Homemade dark cloth question from beginner

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by matt miller (cambridge, ia), Jan 2, 2003.

  1. I just bought a GVII (my first LF camera) and would like to use a
    darkcloth instead of the "viewer" thing on the back. I don't know
    how anyone can use a loupe with that thing attached.

    My mother is a seamstress and is going to make a darkcloth for me.
    She is going to put elastic on the camera side with some velcro on
    the bottom to seal it up a bit. She is going to make it black on the
    inside and white or silver on the outside. How long should it be? I
    would think that if I could get my face about a foot away from the GG
    and still be under the dark cloth that might be plenty, but I'm not

    Any tips on making my own dark cloth?
  2. Based on Ansel Adams' and my own experience, White is a better external choice than Silver.
    I'd venture that 36" X 36" would be generous enough for you not to feel cramped.
  3. Matt, I'd go with Steve Simmon's recommendations in his excellent book "Using The View Camera" For 4x5 try 3'x4', for 8x10, 4'x5'or larger works for me. Resist the temptation of putting weights in the corners! May your light be good and the wind still! Welcome to LF!
  4. There's a good reason Maurey and John suggest a larger cloth than you seem to suppose. If the cloth isn't large enough to drape a good distance behind your head, it tends to crawl up and loop down between your face and the ground glass as you move around under it.
  5. pvp


    I made my own darkcloth, 3'x4'. I used two layers of black fabric plus one layer of white, velcro at the camera end plus along the long edges to close up the bottom when I'm under the cloth. I didn't use elastic but am considering adding some.
  6. Hello Matt,

    Welcome to the wonderful world of LF photography and the LF forum. To answer your question I went and measured mine. My wife also has been a seamstress and made two for me. They are both 36 inches long. The first is black inside and silver on the outside. The reason for a light color is so that the heat is reflected away from you. Up here in the Canadian Rockies that is not often a problem. The other is green on the outside and a very dark brown on the inside. The green helps to keep the bugs away where as white can attract mosquitos and such. Surprisingly the dark brown seems just as effective as the black for the inside. I believe the weave of the cloth has more to do with blocking the light than the color.

    Enjoy your shooting !

    James Phillips
  7. I agree with the 3'x4' size. I used a combination of elastic and velcro to attach it to the camera. When I did this, I noticed that there was quite a bit of excess material hanging down below the camera so I tapered from the bottom of the camera to the full width of the cloth at about 45 degrees and put a zipper in along the taper.

    Jim Stewart
  8. Welcome to the world of LF!

    You'll soon discover that whenever two LF'ers discuss, they have at least three different opinions...

    As to your question, my version is - a black T-shirt!
    Neckline fits nicely around the (camera) back, while the sleeves give easy access with a loupe.

    Of course, I don't live near any major deserts, or black might be too hot...
  9. Matt,

    I would also suggest paying attention to the 'feel' of the fabric you buy. Remember that you are going to be spending lots of time under it, so in addition to color, make sure that it is 'breathable' and feels nice on your skin. While polyester might keep the light out, it also keeps the moisture and heat in. Cotton works well, but is heavy.

    I wonder if gore-tex is made in dark colors? Anybody tried to make a gore-tex darkcloth?
  10. Hi Mat'
    When you go to the dry goods store for the cloth be sure to hold it up to see how much light comes through from the store lights.You might also want to consider the outer layer to be rain proof. I have long strips of velcro on mine.
    Happy shooting
    Tim Anderson
  11. A convenient size could be as small as a t-shirt but as large as the 36x36. Be
    aware that weighing it with small weights will be detrimental... windy day,
    getting hit with weights in the head, arms shoulders ect.
  12. Ole, my black t-shirt is sewn inside a white t-shirt. The stretchy
    neck fits perfectly on my Sinar 4x5. I didn't think about leaving the
    sleeves open, figuring that would let light in, so I had my wife
    sew them shut. There is still plenty of room for my left arm to
    come in from the bottom to manipulate the loupe. The t-shirts
    are from JCPenney and are the largest size. This is so much
    easier to use than the 3x3 cloth with velcro that I used before.
  13. Matt:
    I use a largish darkclothh, 30x40, homemade also. Fabric: Try black ultrasuede and white nylon or cotton. The cloth will be opaque, and once you wrap it around the back of the camera, there won't be any light peeping through. A useful addition: sew a tape measue into one edge of the dark cloth. That will enable you to determine exposure compensdation with your lens when bellows is extended.
  14. Matt, FWIW my dark cloth pulls quadruple duty: 1)It's a focusing cloth, 2) It's a back drop for portraits, both the black and the white sides(of course I have to use a coat for a dark cloth when employed thusly, 3) Folded, it serves as a cushion to protect my camera, and 4) It blocks out any light leaks in my bathroom/darkroom when push-pinned into place. Useful things, dark cloths!
  15. I just got back from Mexico, and I noticed several of the large
    shawl wraps that the native women wore in the markets. I would
    suggest taking the standard black/white cloth, but then retrofitting
    it with the local style of fabric, so that you blend in more with the
    local people.

