Why Build Your Own Darkroom
The best thing about creating your own darkroom is the effect you can have over the development of your prints. Additionally, the development process is incredibly interesting – watching your print appear on paper for the first time as the silver halide particles react with developer to form the latent image, it feels something like magic. The darkroom allows one to express themselves with unparalleled possibilities, pursue new creative ideas and experiment. The darkroom will also allow you to understand the fundamental theory behind film processing and development, thus further solidifying you own skills and talents at this craft. You will find yourself slowly generating new ideas, and eventually developing your own style after enough practise and deliberation.
It has never been more affordable or simple to stock your own darkroom with equipment and chemicals. Chemicals in comparison can be quite expensive, however the cost of equipment it rather low – it really is a buyers market. The only problem you may find will be locating darkroom equipment. Good places to start are looking in classifieds, and areas like Craigslist. Also contact old photo processing businesses, while it is a long shot, some may put you in touch with the right person.
What Equipment Do I Need
It’s a good idea to start out by thinking whether you want to get involved in colour printing or stick to just black and white photographic development. It may be a good idea to start with black and white printing to get a grasp of the procedures and requirements. But be wary of the enlarger you are purchasing because some are made specifically for black and white printing only, while colour enlargers can usually have the filtering head switched to accommodate for black and white prints.
The most important item in the darkroom is your enlarger lens. Just like the most important item on your camera is the camera lens. Make sure you are using a enlarger lens with quality relative to the lens on your camera, otherwise the quality of prints will not reach their full potential.
I’m constantly keeping my eyes on the lookout for cheap darkroom equipment and enlargers. Recently I was lucky enough to find someone who sold me all their gear for $100. For that I got the black and white LPL3301D enlarger and the Omega Dichroic enlarger with three lenses. All the trays, tongs, gloves, developing equipment, timers and lights were thrown in for free! So keep your eyes peeled like an onion.
Basic Principle Of Film Development
All photographic film and paper share one indispensable quality: they all contain silver halide crystals suspended in a gelatin matrix. When the film or paper is subjected to developer, the gelatin swells letting fluids move in to react with the silver halide and for by-products to move out. The photographic process begins when silver halide particles are struck by photons of light. These react to form black silver – the latent part of the image. This is the emulsion. The change is so small it is not yet visible to the naked human eye, however with the addition of a developer, the silver halide particles react and become millions of times darker than their original appearance. The development process is completed by removing the unused silver halide and by-products from the mixture and are left with a permanent image.
Development is tailored for the sensitivity of film to light. Fast, light-sensitive films react much quicker to the presence of light than slower films. Development can also be adjusted to refine the characteristics of the image. Contrast and grain size for example, are two popular qualities that are often played with.
The enlarger is singlehandedly the most indispensable item in your darkroom. There are several different kinds of enlarger, however, the above diagram provides a neat fundamental description of their operational basics.
An enlarger works by shining a light from a lamp house through the negative carrier and onto the base. Enlargers can be adjusted upwards or downwards – this controls the size of the image you are exposing. Ensure that the enlarger is sturdy if shooting at the maximum height with column extend as it may easily wobble or move resulting in blurred images.
The lamphouse must have enough light and properly spaced to ensure correct illumination of the negative. Care must be taken when leaving the light on for extended periods of time when focusing or setting up the easel as this may lead to an excess amount of heat on the negative resulting in warping or buckling. The easel is used to give the print a white boarder around the edges and also to align the paper to give correct orientation. Once the easel is in place and the photographic paper set up, a photograph can be created. I stress this point though, before doing any developing – ALWAYS do a test strip or you will end up wasting paper. Take this advice from me. I thought I knew what I was doing and would rush into using the enlarger without first running a test strip and the results would come back disappointing. If you make any slight adjustment to the enlarger, always make another test strip.
The other secondarily important components are a safelight, timer, voltage regulator, easel and focus magnifier.
Thanks for reading and keep film alive!