[ 4×5 FILM HOLDER + PASTRY BRUSH + SPG TRIPLE SLEEVE ]
After I load my 4×5 film into holders, I place them in a secure sleeve. Over the years, I have used ziplock bags, but then I wanted something a little more protective and used f.64 cases. Then after I grew tired of small bags for holders, I changed to Stone Photo Gear’s Double and Triple Sleeves because they fit my needs best (more about this below).
Whatever you choose, ensure it keeps environmental elements away from your film and holders, guards against physical damage from bumps, and offers a way to organize your film.
Film identification is important when you shoot sheet film, as it is a terrible feeling not knowing which film is exposed. Next, I will discuss the system I use to organize and identify my film.
TIP: Never leave a loaded holder in direct sunlight, or you might find out the darkslide was not as opaque as assumed or cause other light leak problems.
[ #5 NOT EXPOSED + #6 EXPOSED + SLEEVE w/FP4 125 NOT EXPOSED ]
Film & Holder Identification
As shown above, I number all my working film holders. I have purchased many used holders from previous owners who wrote in permanent marker in the note area, leaving me having to find a better way to identify my holders.
Using a P-Touch Label Maker makes this task simple. The labels are easy to apply and stay on the holders without getting in the way of operation. They are easy to remove and do not leave residue on the holders. Much better than writing on top of someone else’s graffiti!
Before I load my film and turn the lights out, I ensure my film holder darkslides have their top white strip facing out, as shown in image #1 above (film holder #5). This is how I know the film has not been shot.
Once the holders are loaded and placed inside a sleeve, I use masking tape to write the film type on the tape and place it on the outside lower half of the sleeve, as shown in image #3 above (FP4 125 in our example).
Once the film is shot, I flip the darkslide to show their top black strip facing out before re-inserting it back into the holder, as shown in image #2 above (film holder #6). This is how I know the film has been exposed.
TIP: I often hold the darkslide over the lens during exposure to help deflect direct sunlight from hitting the lens. It works, but do test your wide-angle lenses before you do it on film to see where the darkslide appears in the shooting frame and then back off a little.
[ (2) DOUBLE SLEEVES WITH EXPOSED FILM & (1) SLEEVE UNEXPOSED ]
Checking Off Exposures
In the above photo, sleeves #1 & #2 contain exposed films and are ready for development, and sleeve #3 has unexposed films.
I choose double sleeve (two 4×5 film holders) and triple sleeve cases (three 4×5 film holders) because they fit the pockets of the gear bags I take on location and help me keep my film organized and ready to shoot. Most importantly, they protect my film holders from environmental elements and bumps during transit.
Notice the masking tape label I make for all my film holder sleeves once the loaded holders are placed inside. The masking tape label identifies the film & ISO, and where it has been placed on the sleeve identifies whether the film has been exposed.
When the film is not exposed, the label is visible on the bottom of the sleeve, as shown in sleeve #3.
After all four exposures are made, the label is removed and placed over the closed flap (secured by velcro from the manufacturer), as shown in sleeves #1 & #2.
TIP: While on a shoot, I sometimes write small notes on the masking tape when needed.
Once I return home, I place the film into tanks, brush out the holders, and clean the outside of the sleeves. I like how my system for film and holder organization has evolved. I encourage you to consider it if you also need to establish a system.
[ SPG TRIPLE SLEEVE & HOLDERS + RSW KIT IN TENBA PACK + MOD54 LOADED ]
The Delight of the Triple Sleeve Case
You might like the Stone Photo Gear (SPG) Triple Sleeve when using the MOD54 4×5 film processor with a Paterson tank. The Triple Sleeve holds three 4×5 film holders, which equals six film sheets when fully loaded. The MOD54 holds a total of six film sheets as well. A perfect match! These days my money is on the Triple Sleeve, finding a permanent home in my Ebony RSW gear pack. The Triple Sleeve securely fits inside the smaller Tenba Fulton V2 16L Backpack and is easy to access and use. When this pack is fully loaded with the Ebony RSW, three lenses, film, and accessories, it is my lightest 4×5 pack to date. A delight!
[ DOMKE BAGS WITH 4×5 HOLDER SIDE POCKETS + HOLDER IDs ON SLEEVE TOPS ]
Cases with Built-In Film Holder Pockets
I used an Ebony Camera bag with built-in 4×5 film holder side pockets for many years. After the Ebony bag wore out, I switched to the Domke J-1 Journalist Shoulder Bag (image #1) and the Domke J-3 Journalist Shoulder Bag (image #3) for when I hit the road with my 4×5 kit.
The J-3 is smaller but just as good as the J-1, and sometimes I use it to carry a lot of film holders besides taking the 4×5 kit in the J-1 bag.
I like the Domke side pockets, designed to fit 4×5 film holders. These side pockets come with removable foam that I stow in my gear closet, as using the sleeves is enough protection. The Domke bags are durable and have held up well over the years.
I have used backpacks, but I prefer working out of the Domke bags at the locations I venture into. The bag’s side pockets are better for storing and retrieving 4×5 film holders than an additional bag like the f.64. Less to cart around is always best for me.
Traveling in a campervan for 4×5 photography is a delight, but walking with my 4×5 bag can get burdensome if having to walk a long distance. I usually park and walk with just my composition tool looking for what I want to photograph. Once I find what I want to photograph, I return to the campervan and grab the 4×5 bag if the location is within a ¼ of a mile. If the location is further away, I place the camera in its protective case, which holds either my Rodesnstock Grandagon 65/4.5 or my Nikkor SW 150/5.6 and my bellows viewer, loaded film holders in a triple sleeve case, light meter, and accessories, and place then in a PotraBrace Sack Pack along with my lightweight RRS Series 1 tripod mounted with an Acratech Leveling Base. The Sack Pack holds everything well and is lighter than hauling the entire bag.
I place film holder ID numbers on the top of each sleeve (image #2) to identify what each sleeve holds. I use cloth tape and a silver metallic marker when creating identifiers. The tape stays on well but can easily be removed with no damage to the sleeve. I use this same identification method for my lens cases and other needs.
When I load my 4×5 kit bag, ready to hit the road, all the sleeves are placed numerically in the side pockets facing up with the ID numbers showing. When all of a sleeve’s film holders have been exposed, I remove the masking tape from the bottom, place it over the closed flap held in place with built-in velcro, then turn the sleeve upside down in the storage pocket (now just a blank top is showing) and move on to the next sleeve in the number sequence. This allows me to see how many unexposed films are available.
[ GULF BREEZE: THE PLACES PHOTOGRAPHY TAKES ME ]
I hope you found this article helpful. As a professional educator, I have found sequencing to be a wonderful tool to help students understand the necessary steps of a technical procedure. Unfortunately, sequencing does not work for everyone. If you find it difficult, do whatever works for you. Our goal is to keep our film safe, clean, and organized, so we know where it is in the process; does it need to be exposed or go into development? If writing in a small notebook works for you, then do it. Develop a routine that fits your needs and helps make shooting a 4×5 camera something you look forward to.
I love my Ebony RSW for on-location work, but my 4×5 Harman Titan Pinhole is a joy to shoot and lighter to carry. Sometimes I like sharp; sometimes, I like soft. But I am *always* grateful to have the film and tools on hand to create whatever it is I want to. Best to you.