Monday, April 11, 2005

Darkroom Etiquette

Many photographers still opt to develop film in a darkroom, whether it is professionally or in a high school photography class for beginners. Since the darkroom is an integral part of the photography process for purists, it's important to understand some etiquette involved in not only developing film in a darkroom but also for simply taking a tour. The darkroom, arguably, can be considered one of the most important places a photographer will ever take a trip to during their career, and as such, is a sacred place of workmanship for these artists.

What is a darkroom? A darkroom is an enclosed space that uses very little, or special, lights to develop film. Since negatives cannot be exposed to everyday light, it's important that the room stays just as its suggests: Dark. Otherwise, photographs cannot be developed at all. So, as you can imagine, the darkroom is a place that not only must be well-organized but well-designed in order to prevent a negative from being exposed by light either purposely or accidentally. More often the latter occurs when someone, generally not knowing what they're doing, turns on a light or brings their negatives into the light when exiting the darkroom. It's these types of accidents that can cause many problems for photographers, and that's why with a few tips or tricks, even the most amateur photographer can avoid being a darkroom faux pas.

First and foremost, when you enter a darkroom for the first time, you will need to get used to the lack of light or very little light. For many, this can be daunting, especially if they are afraid of the dark or of enclosed spaces, because darkrooms encapsulate both in a way to utilize space and give a photographer their focus with their work. It may take more time to adjust to the pitch blackness of a darkroom, and if you know you will be spending many hours in one daily, it might be wise to condition yourself by allowing yourself for every one hour in the darkroom, two hours outside it or some smaller increment. This way you can get yourself used to the atmosphere without freaking yourself out and causing an accident for yourself or for your colleagues.

Second, once you get used to the lack of light in the darkroom, you'll want to learn how to work in the dark. Now, this will take some practice and will also require in the beginning an empty darkroom – so that you can turn on the lights – and learn how to use the various equipment and devices you will be working with during your time developing photos. This will also give you a time to learn where supplies, such as chemicals and paper, are stored during the development process. Learning the chemicals is an important matter, because you may need to add more chemicals to a given batch, and if you grab the wrong one, it could spell disaster for your pictures for days and even weeks during the cleaning of chemicals from the given containers.

Next, once you've mastered the different devices and understand the set-up of your darkroom, you'll want to actually begin working along with others to develop your pictures. Chances are you'll be sharing materials, stations, chemicals and other things will your colleagues and because of this, you'll want to make sure you take time and care to learn where everyone is while working in the darkroom. This will ensure that you don't bump into people while they're working on something sensitive, such as exposing their negatives to the photo light to develop them on paper before heading to the chemical mixtures to physically develop them. If you need something, but you can't get to it, because you don't want to ruin someone's progress, ask for help. Don't be shy to talk in the darkroom, as it will help you become familiar with not only the surroundings but also those you'll be working with in the close environment. This will make it more comfortable for everyone.

Finally, make sure you clean up after yourself. This is a common courtesy and allows for others who will work where you once did to be able to not only find things easily but also to get started as soon as possible so as not to waste a precious second searching for materials. You wouldn't want to come into the darkroom, have to make everyone put there stuff away, just to find your paper or film, now would you?

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