Pursing the perfect negative

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I just spent 9 hours in the darkroom yesterday, developed nearly 30 4x5 negs plus some roll film with contact sheets - my back is sore today :-) Mixture of Tri-X, HP5+ and Bergger 200.

I noticed I'm still getting some white spotting on some of my negatives and wondering where in my technique I'm falling down. I am meticulous about loading my holders - blowing them out, putting them in sealed baggies and gently blowing them before I load them into my crown graphic. I tray process 4 - 6 at a time. I'm using PMK with water bath stop and TF4 fixer all at 72 deg, resoak in used PMK then wash in tray in softly running water for about 15 minutes, photoflow then hang on line to dry with clothes pin. I will note that I have been doing a lot of beach pictures so it could be errant sand getting on to the neg.

Any suggestions on how to improve my technique?

John, Charleston SC

-- John Welton (jwelton2@home.com), November 03, 2001


John I do sympathise, for it seems that know matter how careful you are DUST always rears its ugly head. I do find however I get less dust when using roll backs (smaller surface area). I also believe a lot of the dust is from within the camera, bellows etc.

Also like you I do a lot of beach photography and I try never to put the camera bag down always try to work from it hanging from the shoulder. I also keep the camera covered between shots, using a draw string stuff sack I purchase from an outdoor pursuit shop. These bags are also shower proof but do need replacing after a few years, but they are cheap.

All the best,

-- Trevor Crone (trevor.crone@uk.dreamcast.com), November 03, 2001.

I hate dust, and I am loathe to spot.

-- Chad Jarvis (cjarvis@nas.edu), November 03, 2001.

A wet negative hanging to dry will stick ANY dust in the air onto the film. I now use a 'prepared' bathroom to hang the film for drying. I turn the shower head on hot and let the bathrrom steam up bigtime - this removes the dust in the room. I then keep the door shut and hang the film. I do not open the door until the film is dry - since it is soooo humid it takes overnight and I usually dab off the hanging drops that form on the lowest corner. I now only get dust on my negs if it was there at the time of exposure. I have also recently moved to using Kodak single-sheet ready loads with TMX 4x5 so that the dust problem is essentially gone. I also use hangers for film developing cause I'm concerned about one sheet corner scratching another.

-- keith Baker (doublehall@aol.com), November 03, 2001.

I would agree with Keith. Overall, we should think micro-environment-I am sure there are other techniques, but in my hands, Ilford anti-static cloths and Ilford LFN (low foam non-ionic) wetting agent work great.

-- David Stein (DFStein@aol.com), November 03, 2001.

Thanks for the fine answers and my apologies for my spelling (that was pursuing . . . ).

I'm pretty sure I'm getting dust flecks at exposure not development but do find the bathroom suggestion intriguing as well as the other suggestions. I wish Kodak would put Tri-X in Readyloads.


-- John Welton (jwelton2@home.com), November 03, 2001.


I thought that I would convey my procedure, not that its the best, but that it works well and might help you. I live in the dusty west and my wife complains about how quickly our home gets dusty. I never dust off my Riteway film holders and they are in very used condition. But what I do is pre soak my negatives for about 1 to 3 minutes and use the pre soak water as the water for my PMK mixture. I started doing this because my second Bergger negative had spots from air bubbles on it. I hope a pre soak helps.


-- Greg Rust (kgeicrust@aol.com), November 03, 2001.

Hi John -

Which beach? I'm in Charleston, too, and I've spent a lot of time scraping sand out of my tripod. Surprised I haven't seen you out there.....come to think of it I've never seen another photographer on the beach with anything other than 35mm. If a spot a Crown Graphic, I'll give a yell.

I used to have the opposite problem with PMK; little black specks. Sometimed they were smeared like miniature comets. I used distilled water from presaok to fix, and never could figure out what caused it.

Sorry, no help on the white spots. Could there be a fungus among us?

-- Kevin Bourque (skygzr@aol.com), November 03, 2001.

First, i don't know if I would blow air on the film holders once the film is loaded, because you will probably force any stray dust or sand accumualted at the top of the darkslide into the film holder. Second if the conditions are windy, do not remove the darkslide all the way. I mark mine so i know how far to pull to expose the entire neg, then slide it back in and put a pice of white tape on the slide to tell me that the film has been exposed. Third I load my film holders in the bathroom after I have run a hot shower to eliminate dust. And finally I built a simple drying tent out of '2x'3 wood frame from which hangs a shower curtain held in place by velcro and has a series of wires and clothespins for hanging 12 sheets. After washing the film i carry it in a tray with the photflo and then pull them from the tray inside the tent, keeping the negs in the dust free environment. This may sound totally paranoid, but it has eliminated 99% of dust spots during exposure and processing.

-- James Chinn (Jim1341@DellEpro.com), November 03, 2001.

I found that the key to my dust problem was having clean film holders. After trying anti static cloths, brushes, compressed air, etc., I bought a small shop vacuum with a brush attachment that is about 1.5 inches wide. I now vacuum all the holders thoroughly each time I load film, and have virtually eliminated dust on my negatives. Of course the few dust specks I get on rare occasion still manage to find the sky. I hope this

-- Richard Wasserman (disfromage@aol.com), November 04, 2001.

One more suggestion that has helped me: Before you load the film into the filmholder, tap it two or three times edgewise on the counter (somewhere relatively distant from your holders) to remove any particles remaining from cutting the film. Many times there are small burrs and strings still attached to the sheets which detach upon loading and cause pinholes. The film manufacturers are not nearly as clean in this respect as they would like you to believe. You'll be surprised at the pile of little black specks you get doing this that would otherwise have been loaded in with the film. Hope this helps a bit in the war on dust! Regards, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (ScudderLandreth@compuserve.com), November 05, 2001.

Thanks for all the great suggestions!


-- John Welton (jwelton2@home.com), November 08, 2001.

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