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Thread: Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Aug 2000

    Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

    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.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    now in Tucson, AZ

    Re: Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

    Well said, sir. Good advice!

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    San Francisco, CA

    Re: Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

    6. Get off my lawn.

  4. #4
    Thalmees's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2006

    Re: Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Sampson View Post
    Well said, sir. Good advice!
    +1 INDEED.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Noel View Post
    ... 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! That's another story.
    April joke this year came supporting the trend on tripods.
    Do not know if they are serious! It's second of the month!
    Thanks again Jim.

    The generosity of spirit in this forum is great, its warmly appreciated.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Newbury, Vermont

    Re: Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

    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.

  6. #6
    8x10, 5x7, 4x5, et al Leigh's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Maryland, USA

    Re: Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

    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
    If you believe you can, or you believe you can't... you're right.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Los Angeles, CA

    Re: Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

    88th solar orbit and still photographing... good for you. I hope to emulate you one day.

  8. #8
    Randy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Virginia, USA

    Re: Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

    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...

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    SF Bay Area

    Re: Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

    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)

    Click image for larger version. 

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  10. #10
    LF/ULF Carbon Printer Jim Fitzgerald's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Vancouver Washington

    Re: Stop Light Leaks - Use your dark cloth

    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!

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