View Full Version : Using a film-changing bag in the field

chris jordan
28-Nov-2005, 16:08
Hi guys, I'm travelling to photograph in the field for a couple of weeks, and am hoping to use a film changing bag in the field so I don't have to go back to my hotel room every time I run out of film. I am pretty sure the changing bag I have was made by Dick Phillips (it came with a friend's Phillips camera) so it's probably as good as they come. But I wonder about its actual light-tightness in sunny conditions-- it has sleeves that go over your arms, which seem like they would leak light as I put them on and took them off.

Does anyone have some tips on how to effectively use a changing bag in bright light? Any thoughts or suggestions from those with changing-bag experience would be much appreciated.



Bruce Watson
28-Nov-2005, 16:29
The sleeves will leak light as you put your arms in and take them out. For that reason, you have to keep the film protected - either in a closed box, or in a closed film holder, before you pull out your arms.

I'm using a Harrison pup tent for 5x4. I've tested it in full summer sun (I put in a film holder, put in my arms, then pulled the dark slide and twisted the film around [exposed it to all directions] for 20 minutes. Then I processed the film and found no fogging at all.) However, I tend to use it in subdued light (at least out of full sun) just to be safe. But people use them on picnic tables all the time.

The biggest problem for me is dust control. The field is a dirty place. If you can wash your hands and arms before using the bag, do so. When you get back to the hotel, wipe the changing bag out with a damp towel. I won't hurt to do that every night after you use it. Leave it set up overnight so the last bits of moisture can evaporate.

Also, if it's hot, know that your hands and arms are going to sweat. Be especially careful to avoid finger prints.

Eric Leppanen
28-Nov-2005, 17:26
Bruce makes a lot of good points, so I can add only a couple tidbits.

I've been using the Harrison Original Tent in bright sunlight for changing my 8x10 holders, without any problems. As part of my "tent workflow" I always make sure all film is covered before inserting or removing my arms through the sleeves.

Picnic benches are a favorite place for me to change film in the field. I always carry some paper towels to wipe the bench off before placing the tent on it. I also carry several cans of Dust-Off to clean off the bench as well as blow off any dust on the film holders. Chem-Wipes are good for cleaning the hands off before handling film.

MIke Sherck
28-Nov-2005, 18:03
The film changing tents I've seen and used work very well and, as others have noted, are light-tight while your arms are in the sleeves. Film changing bags, on the other hand, while functional, are a positive pain in the posterior to use compared to the tents. If you at all have a choice, go with a tent over a bag. Film changing bags work, but are considerably more awkward and "fussy" to use.

28-Nov-2005, 18:03
I only used one on one trip, in the desert. Even using it in the back seat of the car i had horrible dust problems. not sure what the best solution is ... i never tried it again in the field. it's a pretty decent bag ... think it's made by calumet. looks like an expedition tent for a kitten. No dust problems using it indoors, but then that's not really the point of the thing.

28-Nov-2005, 18:15
Don't be alarmed - you WILL get dust. Consider spot-toning a Zen thing (oops - no more Spot Tone!) Really, do your best, don't get upset. Even in a friendly setting, hands give off skin-scales which can show up. Then there's sweating in the bag. More Zen to work with.

Anyone who says he's never had these problems probably believes his poop don't stink.

Using a changing bag in the field ain't for wimps. (My Mother taught me that.)

Brian Vuillemenot
28-Nov-2005, 18:26
That's the beauty of using Quickloads- too bad they don't come in 8X10!

Mark Woods
28-Nov-2005, 19:53
Years ago when I was an assistant, the process I was taught was to turn the bag (tents didn't exist then) inside out and give them a good shake. A couple of times. This does two things: it gets the dust loose, and it (hopefully) gets rid of the static electricity that can attract the dust. It worked for us, but our loads were wound on a core and didn't have the emulsion exposed the way a sheet of film is.


