OC Photography Program/Traditional Darkroom

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Setting up a black and white dark room[edit]

You can easily build an inexpensive darkroom in your own home. You need a room that can block all exterior light and has ventilation (e.g. an exhaust fan). Having a sink is nice, but not necessary since rinsing can be done out of the darkroom. You should have counter space to hold at least three 11x14 inch trays four if you don't have a sink, an enlarger and room for a paper box and tools. The layout should be a progressive line from the enlarger to the solution trays to the sink.

Equipment[edit]

Enlarger 
should be as good a manufacturer as you can find. Bargains can be found because many amateur photographers are selling darkroom equipment in favour of digital gear.
Lens 
the focal length of an enlarger lens is a determined by the film format you use. 35mm film requires a 50mm, 120 film a 70mm. Most lenses are now of good quality. CAD and plastic technology has helped a great deal. Perfectionists will prefer expensive lenses. Many are available on the web or at quality used camera stores.
Timer 
any kind of clock will do for this task, but it is important to remember that you must be able to see the hands in the dark. It is still easy to buy a triple timer which will automatically time the duration of each chemical stage. A clock that integrates safe lights is usually very handy. check the used camera stores.
Exposure monitor 
Hard to find, but worth it. An exposure monitor will allow you to gain a ball park exposure for your prints, without needing to make endless teststrips.

Sealing the darkroom[edit]

If you think you have sealed the darkroom so no outlise light enters, then turn on all possible lights, make sure it is a sunny day, then take a cup of tea into the darkroom and wait for about ten minutes. Your eyes will adjust to the darkness, and you can see the leaks. Fix them. They can fog your negatives and paper. No Kidding.

Developing Film[edit]

Before you start[edit]

In order to start developing film there are several things that you will require:

  • Either a darkroom, or any other type of container that seals light (such as a Changing Bag.)
  • Chemicals; such as:

-Film developer: (such as D-76, [HC 110,] Fixer, Photo Flo) -Paper developer: (such as Kodak Dektol, Stopbath, Fixer)

  • Scissors
  • Cartridge opener for 35 mm film, if you do not use plastic screw-in cartridges. (Such as the ones you buy with film loaded in them.)
  • Light-Tight Tank
  • Film Reels
  • A Drying Rack or Printer Dryers.
  • A film squeegee to takes drops of water off the film. (Optional, drying rack is good enough.)

If you have everything you need, start by checking that your solutions & water are room temperature.

Water temperature is an issue. Variations in temperature will change the speed of chemical actions on film. A five minute development at 68 degrees (F) will be very different from a 72 or 62 degrees development. There are expensive water temperature meters that can be installed that will automatically keep the water temperature steady. Otherwise you will have to be alert to temperature changes and manage as best you can.

What you could do is make a revolving chart for your different room temperatures to see how long your development time will be.

Loading the film into the tank[edit]

Start by setting the equipment and solutions for development at the ready in your darkroom. Try to keep them in a predictable place and order so you use the right stuff at the right time. Place the parts of the developing tank in good order so you can find them in the dark. Once the cartridge is open, you cannot turn on any standard or safe lights until the film is once again in a lightproof container (hopefully the development tank). You might want to take a test drive with some test strips. Take your scissors and cut the curved part of the film. Be careful not to cut too much, because that might spoil the negatives later on, won't fit into your camera, or is just a waste of, what could be, a good picture.

Afterwards, roll the film using the reel. It is a bit hard to explain how to do this in words, but after you do it several times you will understand it. Again, practice in the light with some Practice Film.

Then, when the film is rolled on the reel, put the reel on the pole, put the pole in the tank, put the seal on the top of the tank and close the tank using the cap provided with the tank. You can turn the lights on now.

Once you have done this, you may proceed to the next step.

Developing Film[edit]

Developing needs to be standardized. Your time starts when you start pouring in the developer. If you find the results are okay - them keep up your standards. If a bit underdeveloped add time, if overdeveloped, use less time than recommended. Again - this is assuming you have temperature control.

  • Comments: "For one, you can't change the development time because, A.) You don't know how your film is gonna look UNTIL you're FINISHED. Unless, you wanna ruin your film by opening the tank then, sure. B.) The time isn't always going to be the same, again, depending on the temperature. C.) Under exposing or over exposing doesn't always depend on the time or temperature, it could be your camera, OR just YOU." - Victoria, 16 & Raquel, 16.

Begin by pouring clean water of 68 degrees, into the tank. This softens the emulsion and prepares for a more uniform acceptance of the developer. Put the lid on the tank and then invert it several times. Discard the water. Try and get as much out as possible.

