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Large format lesson learned: use a fucking notebook

Posted 19 November, 2007 in Random

I like to load up several different types of film when I go out to shoot large format, at the very least a B&W and a colour negative. I usually try to stick to some sort of easy-to-remember loading scheme, like holders 1–5 are colour and 6–10 are B&W. Easy as that should be, I constantly got them mixed up in the field. Or I’d get it half-right, remembering that holder x held black and white, but forgetting that I’d loaded an ISO 100 film instead of the Tri-X I’d been using steadily for a few weeks, and shoot it 2–3 stops under.

A few weeks ago I was out shooting with my friend Jonathan and got the holders royally fucked up and ended up not getting several shots the way I wanted to. I didn’t get the results I was after, and I blew a good 20–30 minutes of waiting for light. No more!

I’ve always resisted carrying a pad, because documentation a) isn’t fun, b) is distracting, c) hurts (I have bad hands and writing is painful), and d) often seems to become a fetish, and I’m not interested in any of those things. But something had to give, so I ponied up the 89 cents or whatever it was for a little pocket notebook, in which I now keep a list of holder numbers and what film is in each, and other useful stuff, like bellows tables and the reciprocity corrections for the films I use.

Surprise! There is a middle ground between novel-length, Adams-style exposure records and not even knowing what film I’m shooting, and that works for me. In fact, I’m getting so enamored with not fucking that up that I think I’m going to invest in one of those Rite In The Rain waterproof notebooks.

Notebook page

One suggestion: get a notebook with a brightly-coloured cover so you can see it if it falls on the ground in the woods. Black, olive green, or camo seems like a bad way to go (YMMV).




There’s a reason I carry the moleskin with me everywhere I go. It’s actually mad simple, I numbered/lettered my film holders, and just mark down in pencil what’s what, and when you shoot, note the exposure, fstop, time, place, and weather conditions.

You can go a bit more in-depth like some do, but I swear, first fucking time I see a notation “Time spent waiting for light” on one of yer pages, I’m slapping the shit out of you.

Nicolai Morrisson

Yeah see that’s a little more obsessive diligent than I want to get. I don’t care about the time, shutter speed, f/stop, or any of that EXIF-type stuff. I just want to shoot the film I think I’m shooting!


shoot a copy of one of your note pages, whydontcha. I’m loving this phrase: “There is a middle ground between novel-length, Adams-style exposure records and not even knowing what film I’m shooting.”

Nicolai Morrisson

Paul, see above (if you think you can handle the excitement).


I now write using a pencil ON the darkslide itself. I used to beleive that I knew what was in my holders too, until one day I had that stack of holders ‘forgotten’ for a month and had to go back to the darkroom and try to figure out what was in them.
So now I pencil it all on the darkslide itself: it takes the pencil nicely, is quite readable (angle it under the light) and erases well too.
And, after I shot an image, I also write down what the heck it was on the other side of the dark slide with that same pencil.

Look mon, no notebook!

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