By Ray Potes. Photos by Jesse Pollock.
This is a real basic starting point for printing black and white photographs. You can see how to get your film to this point by checking out the last photo 'how-to' regarding processing your film. For some of you this may be a refresher, for others this might be a totally killer new way of life. For some of you this may be boring or diabolical, for others it might be repulsive. Either way, the darkroom has been in a digi headlock for a while now, but its a tag team match and you got speedos on. Les doo dis?
You might have just processed some film and are ready to get in the darkroom. We are assuming you have access to an already existing darkroom which contains all the basic materials and equipment. If you dont have a darkroom, but want to build one in your house then I might have to write another guide for that. For now, we will just pretend that you have one or that you can find a cheap one to rent pretty easy. (hint)
First we are going to make contact sheets, also known as proof sheets, or proofs if you are in the biz. Have your negs sleeved and ready to go.
Make sure your darkroom is equipped with a boombox, preferred is one with auxiliary input for a cd player or ipod.
Try to KMEL the whole way if you can.
You will need a piece of glass. I guess lets back up a little for those who have never entered a darkroom. The idea is that the enlarger, with many different adjustments and controls and TLC, will blast light through your negative and onto your light sensitive paper. And once this piece of paper is processed through the right chemistry and mixed with some more TLC you will have a photographic print.
So we have a piece of glass. My piece of glass happens to be hinged onto a plastic base topped with padding, but any piece of glass large enough to cover an 8x10 piece of paper will do. The idea is that this glass will keep the negatives flat as possible while your print is exposed.
Lets get our paper ready
Its much easier to work with a paper safe than working straight out of the box. This way you dont have to mess with that plastic bag, opening the whole box every time, etc etc. Put some of your paper in there, but not all of it, just in case you hit the lights or something retarded.
Lets take our negative carrier and stick it in the enlarger. Also raise the enlarger head so the light source covers our piece of glass.
Lets open the aperature all the way open. F/2.8 This is just like the lense on your camera and works the exact same. Wide open aperature, maximum amount of light coming through.
This is the timer and is the main control for the light source on your enlarger. Once turned on you basically have 2 main modes, focus and time. With focus mode, you are turning on the enlarger in order to focus your neg, preparing your paper position, the pre-game if you will. With time mode, you set your time up and once triggered the enlarger will turn on and then off at whatever you set it at, could be 5 minutes or .5 seconds.
This particular enlarger setup has a multi-diffusion head. Not even really sure what that means, but I do know that the contrast filters are built in. Therefore, our timer has the controls to.. uh, control them.(the numbers on the right.) (Filters run from 0-5. That includes half increments. 0 being very low contrast and 5 being the high contrast.)
Also, since I have made contact sheets on this setup before and my negatives are basically the same density, same brand, same camera etc. I have a pretty good idea of what my settings should be. I have my time at 9 secs, with a 2 filter.
Its time to make an exposure. Put your negs centered on a piece of paper, and then place that under the glass. Then hit the timer and I get 9 secs of light on there.
*It should be noted that anytime we talk about taking un-exposed paper out, you should be under safe lights only. For the purpose of this write up we shot with the lights on in some parts, with flash in some parts, safe light in some parts. Sorry if the inconsistency is confusing and not illustrative to the true darkroom experience. Just be smart and dont ruin your paper.
Now it's time for the wet side of the darkroom. We have our trays setup in this order from left to right: developer, stop bath, and fixer. There is a 4th tray on a table not pictured here. That one is filled with water, lets call it a holding bath.
If you are mixing your own chemicals, all the directions are written on the side of the package or bottle. Just like mixing Kool-aid, pretty easy. You'll notice that the stop batch smells like rotten eggs died inside a dead baby covered in garbage then stuffed up someone's butt. If you arent using a super strong developer, you can just use water for stop bath, which is what we do. Also, you can save the fixer and re-use it a few times. Do that.
Have your tongs ready. Each tray should have its own tongs, and they should never get mixed up. You will contaminate the other trays. If you ever print in a group darkroom style setup, the biggest complaint is always, "..man fucking so and so fucking mixed up the fucking tongs and now my whole fucking life is ruined, thanks bro.."
Our wall clock recently died. But any watch will do. Each tray has its own amount of time the print should sit in there. Today, we will spend 1.5 minutes in the dev, 30 secs in the stop, and 1 min in the fix.