John Layton
29-Nov-2005, 06:42
Another hint: If the bag is black on the outside, and if you cannot avoid using the bag in sunlight - you should cover the bag with something light-colored to help keep things cool. I have a darkcloth which is silvered on one side, and I usually throw this, silvered side out, over the changing bag. A silvered "rescue blanket" also works well for this, is very compact, and has other uses as well (light reflector, rain cover, and yes, as a rescue blanket!) To me, aside from dust, nothing is worse than sweaty hands in a changing bag!

Frank Petronio
29-Nov-2005, 06:54
The back of a toilet lid in a Motel 6 often works better. But I just ordered a Harrison tent for 8x10 after years of success with a smaller 4x5 sized Calumet Changing Room. The important thing is to keep it in a clean bag and always use it in a clean area. Changing film in the windy desert is just asking for trouble. I've never had trouble with the tents but I haven't used them in nasty conditions.

William Blunt
29-Nov-2005, 08:11
I used a Harrison Jumbo tent on a picnic table at Chaco in New Mexico at high noon several years ago with no problems. No shade at that location! Top of my head got burnt but that's another problem.

dan nguyen
29-Nov-2005, 11:45
A changing tent is more practical than a bag, but if you really want to use a bag I'd suggest that you put inside the bag a small card board box or a card board lid and change your film in there.

george jiri loun
29-Nov-2005, 13:56
Forget the card board box. It gives off plenty of paper dust.

michael Allen
29-Nov-2005, 14:15
I use the jumbo changing bag from Harrison for 11x14, with only two film holders right now I couldn't live with out it. I love this thing when I'm out all day, no excuses to go home just keep working.

John Layton
29-Nov-2005, 14:48
Wm. Blunt's mention of his using a changing bag at Chaco reminded me of my own changing bag experience there - as I was sitting, crosslegged, at the side of a trail, reloading some holders, when a middle aged man and his young daughter suddenly appeared. The girl was obviously very curious about my activity, and asked "dad, what's that man doing?" to which the dad replied, "never mind dear, lets just move along!"

John Kasaian
29-Nov-2005, 15:09
I took a changing bag with me to Hawaii waaaay too long ago to shoot what funky old pre WW2 architecture remained in Waikiki. No problems, but I replaced the film in the box and had all the film holders 'buttoned up' before I withdrew my arms from the bag. YMMV of course!

William Blunt
29-Nov-2005, 18:41
Before I bought my Harrison Tent I was photographing at Pecos National Monument with Tillman Crane. We took a break and Tillman sat at a picnic table and changed his 12x20 holders in a Harrison Tent with extensions on the ends. He did this while we chatted. I figured right then that was the way to go instead of the old motel bathroom thing. I only use mine for up to 8x10 film but it works great.

Pete Caluori
29-Nov-2005, 19:17

I've successfully used the Harrison tent in the field and there are steps you can take to mitigate dust. Fisrt, you should invert the bag (turn it inside out) to make sure it is clean. Next, wipe the interior with a damp, not wet just lightly damp, lint free cloth. Doing both of these, plus making sure you roll up the sleeves of you shirt and just insert your bare arms will go a long way to ensuring you don't have dust problems. Additionally, I've used my harrison tent with 400 ISO film in the desert south west during mid day and did not have any light leaks, but you have to ensure you don't remove your arms while the film is open. Good luck!

Regards, Pete

Bob Younger
29-Nov-2005, 22:29
Damp microfiber towels are great for wiping out the interior. They don't generate any new lint or dust; and are superb at picking up whatever is there. If you're fortunate enough to be working in a place with electricity I've found that the vacuum cleaners that copier repairmen use are invaluable. They can not only clean out the tent (don't bother with a bag unless all you're doing is loading 35mm on developing reels); but also can do a great job of cleaning off the film holders themselves. And finally, get some appropriately sized anti-static bags from any of several web vendors. When I pull a holder out of one of those bags any local dust literally falls off the holder. Before I found these I was convinced that my holders called to dust from throughout the universe.
I also use one of the anti-static orange towels you can buy at camera stores to wipe down the holders before loading.
All of this fastidiousness was the result of shooting 8x10 color transparency material for the last 15 or so years. A dust particle on the film essentially negated all the work and significant expense that went into making the photograph.