How Do I Handle 4x5 Film in the Dark?

Hi guys,

I just picked up a Crown Graphic at an estate sale. After overhauling the shutter, I'm finally ready to shoot my first batch of sheet film. I've watched your FPP videos on loading the film holders, but there's a step that comes before this process that I don't want to approach uneducated. That is, unpacking the film. What does it look like inside the box? Or, more importanly, what does it feel like in the dark? Do different manufacturers package differently? (I'm working with Ilford Delta)

On a related note, what is the best way to pack exposed sheets back up for shipping them out to a lab? Put them back in the box? Or do you prefer a different method?

Thanks for the help!



Hi Alex,

For the most part, sheet film comes packaged very similarly between manufacturers. The film will come in a three stage box; the top lid, a bottom receiving lid, and an internal lid containing a light tight bag of film.

above: the three-stage box that most 4x5 film ships in.

Depending on the brand of film, the bag will be black plastic or a foil envelope. Inside the envelope, the sheet film will be sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard of the same size of the film. Again, different brands may have different pieces of cardboard (two pieces or one long v-fold piece). Once inside the envelope, locate the film's code notch. This will be located on the edge of the sheet film, either upper right hand corner or bottom left hand corner. Keep the code notch oriented in one of those two positions (I always use upper right) to assure the film is loaded emulsion side up, otherwise, you'll be doing some very expensive red scale photography.

As for unloading and shipping sheet film, NEVER THROW FILM BOXES AWAY! They are incredibly useful for storing film yet to be processed, storing processed negatives, and all-around organization. Same goes for those pieces of cardboard and light tight bags. Before I ship sheet film, I make sure to load the film back in the bag just as I found it when it was unloaded for shooting, cardboard, dark bag, and all. Then, to make sure I don't confuse the film with other unexposed film, I tape up the box with masking tape and label the box with a permanent marker. Try not to mix different types of film, especially if you want to minimize the chance for errors from your lab (again, another great reason to not throw out boxes).

Other than that, have fun and shoot some sheet film!

If you have any other questions about large format or anything film related, please feel free to ask.


Mat M.

Alex is on Flickr at -

Hear Mat Marrash on The Film Photography Podcast and visit him at


FPP's Intro To Large Format Videos:

Crown Graphic #1 -

Crown Graphic #2 -

Wista 4x5 Camera -

Where can I get my Large Format Film Processed? The Darkroom, of course!

Where can I purchase 4x5 film? The FPP On-Line Store! -


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