Throw your exposed paper in the developer. Make sure its deep in there. Stir up that sauce with the tongs. "Agitate" the tray by grabbing and edge and tilting it and lifting it a little to make some waves. Do that for about 1.5 minutes.
Oh crucial step. Dont forget to wear your gloves. Some people have reactions to these chemicals. Ive seen dry skin, rashes, hives, burns, and warts..
Okay, back to work. After the dev, lift the print out of the tray, let it drain a bunch. And then stick it in the next tray, which is the stop bath. This is stopping the developer from developing, hence the name. Agitate it for 30 secs straight.
Next is the fixer. Stick it in there and do the same.
Once its in here for like a minute you can turn the light on.
Then we'll put it in the holding bath which is just water. If you are doing a lot of prints, then you should have this tray attached to running water. But today we're only doing a few things, when we're done we'll wash them all together. Keep them face down, that way if they float to the surface, there wont be any circley dry marks on the front of the print.
Now we are going to make an enlargement from a negative. Switch out that glass you just used for contact prints with an "easel". Theres all kinds of makes and models of these. You will find one you like. Basically this thing will hold and position your paper while you make and exposure.
Put your neg in the neg carrier.
Open the enlarger head and stick your neg carrier with neg in there.
I like to have a blank piece of paper around to get a feel of where my photo is going to land and also to focus on.
Turn that timer onto the "focus" position. Your negative image is now visible on your scrap piece of paper. You can position the easel, lift or lower the enlarger head for a bigger or smaller crop. Some people like to see the white of the paper. Today, we are going over the edges. This is called "full bleed".
This thingy is called a grain focuser or grain finder or grain magnifyer.
You put it under the light of the enlarger and with it you can see how soft or how sharp the grain of your film is going to look on your print. Play with the focusing knob on the enlarger and make sure that grain is tight as fuck..
Stop down your lense to f/8. This is a good starting point. Depending on your exposure time you can make some adjustments here later. Remember this works just like your camera where the combo of time and aperature setting is the shazam factor, money, butter, sweet emotion, whatever you want to call it.
In order to find our proper exposure time, we need to make a test print. We'll do it in 10 second increments. Cut out a small piece of unexposed paper. Set the timer to 10 secs and use a piece of cardboard to block part of the print.
Make another 10 second exposure right over that last one, but move the cardboard down a little revealing another piece of the unexposed paper. Repeat this at least 4 or 5 times. We want to see at what point our print is going to be too dark and at what point it will be too light.
Run that sucker through the doo.
Okay now we can see whats happening. The lightest part of this print is 10 seconds. The darkest is 40 secs. Im liking the 20-30 sec area..
..so I'm going to go with a 25 sec exposure.
Push it through dem chems.
It's a dead ratatouille! and maggots have eaten away most of his cute lil face?!
Looks pretty good, but I think i can dodge him a little which will make him lighter and make him pop a little more.
This is a dodging tool. Basically just a round piece of cardboard on the end of a wire hanger straighted out.
Use it to block the exposure. The closer to the lense the bigger the dodging..
The closer you are to the print, the tighter the dodging. While doing this you want to wave it around and not keep it stationary. If you did keep it in one place, you would see the wire and the shape of the dodging tool in the print, like tan lines. So keep it moving and only for a few seconds at a time. Thats dodging, burning is the exact opposite where we want to add exposure to certain areas of the print. Keep mental notes of how long you dodge or burn for future reference.
So I dodged ratatouille only for a few seconds ( the bottom print), but you can see the difference.
Im done for the day. Time to wash these print. We dont have a print washer today, so we are going to use this tray attachement. This thing connects to the faucet and will replace tray water with fresh water at a certain rate or whatever. Ill connect it to the tray that was holding all my prints.
I'll wash for 5-10 mins. I'll even help it by swishing my prints around and flipping them over and whatnot..
..and sniffing them.
Use the squeegee and a hard flat surface to squeege some of that water off.
Do both sides, but be careful you dont over do it and wrinkle your print, fold it, or run marks on it.
Place your prints on the drying rack and go do something while they dry.
Our drying rack also doubles as a film dryer, so we have a heater mounted to it. Dont full blast it though or the prints will curl crazy. Also, if you are printing fiber based papers, know that the wash sequence is a little different and there is also extra chemistry and more pre-cautions when drying.
I think that's it. You now know your basic way around a darkroom and sooner or later you'll be concocting your own recipes.
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