Organization of exposed film in the field... : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hello. This may seem like an odd question, but i am new to LF and simple things like this get me confused sometimes. When in the field with my 8x10, how should I unload and organize my film? In other words, after the film is exposed, what sort of container do most people use to store the film when they reload the film holders? Also, how do you keep the negs for n-1, n+1, etc. developement seperate? This is of course done in the dark, so I am confused about how to keep track of everything in the little tent. This seems a simple problem, but its got me scratching my head. Thanks in advance for any advice.

-- Ian Dickson (, April 23, 2002



This is both simple and tough. Simple in concept, but it is easy to screw things up if you do not pay attention.

It seems the accepted way to store exposed film in the field is in old film boxes. When I started, I went to a local lab, and they gave me several old 100 sheet sized 4x5 film boxes. Perhaps there is a local lab that processes 8x10 film that will give you some old boxes.

Then, take at least three empty boxes with you on the trip, marked N, N+, N-. You can mark your holder as you expose your film, so that you can later determine which sheet is unloaded into which box. Unload all of the N sheets together. Don't put the N+ or N- holders into the tent. When the N sheets are unloaded, pack up the N box, remove all of the N film holders, and replace them with the N+ holders and the N+ box. Repeat the process for the N+ films, remove them, and do the N- films.

The part where it becomes complicated is when you take multiple exposures of the same subject. Many photographers do this to make sure that they can adjust the development on the second sheet if they don't like the results after processing the first sheet. The problem is that now you have to identify individual sheets! This is hard to do without making a mistake. You can write some sort of identification of the image on your film holder. Before unloading, you can keep track of the images by using a notepad. Write down the descriptions in the order that you are going to remove them from the holders. This will give you a list of each image, in the reverse of the order you will find in the box. It is also helpful to write down the original development category (N, N-, N+) next to the description, so if you have to process the second sheet differently, you can quickly can see your original intention. Then, when you go to develop the film, you open the box and count sheets until you get to the one you want. Pull it out for development. You can modify this procedure so that you have three hold boxes, N, N+, N-. This makes it easier later, harder when first unloading the film. Needless to say, after a day of photographing, it is easy to get tired and make a mistake. No matter how you do it, it is a pain.

I would be interested to hear if anyone has come up with a better system.

-- Dave Karp (, April 23, 2002.

I assume you mean when you unload your film holders after a day - or several day's - work.

I bring several empty film boxes along and mark 1 box for N, one for N+1 and one for N-1. I rarely go any further than this. When I unload the film holders I just place the sheets into the appropriate box. Rather than trying to identify each box in the tent, I'll 1st put in only the N box and the N holders in the tent (if a holder has both N and N+1, move both little wires over the N+1 side). I'll unload the N sheets then close the box and remove it and empty holders. Repeat with N+1 box and N-1 box.

If you are new to LF you may not have extra film boxes yet. An empty 8x10 paper box would work but I'd strongly recommend you first put the sheets into the black plastic paper envelope and put that into the paper box.

Ron Gratz

-- Ron Gratz (, April 23, 2002.

Ian, Consider Development by Inspection and then all film goes in one box. It is not hard and frees you up to do alot of other things. Michael Smith and Ed buffaloe cover this very well on their web sites. Best of luck.

-- Michael Pry (, April 24, 2002.

I must disagree with the idea of development by inspection. I'm sure it's fine for experts... but the only way to learn it is by experience...which requires a large and expensive number of mistakes. If you're new to LF and especially 8x10, careful and consistent development by time & temp is the only way to go. Otherwise confusion and disappointment will be the result. Not to mention the lost pictures. Back to topic... I think the first two responses have it right, at least that's what I do.

-- Mark Sampson (, April 24, 2002.

In addition to carrying spare boxes, you might bring several opaque black bags, such as those used for photographic paper, which are less bulky and let you divide the film up into more categories if need be (e.g., a group of negs that you might want to develop in one batch, like a multi-shot panorama, duplicate negs that you might reserve if the original development doesn't give the desired result, etc.). If you don't have enough of these on hand, you can buy them from B&H in packs of 5, packaged by Delta, in the darkroom supplies section.

-- David Goldfarb (, April 24, 2002.

All of my holders are numbered and that number goes on the exposure record that I keep for every sheet. Like the others I have boxes with N, N+1, and N-1. I stack the holders in sequence with the exposure records, unload all of the N sheets and place one of the cards that comes inside the film pack on top of this group of negative. Close this box and organize the holders for the next group. I keep a record of the film sequence inside each box.

I usually shoot 2 sheets of everything as insurance and this is only way I've found to keep up with the film on extended trips. For what its worth this is all done with 4x5. I'm sure it becomes a bigger task with 8x10.


-- Ron McElroy (, April 24, 2002.

Ian, Iím sure people have their unique own system. I keep a film log of what film is loaded in my ten 8x10 and two 8x20 holders. The holders are individually numbered. I then write in the log (a small notebook) the location and exposure info for each exposed sheet. After retuning home I unload the holders IN ORDER and with notches all in the same orientation and put them in an old film box. I can later pull a particular sheet of film from the box because Iíve know the order of the sheets in the box. I rarely shoot more than one full load of film in a day so the numbers are manageable.

-- Linas Kudzma (, April 24, 2002.

Duhhh ...I guess I should READ my message after a cut-and-paste edit. Above it should read :

ďbecause I know the order of the sheets in the box.Ē

-- Linas Kudzma (, April 24, 2002.

Mike Walker sells ABS cases for exposed sheet film - I seem to recall that they are guaranteed not to open "accidentally" and sound like they might be what you're looking for. I think his site is

-- paul owen (, April 25, 2002.

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