Large Format Photography Project: Update II

So, here we are, about 1 week on since the last update. I have thought long and hard about how my darkroom/ box should look like and what I need it to do, and what sort of budget I will be able to set for it. After all, I could just buy one from Nova Darkroom (UK), but somehow I’d like to NOT spend 530 GBP + Postage on a darkroom tent. Scouring the internet, I find a lot of people asking, only a few people sharing images of the darkroom they use (not all portable) and not a lot of DIY information seems to be available. Even though historically correct and very VERY awesome, horse drawn carts or wagons are a no-no as are military grade containers, my portable darkroom needs to  fit inside a car, I should be able to carry it by myself and I’d like to try and keep it within a 100 euro budget. Please do share any comments, suggestions, additions or designs of your own!


From what little information there is out there, two options seem most viable:


One: a square or rectangular construction made from PVC tubing, clothed in dark cloth/ foil. Pro: lots of space (including floor space), not very hard or expensive to build as any hardware shop usually carries PVC pipes and connecting pieces. Cons: Lots of loose parts, windcatcher when put in the wrong spot and susceptible to damage if the blackout materials used are too thin. Closures can be of various designs, most commonly used are hook and loop straps (glued on) or an old sleeping bag/ tent zipper.

Two: a wooden box construction with a dark cloth/ foil tunnel. Pro: everything is present in one box, small to carry, quick to assemble, few loose parts. Takes up very little space. Cons: Less space on the inside to manouvre with your materials, cannot use floor space, a bit harder to build, can be more expensive to build depending on materials used. This construction will be better grounded due to the weight of the wood, but it will need a additional table to reach a good working height.


I decided on number two mostly due to it being one box I could lift/ carry and set up in seconds. Also, it would be another excuse to make this item out of wood and, if it works well, I will be able to make a deluxe version of it. Oh how I love wood! 😀

In the image gallery you’ll see my initial drawing (from a picture posted online) but I would find the solid top of the box in my way, and the wooden construction keeping the cloth up failing. Gee, I know my wood-working skills don’t I? I decided to keep 1/2 of the box rigid, and have the other half fold away. Initially all it it would fold forwards, to turn into a working surface – I soon realised that all of this space adding up would have me step back almost a meter! So, I’ll have the top fold upwards (creating an additional support for the dark cloth) and only part of the front folds down to form a tray.  At least – that’s the plan! I will make a window in the back, covered with RubyLith to have a little bit of safe light inside. The cloth will be supported with tent poles, and I think I may have found the perfect rounded ones in Prenatal’s baby sleepingtent. (the blue tent pictured).

I got myself some MDF sheet and had it cut to size (at the GAMMA, they cut it to exact measurement for free). As today was the first bright and sunny day in ages, I rushed it outside to cover it in base paint. I’ll do the other side tomorrow and start assembly.


In finding light tight material, a few options were brought up time and time again, but I would have to keep locations of the shops into consideration, as shipping can be quite steep! Overall, it would seem to make sense to create the inside of the tent with a black material (to prevent stray rays from fogging your plates) and the outside white (to keep out the heat) although maybe a white inside couldn’t hurt if the light that bounced around on the inside is a safe red light?


Thorlabs BK-5: This material sounds amazing and I think it would have perfect for my needs. It’s a rubberized fabric and nearly 100% light tight. Lightweight, thin and take a small amount of abuse. I have my order entered and everything until I saw what the price would come to: 117 euros for 2 pieces!!! Fair enough the pieces are 2.7 x 1.5 meters but – wow! It worked out as 40 euros per piece (80) + VAT (18) + shipping (19) if I remember correct. Apparently it is (or was) a bit cheaper in US dollars as in 2010 a price of $44 is quoted.

Blackout Curtains: To be found at fabric shops as it’s used as curtain lining. The colour of this materials is usually white with a 95% blackout rate, but I was a little more worried about the weight, and if my design would be able to hold that up. Especially as I needed either 2 layers of it, or combine it with another materials to make it 100% light tight. The good thing about this stuff is that you’ll be able to buy it in any major city and online, it comes in good sizes (2 m wide is normal) and it’s quite affordable. Cheapest I’ve seen it was about 6 euros/ meter. I would seriously consider this stuff if I used the PVC construction and would keep my dark room at home, in one place, even though dust particles would be a cause for worry.

Reflex Total Blackout Reflective Sheeting: I found this stuff at (UK), but they never answered my request mail for shipping to the Netherlands. Apparently they only accept money from the British – which is lucky for you if you are for this stuff is cheap! At 2 meters wide, you can get either 5 meters (12.95 in total) or 10 meters (19.95 in total) As far as lightproofing goes, it should be between 95 – 99% and incredibly thin, so not to be used on it’s own. Maybe it’ll make a good combo with the Blackout Curtains?

Black/ White Foil (Panda Film): can be found at various gardening grow-shops as it’s used to bounce light and heat back onto seedlings/ plants. Cheap as chips; I found some at a Dutch Grow-Shop for as little as 18 euros for a 2 x 25 meter roll. It seems really thin, but should be quite light-tight.

Black Plastic Foil: The kind used on farm. I would not go for the stuff that they use to construct ponds as that’s incredibly heavy! I did not choose this material as I figured it may be quite heavy as well.

Asperagus Foil: This is the stuff I ended up ordering, a sturdy plastic sheeting that’s lightproofed on both sides (Black and White). Depending on the actual weight and thickness when I receive it, I will use it in combination with a lightweight (lining) fabric on the outside to protect it a bit from damage. It’s dirt cheap at 1,99 euro per meter at 1.40 m wide. Shipping to the Netherlands is only 5.95 (from Belgium) and the total can be paid for after receipt of goods via bank transfer.


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