Why are large format photographers in movies always depicted under the darkcloth while exposing the picture?
August 12, 2005 8:21 PM   Subscribe

I have many memories of people in movies, cartoons, etc. who while taking a photograph with a view camera remained underneath the darkcloth while making the exposure. However, the film holder should be cutting off the light to the groundglass and therefore they shouldn't be able to see any image. Is this just due to the ignorance of the movie makers or is there some reason why they are depicted this way?
posted by Bengston to Media & Arts (10 answers total)
From the Wiki:

In operation a view camera has the photographer open the shutter on the lens to compose and focus the image on a ground glass plate on the rear standard. As the ground glass image is sometimes difficult to view in bright light, the photographer may use a "dark cloth" to cover their head and the rear of the camera to assist in composition.
posted by Rothko at 8:37 PM on August 12, 2005

Removing one's head might move the camera and affect composition.
posted by Rothko at 8:39 PM on August 12, 2005

I think Bengston means there is no need to remain under the cloth once the plate is inserted.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:41 PM on August 12, 2005

Response by poster: Rothko, I am well aware of how one operates a view camera. I own one. What doesn't make sense is why you would remain under the dark cloth once you have composed and focused. Removings one's head from under the cloth isn't going to move the camera any compared to inserting the film back.
posted by Bengston at 8:43 PM on August 12, 2005

Response by poster: odinsdream, I have seen it work both ways. But I have a distinct memory of a cartoon character with a handle bar mustache holding up a flash with one hand and squeezing down on the bulb for the air release with the other, all while under the dark cloth.

Because I couldn't remember any specific example I questioned myself at first, but after asking other people I have found that I am not the only one who remembers this.
posted by Bengston at 9:03 PM on August 12, 2005

I've seen it both ways, generally in comedy-type situations. Cartoons, Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, perhaps W.C Fields... A lot of black and white movies now that I think about it. Perhaps they stayed under the cover because of those blinding, smoking flashes they had in the movies, shorts and cartoons. I know I'd hide from those things.

I'm thinking it's probably just a lazy director thing. Keep the action on the stars being filmed or somesuch. Kind of like when I used to watch ER and scream whenever someone would make a sterile are non-sterile and keep going.
posted by Moondoggie at 9:16 PM on August 12, 2005

Maybe it was a culturally relevent bit of humour, now escaped us.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:46 AM on August 13, 2005

Most people watching movies, and probably most directors directing them, don't know squat about large format photography. Everyone else remembers it the way you do, so that's why they continue making them that way. Otherwise, it would be considered a departure from the norm.

This is why darkroom scenes use a red light, instead of an amber light. Which is what my photography professor explained to me in college.
posted by MrZero at 11:56 AM on August 13, 2005

For what its worth, you don't typically see photographers inserting a film holder in the scenes you describe; perhaps they are referring to even earlier cameras where the process was closer to an ambrotype or tintype. Even though these were obsolete by the time movies came around, they may have been enduring stereotypes of photographers much the way stereotypes from the '30s, '40s and '50s still show up in mass media today.
posted by TedW at 2:39 PM on August 13, 2005

I remember cartoons both ways - I guess hiding from the flash (iirc they were *really* bright) as Moondoggie mentioned is reasonable.

This is why darkroom scenes use a red light, instead of an amber light. Which is what my photography professor explained to me in college. - posted by MrZero

Amber? I've used photographic and light sensitive film and the darkrooms have all been dim red lights - but my experiences have all been strictly with "scientific" chemiluminescence film...

So have I been interpretting amberglow's nick wrong (as in, old monochrome monitors used to be amber on black) or is he a photog?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 1:17 AM on August 14, 2005

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