Friday, May 27, 2005

Build and Supply Your Own Darkroom!

By Kathy A. Schaeffer

Many avid photographers and hobbyists alike consider having a darkroom at one time or another. It's actually rather easy to do, especially if you already have a suitable area in your home and won't need to physically build another room. A "room" isn't even a necessity if you have a suitable area that is dark enough, but finding a place like that is rare.

The first order of business needs to be deciding if you have an area that will work well for your darkroom. Some people will choose a second bathroom that is not commonly used, or part of the basement that can be partitioned off. If that can be done in your case, it is by far the better choice considering basements already have much of the "dark" that one needs for a photographic darkroom. You may have an extra bedroom or pantry that would work well also.

The area that will be your darkroom should be kept at a steady temperature around 68 to 70 degrees. It should also be moderately dry at a 45 or 50 per cent humidity level. Your darkroom or area will also need to be kept clean. Dust is not good for a darkroom environment.

The room certainly doesn't need to be big and actually shouldn't be. The smaller the better (provided, of course, that you give yourself enough work space), and the easier to keep as dark as you will need the area to be. There will need to be electricity and a water source in the room that you decide to use. This will need to be clear water, so if you have "hard water" you will need to use a filter. If your water source isn't directly inside of your darkroom, it should be nearby.

Another very important aspect of a darkroom is proper ventilation. Install a fan, the kind that will take the chemical smells from the room if at all possible. If that isn't doable or feasible, at least have some kind of air vent that will not let light into the room. As an alternative, simply mix your chemicals elsewhere and that will assure that the chemical fumes in your darkroom won't be as strong as they may have been if you had mixed them there.

It goes without saying that a small room without a window would be ideal. If that is not possible, you will need to find the best way to cover the window and stop all light from entering. You could try boarding the window up, but a few layers of thick dark plastic works well. Make sure that no light will be creeping in from under the door, also. You can try weather stripping materials or whatever else you have on hand that will keep the light out.

When you think you have all sources of light blocked out, test it. Go into your room on a very bright day and make sure there is no light seeping into the room. If you see even the tiniest crack of light, find the source (after you can see again!) and close off the light source. Black photographic opaque tape works well for these tiny cracks of light.

The widely accepted test to tell whether or not the room is in total darkness is to close everything off until it's as dark as you think it can get and then spend about fifteen minutes in the room. After that time, hold a piece of white paper up in front of your eyes. You shouldn't be able to see it, but if you can indeed see it, you will need to check for the points at which light may be sneaking into the room.

Now that you have taken care of making the darkroom truly dark, you need to prepare the room and start supplying it. Developing color film can be quite difficult, so when you are just starting out, it's much better to learn the process with black and white developing. It is a good idea to pick up a book on developing or maybe even finding a class for it at a local college.

What will you need to supply your new darkroom? The "how-to" book you buy will give lists of supplies, but there are some basic items to be aware of from the beginning. One of these basic items is a tub or sink that will be able to hold three of your developing trays. You will need an enlarger machine and the developing trays. You will need a place to put your photographs to dry and to hang the film to dry.

Other items that are needed from the first developing project onward are a "safelight" so that you can see what you are doing when everything else in the room is so dark, a timer, tongs, and of course your developing supplies including paper, toner, and developer. The book you buy or the course you take will list other things to buy.

You well need a "wet side" area and a "dry side" area of the room. The wet side is where you will be doing the actual chemical processing and the dry side is for printing and other things that do not involve the water or chemicals.

It is important to buy or borrow a book or take a class as mentioned before, so that you don't miss any part of the design of a darkroom that needs to exist. There are just too many particulars and essentials to cover everything in one article. A good book should even tell you how to build some of the things you will need such as storage space or even your sink area.

One last word of advice before you try out your darkroom for the first time is to make sure everyone else in the house with you knows what you are doing and will not come near to inadvertently let any form of light into your darkroom by opening the door. If you are working in a very dark basement, even if it is sectioned off from other areas, someone turning a light on in another area of the basement may be enough to destroy the work you are doing.

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