  • Comments: "For one, it's NOT ALWAYS gonna be 68 degrees. Two, the water has nothing to do with 'softening the emulsion & preparation for a more 'uniform acceptance. You use water between D-76 & Stop-Bath to be sure all the chemicals are washed off, completely. NEVER use water AFTER Photo Flo. Photo Flo is used to wash off the residues from the chemicals. Using water after Photo Flo will totally defeat the purpose of even using Photo Flo in the first place. Three, Invert ?? It's called 'Agitate'." - Victoria, 16 & Raquel, 16.

Set your clock or watch your watch for a beginning time, and pour the developer into the tank. Invert the tank according to the film manufacturer's instructions or to your standardization. Too much agitation will retard development, to little will create different intensities of development in different areas of the film. So you are looking for uniformity without interrupting the development process too much. The development time is usually suggested by the film maker's recommendation for particular developers. Look to the developer paperwork, the film paper work, or go onto the film or developer maker's web sites. At the end of the development period discard the developer. Many people retain the developer and you can certainly reuse what you have, but the depletion of its chemical action can happen quickly and steadily - making it more difficult to establish your own development standards. The choice is yours, or our economic concerns.

  • Comments: "Developer ? There's multiple developers. Be specific. The first developer for developing film is, D-76. Invert=AGITATE. GET IT RIGHT. No, just because they're Manufacturer's doesn't mean they're always right on the instructions. You can never be too sure. Go with the gut, go with what you KNOW. Just.. Listen to Mr. Woodard. Good job, you put agitation. Surprised you didn't put invertation. It'll make my film retarded ?? O.o WRONG. It will SLOW DOWN development. No, it's not depended on the film maker's recommendations on how long you should develop. It's based on the TEMPERATURE. Don't go anywhere online, look up everything in a Photography book. Such as, Guide to Photography. NEVER DISCARD YOUR DEVELOPERS. YOU CAN RE-USE THEM UNTIL THEY GO BAD. POUR THEM INTO A JUG OR SOMETHING ! DEVELOPERS ARE EXPENSIVE. If chemicals are ever weak, double the development time. When D-76 is weak, it turns black/dark. Stop-Bath turns into a red/purple color when weak. Dektol turns black, as well." - Victoria, 16 & Raquel, 16.

This process alters the film emulsion and the chemical interact with the silver in the black and white film. Your waste will contain metal and should be disposed of properly.

  • Comments: "Wow, surprisingly you got that correct. Congratulations." - Victoria, 16 & Raquel, 16.

After emptying the tank quickly pour in stop-bath. This will stop most of the development and should be done as quickly as possible to help standardize your development time. The stop bath is usually about 30 seconds. discard or retain the stop and pour in the fixer. This finalizes the development and stabilizes (fixes) the negatives so they will be viewable in light and preserved. Empty the tank of fixer and wash the film. I usually open the tank and place it under the faucet. Temperature is not as critical here, but keeping a 68 degree discipline is always a good idea.

  • Comments: "One, you don't use Stop-Bath for developing film. That's for making a print. You use Fixer for your second chemical in this process. YOU DON'T USE STOP-BATH AND FIXER ?!?! WANNA RUIN YOUR FILM ?! No, DON'T USE STOP-BATH WHEN DEVELOPING FILM. Why do you think it "fixes" ? BECAUSE YOU USE FIXER ! Fixer fixes & Stop-Bath stops !! NEVER open your tank after FIXER. YOU ONLY OPEN IT AFTER YOU HAVE PROPERLY USED PHOTO FLO !! Temperature is EVERYTHING." - Victoria, 16 & Raquel, 16.

Drying the film[edit]

Once the film is cleaned, hang (clips are available at better camera stores) it on a line in a still, dust proof area (hopefully your darkroom is sealed tight so it is a good place to dry film. If you use a bathroom for drying - close the door, turn off the exhaust fan, and try to keep people out for a while. Place a clip on the bottom of the roll to keep some tension on the film so it does not dry in a twisted form. When sufficiently dry - go away and let it dry some more.

Once it is really dry, cut the film into strips that can be placed into plastic sleeves designed for the purpose. You now have a finished negative in a well protected negative sleeve.

You may wish to begin a catalog of negatives. If you take a lot of pictures, you will quickly be frustrated by a messy collection. Use names, dates, key pictures, or events like "the local town fair" to help you retrieve the negatives you want. Keeping the contact sheet sleeves in an album helps.

