading (removes dead skin and oil); put back in box after loading; pray to the Dust Gods (sacrificing your first born is no longer considered politically correct, so stick with praying)...


P.S. Charlie: did you take a torch in with you? It was so dark in the Hayward Gallery, I could hardly see what the *subject* was half the time!

Paul Kierstead
27-Jul-2004, 08:36
Interesting that most peoples problems are at exposure. For me, all my dust problems -- considerable in some cases -- are post development, it at "printing" (OK scanning, but not so different when I worked in a lab). I guess my loading station is a lot cleaner then my printing station.