How to Create a Photography Darkroom

Chances are that if you have enjoyed photography for any length of time, you will at some point consider wanting to have your own darkroom. It really isn’t a terribly difficult thing to accomplish with a bit of research and you can be developing your own pictures and slides in a very short amount of time.

What is the first step?

Before anything else, you will need to know if there is any space in your home that can effectively be turned into darkroom space. If your plan is to physically build a new room, be sure that you know the specifications and things the room will need before starting the project. It is never a good occurrence to finish such an undertaking and find out too late that you forgot something you hadn’t realized would be necessary.

A darkroom doesn’t have to be an actual “room” per se, either. An extra restroom that isn’t often used will work well if it is dark enough by specifications I will be covering later. A section of a basement may be a good choice, particularly if you will be able to partition a segment off for your darkroom area. Of all the extra spaces or rooms you may be considering, the basement with its natural darkness is the better choice if possible. If you have an area available that does not contain a window, it will be an excellent choice for your darkroom.

Okay, so what are some of the specifications?

Your darkroom should not be allowed to get too warm. Plan to make it a steady 68 or 69 degrees year round and the room should have no higher than a 50 per cent humidity level. As long as you make sure to have enough work space, the room should be as small as logically possible. The bigger the room is, the more difficult it will be to control the environment such as light entering the room. Another reason for a smaller room is that your darkroom should be kept very clean because dust will not be good for this room. If you are painting the area, choose a paint that will be less likely to have dust clinging to it, as some are prone to do.

What will the room need to have . . . and not have?

1. The room will not be able to have any light whatsoever. Various ways to keep it out will be explained later.

2. You will need electricity in your darkroom.

3. The room should have a water source with clear water. If you live in an area where you do not have “soft” water, you will need to check into filtering the water that is flowing to your darkroom. If it is not possible to have the water directly in the same room, make sure it is as close to the darkroom as possible.

4. Since you will be using chemicals for the developing, the room will need some kind of ventilation. A fan will be the better choice, but even an air vent will be better than nothing. Remember, however, that a fan or vent will have to be installed in such a way that it will not be letting light into the area. If you can’t manage to have either, it may be a good choice to mix your chemicals somewhere else and carry them to the darkroom. You will still have some of the fumes, but not nearly as many as if you did the mixing in that area.

5. Arrange to have a wet working area and a dry working area. You will be doing your film processing in the wet area and things such as printing and drying will be done in the dry working area.

How do I make it truly dark in there?

As mentioned previously, the best start is to have a room without a window from the very beginning. But since most rooms do indeed have windows, and even many basements, you may have to find a way to stop all light from entering your work area. If there is a window, boarding it may work, but that may not cover all incoming cracks of light. Many photographers use two or three layers of dark plastic. Tape it up with something like duct tape so that it will be totally free of any light seeping in. You will also need to be preventing light from entering under the door. You may find that weather stripping supplies will work sufficiently for this. These are just a few ideas, and you may be able to think of supplies you already own that may be adequate in keeping your darkroom totally black.

After you think you have succeeded in making the room completely light-free, give it a test by sitting in there on an otherwise bright time of day and see of you can spot even a pinpoint of light. If you can, even the tiniest of light sources need to be covered up. You may want to try a black opaque tape for the tiny holes and cracks.

The test that is most often used by photographers to check for complete darkness is to sit in the room for about 15 fifteen minutes when you think it is as dark as possible. After the fifteen minutes pass, check if you are able to see a piece of white paper that you hold up in front of your face. Can you see it? If so, it’s back to the square one with looking for and eliminating cracks of light.

Your shopping list

A how-to book so that you will not have to face more unsuccessful trials in developing than necessary. Don’t get me wrong . . . most new darkroom owners will indeed have to deal with trial and error for a certain amount of time, but having a good (ask for a reference at your photography store) manual that you read before your first attempt will be invaluable. You may also, for the same reasons, want to check into taking a class at a local university or perhaps one sponsored by the photographic supply store.

Some of the basic items you will be starting with include:

–Three developing trays
–A tub or sink to hold your trays if not already built into the room
–An enlarger machine
–Rope or a line of some kind to hang your film and photos to dry
–Photo clips for hanging those items
–A safelight (A darkroom is 100% dark, but you will still need to see what you’re doing)
–A timer
–Toner and developer

Last helpful words . . .

I will need to repeat the importance of buying or borrowing a how-to book before attempting your first developing project. Most books and experts will suggest starting with black and white developing, as just one example. Working with color film is much more difficult than beginning with black and white. When you are comfortable with black and white developing, moving onto color developing will be much less daunting.

A good guide book will also mention things you will need to buy or build into your darkroom in addition to giving step by step instructions on technique.

Be sure that anyone else in your home or structure in which your darkroom is located is aware of the times you will be developing. A light being turned on in the next room could ruin your project if any of the light seeps in. Of course, needless to say, someone opening the darkroom door has ruined the film of many photographers.

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