The darkroom photography process is quite interesting. After shooting all day with your camera, all you want to do is get the image developed and see the results. There is a sense of anticipation, anxiety and excitement because you don’t always know what to expect. My first time in the darkroom was one of the best experiences, I found it unusual because you have to work in the dark with just a red light and using exposures and chemicals to create the details to produce the image.
I love watching the blank sheets developing I find it fascinating observing the forms, shapes, highlights and shadows appearing, I also liked the fact that this technique has been used for years and photographers today still use this process to create their images. Here is what I had learnt working in the darkroom.
To start off, you would need to be in a darkroom with a red or orange safe light, an enlarger, trays, chemicals and other equipment. You will need:
- Your negatives
- Stop bath
- Photographic paper
- Three trays and tongs
To prepare you need to dilute your chemicals with warm water at 20C/68F make sure and check the instructions on the bottle, you should prepare enough chemicals to cover the paper in the trays so that your prints will develop evenly.
When you have mixed your chemicals with the water, pour them in their trays, you should use three different coloured trays and put labels on them so you don’t make any mistakes. Put your tongs on the trays so you can use them when developing your images. Once you have prepared your chemicals, your photographic paper and all your equipment ready you can start by checking your negatives in the enlarger.
Choosing your negatives
Before turning off the lights take out your negatives and choose one you want to print, when you have chosen you can turn off the lights put on the safe light. Remember too carefully hold your negatives, place them in the negative carrier check it is the right way up and that there is no dust and put them in the enlarger.
Ideally the larger should be set on f8, adjust the enlarger however you want it to either focus, frame or enlarge your image. When you have adjusted the way you want your image you can do a test strip.
Take out your photographic paper make sure you do not expose it in the light otherwise the paper is no use so don’t forget to close the box of photographic paper. Place your paper under the enlarger, set your timer for five seconds.
Using a stiff opaque card cover a cm of the photographic paper and expose for five seconds, you should only be moving the card and repeat this until you have exposed the entire sheet. You should have five exposures, when you have finished you can start developing you test prints.
Place the exposed paper in the first chemical which is the developer, this solution makes your image appear, it needs to be in the tray for a minute and put your timer on. Gently rock the tray so the chemicals are completely covering the paper, your image should start appearing.
When the timer is up use your tongs to place the print in the next tray, make sure and drain off the paper before putting it into the next tray so the chemicals won’t get mixed up and it is best to avoid touch the chemicals so it is advised to use tongs. The next solution is the stop bath, which brings the development to an end, leave in the tray for about thirty seconds.
When it has been in there for those seconds place it in the last tray with the fixer which makes the developed image permanent and leave it in there for five minutes. After the timer is up rinse your paper under water and review your test prints, there should be five different exposures, some of them will be darker, lighter and have more highlights, shadows and contrast.
Choose an exposure that you’re happy with so that you can make your final print, if you are not happy with any of the test prints you can redo one with different exposures so you can choose and work with an exposure you are satisfied with.
The Final Print
Taking out a fresh photographic paper, place under the enlarger adjust the settings and use the correct exposure you have chosen. Afterwards, you want to instantly put it in the chemicals repeating the process like you had done previously with the test prints.
When you are done with the chemicals you want to wash the print to get rid of the excess chemicals, you can leave it in a tray of clean warm water ideally around 20C/68F for two minutes. After the two minutes you can hang it up to dry and admire your work.
It is important to clean the darkroom after use, wash the trays put your chemicals in storage, do not leave any fresh photographic paper which you can still use otherwise it is a waste and wash your hands.
You have made your first print, it is a very rewarding feeling creating your own prints, I find it is a great experience and worth trying out and I hope you’ll give it a go. It can be a bit of a challenge but it can also be fun.