    In Mexico, you'd have the peasant/saturated/Aztec pattern dark
    cloth; in New York's East Village, only solid black would ever do.
    In San Francisco, maybe try the Leopard print, or the Grateful
    Dead tie-dye style. In LA, I guess most anything would be
    acceptable; but may I recommend the sky blue wave pattern, with
    the golden sunset, and the faint imprint of tiny Ectstasy tablets. In
    Berlin, maybe the steel silver, emotionally-void metal look. While
    shooting in Baghdad (literally), the camo look is in.

    Stay tuned to PDN for this fall's darkcloth fashion lineup. Anything
    to get a celebrity mentioned in PDN, and they'll just on it quick.
    You heard it here first.
  16. hmmm - I just dug out my old desert shemagh - now, if Dubya decides to re-lives the wild west out in Sadaam Land, it would make quite an appropriate darkcloth and also be in solidarity with my old buddies in the 7th Armoured Brigade, 1st Armoured Division - Desert Rats

    I like the idea of dark cloth fashion
  17. The 'boy's club' has missed the obvious solution... a woman's black skirt with about a 26 inch waist fits perfectly on a Sinar 4x5 the back zipper positioned at the botton of the standard allows for a custom fit. If the skirt has pockets even better, you can place your hands in these to access the loop. A bit of fullness or bias cut makes it nice and roomy with no stray light. Plus the bonus of having a 'wardrobe' change on hand! I used this in my first shoot the other day and it worked great! Cheers guys.
  18. alright if you're a girl...! But I already get enough weird comments with a normal darkcloth thanks... I hate to think what would come my way if I tried this. (mind you, customs classified my BTZS darkcloth as a "womans skirt")
  19. For that matter, I could see a pair of black Levis as an obvious
    solution as well. Put both arms up the leg holes to focus and run
    the loupe, and then take your knife and cut a hole in the butt of
    the jeans to slide your head into. This would fulfill many of my
    friends' vision of me for years now -- that I have my head up my
  20. Thanks for all of the great help. I'm going to go with a 3'x4' size for now and see how it works out. Until she gets it done, I'll be using a black T-shirt.

    Based on Mark's advice, and living it Iowa, I think I'll adorn the outside of the cloth with an old burlap seed corn bag.
  21. Seriously -- if you made that burlap dark cloth, and one day you
    became famous, imagine what that thing would bring on ebay, or
    what a nice hand-me-down relic it would be to your
    grandchildren. When your grandkids are flying around in
    jetpacks, with hood-mounted video cameras with instant upload
    to the web, they'll appreciate your mom's burlap sack darkcloth
    that was used on an old antique wooden view camera that used
    old-timey silver film.
  22. I think some of the people who have responded here have missed the way it looks like you plan to design your dark cloth. If the velcro on the bottom that you mention runs along the entire length of two opposing sides of the dark cloth, then what you've just described is the BTZS dark cloth. With that design you will have created a tunnel, one end of which is the elastic surrounding the back of the camera, the other end of which is the opening through which you put your head, and the thing is "sealed" by the strips of velcro so that a tunnel effect is created. The end through which you put your head can be made wider or narrower by use of the velcro. That kind of a cloth doesn't need to be anywhere near as big as a traditional "horse blanket" dark cloth because the darkness is created by the closed tunnel, not by the cloth being draped way over the camera and over your head, shoulders, and back. I think that a 3'x4' cloth with this design is way more than you need. The elastic end that fits around the camera needs to be only wide enough to fit around the camera back, i.e. much less than three or four feet. The end into which you put your head needs to be only about the same size and in any event the size can be varied by use of the velcro. You don't need to stand back from the camera anything like three or four feet. So what I think you'll end up with is a huge amount of unnecessary material if you start out with a 3' x 4' rectangle of cloth and use the design you plan to use (which, BTW, is an excellent design).
  23. Ann is Absolutely correct. You should by every means steal a heavy navy sweatshirt from your wife, (perhaps while she's stitching the "real" one) and in a slight variation to what's been discussed, poke your head in the head hole backwards and put the waist portion around the camera. That way it works up to 8X10. It also looks so stupid that my poor wife is embarrassed to be seen near me when I'm shooting. Another obvious benefit. jg
  24. My wife too is an excellent seamstress (as well as photographic and darkroom partner and much else). She used as a guide Gordon Hutchings's good article "How to Make a Darkcloth" in VC Sept/Oct 2000, pp. 64-66. Double thickness of black cotton knit 5x7 feet for shooting 8x10. We would have made it wider but the bolts are only 60 inches wide. Definitely Mark's East Village model--I wouldn't have it any other way. Big enough to enshroud the bellows against light leaks and to provide cover when film holders would otherwise be exposed to sunlight and when pulling and re-inserting slide--in addition to other uses already mentioned. Heck, I like getting lost in the damn thing!

