LEICA SL-KITS - Unlock Your Creativity Today: Discover More

Making your first print - traditional darkroom ideas

There's something magically about watching your first print appear in a darkroom developing tray. Heres a guide to what you need and how to make your first print.

| Darkroom Printing
Words by Peter Bargh

Before we look at how you make a print let's look at what you need:

A room that's blacked out with a dry area where the enlarger will stand and a wet area with enough space to lay three 10x8 printing trays in a row with a bucket of water nearby.
Some photographers convert a spare room into a permanent darkroom others temporarily black out a bathroom or spare bedroom while they work. We'll look at making a darkroom in a future issue.

From 20 second hand to 1000s new (see specifications compared in the darkroom section of the equipment area of ePHOT0zine)
Why you need it: This is the camera of the darkroom. This holds the negative or positive film in a carrier housed in a box that contains the light source. The light is concentrated above the film carrier to illuminate the film and a lens focuses this light into an image on a baseboard where the light sensitive printing paper is held.  

About 15 
Why you need it: A light source with a red or orange dome for black & white, or dark green for colour that does not fog paper so it allows you to see what you're doing in a room that would otherwise be totally dark.
Alternatives: Red bulb that replaces your household lamp. These can be used providing you do tests with your paper first to make sure it doesn't fog. Some lamps are only coated over the bulb and the base area lets white light through. You'll see the whites become grey, when processed if fogging is occurring.

Pack of printing paper
Depends on size and the number of sheets in the pack. (10 for 25 sheets of 10x8in) 
Why you need it: Printing paper is coated with a light sensitive emulsion and once ex[posed to light under the enlarger is processed to produce an enlargement of your negative.

About 7
Why you need it: The thermometer is used to ensure the chemicals are at the correct temperature.
The temperature of the developer is the most important but, unlike film, you can watch as the image appears and time the development accordingly. If you do develop your own films you will have a thermometer  

About 10
Why you need it: This is used to time how long the paper is in the developer, stop bath and fixer, although accurate timing is less important than it is with film processing.
Alternatives: If your clock or watch has a seconds finger you can use that. Even the timer on your mobile phone could be used. Or you could count out elephants!

Enlarging easel
About 30 for 10x8in
Why you need it: It holds the sheet of paper flat so theres no danger of the edges curling upwards or the print slipping out of position while an exposure is being made. The easel usually has a white base which makes it easier to focus the image accurately and it often has adjustable arms to allow a border to be made all around the print.

Focus finder
About 10
Why you need it: This magnifies the image on the baseboard so that you are focusing on the grain and can do so very precisely.
Alternatives: Use your eyes if they are accurate some enlargers have a fine focus control making it easier to be precise.

Enlarging timer
About 40
Why you need it: This can usually be set in halves or 10ths of a second and when connected switches the enlarger on and off to precisely control the exposure time.
Alternatives: A manual switch built into the power cable can be used if you have an accurate timer to hand.

About 3 
Why you need it: A developer reacts with the exposed areas of silver in the paper's emulsion turning these parts black to form an image. Areas that receive more light become blacker when developed. Areas that receive no light stay clear. You have to use a developer to produce a result.
Alternatives: You could make up your own developer. See the article 'mixing your own chemicals'

Stop Bath
About 2
Why you need it: An acid solution that quickly counteracts the developer to prevent over development of the paper.
Alternatives: You can use water but it doesn't stop the developer as quick. As it's acetic acid some people use vinegar, but it's not recommended.

About 3
Why you need it: This dissolves any unused silver halides that were not developed and stops the paper from being light sensitive.
Alternatives: You have to use a fixer otherwise the printed image will eventually turn black. You can make up your own fixer. See the article 'mixing your own chemicals' 

Measuring cylinders
Cost: About 2 each
Why you need them: Most chemicals need diluting before use. The dilution rate can be difficult to measure without an accurate measuring cylinder, especially when the chemical to water ratio is large. 
Alternatives: Any household measuring jug can be used providing it has the necessary measuring scales. You must not then reuse the measure for food because the chemicals used for processing are harmful.