Making Contact Sheets[edit]

If you have full page plastic sleeves, you entire roll is probably in one plastic sleeve. Keep the negatives in the sleeve - less handling means fewer fingerprints or damages.

You will need to do a couple of test strips until you know how much time at what f stop on the lens produces a good exposure for development. If you do not have a meter (see above) then the next best method is test-strips. As follows:

Run your enlarger up the support to a high level. Turn on your enlarger, open the lens to its most open position and focus the lens to the base of the enlarger. The edge of the frame will sharpen when you are in focus. You may wish to use an easel or place duct tape on the base in the outline of a piece of paper. You want to be able to put the photo paper and the sleeve of negatives in a standard place to assure complete exposure of the negatives.

Turn off all lights, put a fresh 8 x 10 sheet of photo paper on the base or easel, and then place the negatives on the paper. Put a plate of clean glass on top of the negtives to assure flatness.

To make a test strip place a thick piece of cardboard larger than 8 x 10 or some other material to block all the light. Turn on your time clock for one minute. Stop down the lens to a low setting smaller f/stop = higher number = less light). At standard intervals - say 10 seconds - move the cardboard about an inch. You may get six or so strips. After the complete page is exposed - place the cardboard over the whole page and turn off your enlarger. You can then begin to develop the photo paper. (See below) What will eventually happen is that you will find one of these strips to do a pretty good job of reproducing the photo you took. That "strip" will be your time exposure. If it were the fourth strip - then you would expose the negatives at 40 seconds at that f/stop, and you can now redo the above without having to make a strip sheet and develop the full sheet for a true contact sheet. Test over. If the strip is too dark - either change the f/stop to a smaller aperture or reduce the time exposure. If it is too light, add time or open up the lens to let out more light. Use 5 sceond increments - 20 - or whatever it takes to get you to a standard with which you are comfortable. Keep adjusting until you get some good exposures.

If you take standard negatives, develop the strips the same way, and keep a good eye on your temperatures and times, you can just go ahead and assume your time and exposure settings are okay and you won't have to do a test strip anymore.

Making Prints[edit]

Print making is the fun part. Using a handy can of air - make sure there is no dust on the negative or the lens of the enlarger. Place a negative in the negative carrier and place it in the enlarger. Focus the print on the easel of base (focus scopes are great here for focusing. You adjust the lens focus until you can see the grain of the negative on the easel). After reading your exposure or making a test strip of a single negative, you have the proper f/stop and exposure time for this one negative. I usually try to have at least 30 seconds for exposure so I can dodge or burn. A quick exposure does not give you time to improve the print. If you need more time, stop down the lens. One change down will double the exposure time.

(You will probably want to do a test strip on each negative. Sacrificing a piece of paper for a test strip will save you many sheets of 8x10's.)

My timer turns on the enlarger and turns off the safe light. Then when the timer stops, it turns the safe light back on. (I do not have any lights on when I open up my box of photo paper.) [If you find your safe lights cause fog in your print, do not turn them on until the development process is well along.] Take your test contact sheet print, turn on the timer and immerse the print in the developer solution - which should be the first tray to the right of the enlarger. Gently agitate the print by tapping it with the side of your developer tongs so it keeps getting exposed to good chemicals for a well distributed process. You should begin to see the print emerge. After the end of the recommended development time for that developer, paper and temperature, lift the print out and let developer drip off the paper. Place it in the stop bath - the second tray to the right of the enlarger. After that time is up, lift the paper, let it drip into the stop bath and place the paper into the fixer - the third tray to the right of the enlarger. After the recommended fixing time, place the paper in the wash bath with running water at about 68 degrees, and let it wash for a long time. You can turn on standard lights after the fixing is done.

Making a print is the same process as the test strip - but without making strips. Depending on the paper you buy, you can further adjust the print by altering the contrast of the paper, using different paper, different developers, adding toners, etc.

When I process, I use 5 trays. One developer, one stop bath, two fixers and a toner bath - usually selenium toner with photoflo. Portraits can be enhanced by sepia toner as well. Then I go to the wash. A plastic washer is a good purchase. They can hold a few prints, will hook up to your faucet, and agitate the prints while they are washing. a squeege helps limit water spots on the paper.

After a thorough washing, place the prints on a drying surface. They will curl and stuff, but heat mounting them will straighten them out. You can back them to savage board with wax paper that does a great mounting job. I used to back the prints with a sheet of like kind photo paper - that makes it more archival and less prone to damage by age - but paper prices are kind of steep now. The number one enemy of photos is sulphur. Those yellow stains in old photos are probably sulfur - which comes from wood frames or impure backing material. Good luck.