    I've been on the lookout for images of the masters working a view camera with darkcloth; there aren't that many, probably because it wouldn't make for much of a portrait, would it? My favorite by far is Willard van Dyke's "Sonya Noskowiak, Taos, 1933." Sonya's perched on a mountain side with back to camera shooting a spectacular sky with thunderhead. Her dark and apparently small cloth appears to be wrapped tightly around her head but doesn't cover the entire bellows. I did a brief websearch in the hope of finding the image, without success, but it is on the cover of "Seeing Straight. The f.64 Revolution in Photography" brought out by the Oakland Museum in 1992.
  25. P.S. Ann, I forgot to mention that in that picture of Willard van Dyke's Sonya's skirt is where it was supposed to be in 1933, not, as you propose, over her head! My, how times have changed! Cheers, Nicholas.
  26. Nicholas, Here is a quote from a review of 'Lives of the Muses' by Francine Prose..."Like Ray, Weston was already a renowned photographer, with a habit of bedding his best models while his wife was at home taking care of their four sons. In fact, it was his mistress and assistant at the time, a young photographer named Sonya Noskowiak, who he asked to set up his first session with Wilson, shortly after spotting her one evening at a concert. Noskowiak showed Wilson Weston's nudes -- perhaps even some in which she herself posed. " It seems possible that Ms. Noskowiak's skirt was not always 'where it was supposed to be'! :) Cheers Ann. PS I mean no offence by posting this quote as I am an admirer of both EW & SW.
  27. Ann,

    Touche. One-upped again. As you may already know, Charis Wilson herself tells the story of her first visit to EW's Carmel studio in 1934 in her Through Another Lens, My Years with Edward Weston (1998), pp. 3-7. The two had recently met at a concert and he had invited her to see his work, but a trip to Los Angeles intervened and only then did EW arrange for Noskowiak to show Wilson the prints. According to Wilson, the nude studies definitely included images with Noskowiak as model and Wilson "had no trouble" picking them out from the others. But the love affair between photographer and his model seems at the time to have been known only to the "Carmel gossip mill."
  28. I have used a Zone VI 4x5 focusing cloth for over twenty years with good results. The cotton doesn't slide off the camera like some of the slicker materials. I like is just as is--no velcro or elastic. The generous size makes it easy to close together under the camera for maximum darkness. The larger size also makes it easy to move my head around to inspect the corners of the ground glass. When I am working with the film holders and making the exposure I wear the cloth over my shoulders. The warmth is comforting on cold days. When I am exploring near the camera I often drape the cloth over the camera. The "extra protecion" may be mostly psychological. The cloth measures 4'x5'.
    I like the idea of having a focusing cloth made by your mother. Life is more than technical things.
  29. I should add to my other response--
    I use wooden folding cameras. (Zone VI/ Wista DX and Wisner TF) Smaller lenses with number 0 shutters can often be folded up with the lens in place if the lenses is truned around facing toward the ground glass. Wrap the camera in the focusing cloth. Wrap an extra lens in Domke lens wrap if you use more than one lens. Put the camera in an ordinary book pack (the one you probably already have). Light meter and cable release go in the small pouch in front. I use a very small shoulder bag (Domke Super Compact) to hold the film holders. This is a sweet, low tech way to hike comfortably all day.
  30. If your mother is a seamstress and could make you a vest to carry your film holders, a small notebook, pencils and small etc. you would have a very useful item! I would gladly purchase one from her, also!
  31. Is BLACK a given ? Yesterday I purchased 1x1.5m of ivory blackout material for less than £2. Following my habit of starting from scratch with materials in hand I improvised with crocodile clips on the rear stand - nothing else (KISS) - tests indoors are excellent . There may well be too much leakage from below on bright days (Ireland hah) in which case a velcro strip should prove effective. At present I don't see the need for a black inner as the material is 100% lightproof. Ivory because white just looked too severe and double duty as a backcloth was always in mind. Great to be back using hands and brain after many years of sports snapping and computer.

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