To enjoy the full benefits of black & white photography you need to venture into a darkroom and process your own films. Here we look at the options for setting up a darkroom. A darkroom can be fixed up temporarily in any room in your house or work that can be totally blacked out, Usual venues include spare room, bathroom, kitchen (with care), or, even the cupboard under the stairs, providing you have the height and enough room to close the door. While Harry Potter fans may like the latter option having more space makes the task more pleasurable. The problem using a bathroom or Kitchen arises when someone else requires the use of the same room and then it can become inconvenient. So ideally aim for a room that can be turned into a permanent darkroom or at least for a couple of days allowing you to work through a bunch of films before dismantling the kit and turning it back into the spare bedroom. Whichever room you use there are several things to consider. If it's a bathroom you need to find a shelf for the enlarger. A piece of thick hardboard resting across the bath that's a fraction larger than the enlarger's baseboard is fine a second shelf to hold the trays is also worth having and then make sure you have a mat or plastic sheet to protect the carpet where the chemicals and mixing jugs can be placed. If you use a kitchen be extremely careful with chemicals and don't work on any surface that you prepare food on. In both cases watch out for chemical spills that will stain carpets and plastic or aluminium sinks. Ideally your layout should include two areas - wet and dry. The wet area would include hot and cold running water, the processing trays and print drying racks or, if the budget could afford, a heated print dryer, to enable speedy processing. The dry area hosts the enlarger, negative storage files and a viewing area. There should be adequate plug points to avoid overloading and these should be at a safe distance from any water. If you're using the bathroom take extra care! Changing rooms Assuming you're fortunate enough to have a spare room that you can convert, (ask your partner first!) you can plan a room to be perfect for your processing needs.
Words Peter Bargh
When designing a darkroom bench allow for an area that will take equipment to process big prints, even if this is not required at present it is better to be equipped for any future developments.
1 The safelight must be placed at a distance from the print handling area to avoid fogging there are different coloured safelights to match the various sensitive papers available.
2 Tray allow a small amount of space in between trays so the can be rocked independently when print agitation is required. Buy a set that will be just bigger than the paper size you are using, If you intend printing on several size of paper it's worth getting several sets of trays to avoid using unnecessary amounts of developer etc.
3 You can buy a custom darkroom sink that will probably be made of fibre glass or stainless steel. When fitting this ensure the strut supports are able to take the weight of the sink when full of water. It's also worth plumbing in a water filter to ensure you have particle free water.
4Drying rack Place the drying rack near the washing area so that you can quickly load prints without water dripping everywhere.
5 Ensure plug points are away from any water supply.
6 A contact printing frame should be near your light box so you can view negs and then insert them into the frame ready for printing.
7 A light box is a useful item to have so you can illuminate the negatives and check sharpness using a magnifying lupe.
8 Enlarger If you are lucky enough to have the option of choosing your room then a high ceiling should be on your wish list .Not only does this offer better ventilation, but it's also important if a large columned enlarger is purchased. You obviously can't do anything about this if you have a low ceiling so check that the enlarger head can be swivelled so you can print off the wall or the floor and, in either case, plan where the enlarger will have to be placed for this to be possible.
9A masking frame will make it easier to print pictures with borders and holds the paper securely while you make an enlargement.
10 Keep your negative storage files to hand so you can find images to be printed without having to search around. Place a contact sheet with each page of negs to make the job even easier.
11Make sure the room is adequately ventilated. You can buy a special ventilator if you want the job doing right
12It's useful to have somewhere to sit, but a chair will get in your way. Buy a cheap round kitchen stool so you can swivel around and move from wet to dark with ease.
13Make sure any storage space is used effectively. Cupboards under the wet bench should be used for chemicals, mixing devices an and storage containers.
14 Cupboards under the dry bench should be used for papers, note books, reference material, enlarging accessories and filing sheets.