Running water
Local water rates.
Why you need it: To ensure all traces of fixer are removed before the print is dried.
Alternatives: It's possible to wash prints in a bucket of water, but keep changing the water to ensure best results and give each print a final wash under a tap . 

Three developing trays
Around 10 for the three 10x8in.
Why you need them: To hold the developer, stop bath and fix for processing.
Alternatives: Some photographers use cat litter trays or garden seed trays (without holes). Make sure the trays are shallow and not much bigger than the maximum prints you intend to make to avoid using too much solutions to cover the print.

Print tongues
Around 5 for a pair
Why you need them: To handle the prints from tray to tray. Avoids getting finger marks on the prints and also prevents your hands coming in contact with chemicals.
Alternatives: You could use plastic or rubber gloves.

Print squeegees
Around 10
Why you need them: Its like a cars windscreen wiper blade and is used to wipe of access water from the print to help it dry quicker and avoid uneven patches.
Alternatives: Hang it vertically so the water runs off quickly. Use a sponge and quickly run over the surface holding the print vertically.

Print drying rack
Around 20
Why you need one: It is an upright rack that has several slots for prints and allows air to travel over both surfaces to ensure rapid drying.
Alternatives: You can make your own (time consuming), hang them up using a washing line using clothes pegs (may leave mark on border) or lay them on a carpet (back won't dry as quick also dust is more likely to settle on surface).

Lets begin
1 Prepare the room by blacking it out and mix the chemicals. Follow the instructions supplied with each of the developer, stop bath and fixer and mix enough to cover the bottom of the tray with at least a centimetre depth to ensure the print is fully covered when its slipped into each tray.

Making your first print - traditional darkroom ideas

2 Place the negative to be enlarged in the negative carrier of the enlarger and with the enlarging lamp on, and the lens set at maximum aperture, adjust the height of the head so that the image fills the size of the paper you intend using. You will find it easier to do this if the normal light in the room is now turned off.
3 Focus the image, using a magnifier, if you own one, so that the picture looks sharp on the baseboard. You may have to re adjust the head if the focusing action has now made the enlarged image area bigger or smaller than the paper area.

Making your first print - traditional darkroom ideas
When you use a focus finder it magnifies the grain so it is easier to see when the image is sharp. You will see the grain structure when the image is perfectly focused.

4 Now take out a sheet of paper and make a test strip (see the article in the June Issue)

5 With the correct exposure determined, place the sheet of printing paper in the enlarging easel, or position it on the baseboard. If your enlarger has a red filter you can swing this under the lens and switch the enlarger on to help position the paper.

Making your first print - traditional darkroom ideas

6 Make the exposure and when done transfer the paper into the developer. Make sure it is submersed quickly so the whole print gets similar and even development. The print should remain in the developer for between 30 seconds to two minutes. Depending on several factors such as temperature of developer, exposure time, paper speed and paper type. Agitate the developer by gently rocking the tray. Lifting the front about an inch from the bench and down again once very two or three seconds will give very good agitation and ensure the developer is most effective.

Making your first print - traditional darkroom ideas

7 When developed the image is visible, but not stable. The print then needs transferring to the stop bath for about 30 seconds. Its still not stable and the paper is still light sensitive. Agitate continuously.

8 After stop bath slip into the fixer and once its been there about 30 seconds you can turn on the room light and view the result. Leave it in the fixer for two minutes (resin coated paper) or 10 minutes (fibre based paper), agitating continuously, before washing thoroughly.

Making your first print - traditional darkroom ideas

9 Once washed (about three minutes for resin coated and 30 minutes for fibre based papers) place the print in a drying rack, hang it up or lay it flat to dry.

10 When thoroughly dry place in frame, photo album, shoebox or wherever else you decide to store it.

MPB Start Shopping

Support this site by making a Donation, purchasing Plus Membership, or shopping with one of our affiliates: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon CA, ebay UK, MPB. It doesn't cost you anything extra when you use these links, but it does support the site, helping keep ePHOTOzine free to use, thank you.


There are no comments here! Be the first!


You must be a member to leave a comment.

ePHOTOzine, the web's friendliest photography community.

Join for free

Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more.