New to the Darkroom

Discussion in 'Darkroom Equipment' started by Andrew West, Mar 14, 2007.

  1. Andrew West

    Andrew West Member

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    While I'm sending my paid work off to the professionals, I'd like to be developing my skills in the darkroom and, slowly, ween myself off of commercial processing. Unfortunately, I'm a long way from my own darkroom.

    I have very little money to throw around right now, but I'd like to get started relatively soon. I'm just looking for some advice; kits, chemicals, films, and darkroom safety from people who have been there and suffered through it. I can't say I like the idea of working with chemicals, but I think it will be well worth the effort.

    Thank you, folks.
     
  2. fotch

    fotch Member

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    Well if you think about it, you’re already working with chemicals. You put them in your car, mix some up for food and drink, add some more to alter the taste of natural food, bath and groom with them, wash cloths with. It’s a chemical world we live in.

    Most photo chemicals are safely handled by kids (at least use to be) so don’t be afraid of chemicals, just be smart. Many of us got hooked on the magic that happens in the darkroom and never want to give it up.

    Good Luck.
     
  3. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    And also just think that you and everything in this world are made entirely of chemicals.

    You should not be too concerned about using chemicals, nor about the expense of getting started in the darkroom. You could start processing film even using a changing bag, before you invest in a cheap enlarger.
     
  4. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    I got into the darkroom via an evening course at my local college and then quickly progressed to acquiring my own setup secondhand from a classified ad in the local paper.

    It's a route that worked well for me, allowing to me to try out darkroom work in a supervised environment without incurring a lot of expense. The secondhand setup I got was cheap too, but did everything I needed it to.

    One thing I'd advise is to accumulate gear s l o w l y... and to look for alternative, non-photographic items that do the same job but cheaper - e.g. instead of an expensive photographic process timer, a sports stopwatch has the same functionality at less than half the price. Kitchen measuring jugs cost pence and are just as accurate as measuring cylinders costing pounds, etc.

    (Note to mods - There used to be an old thread entitled (I think) Great Photographic Rip-Offs Of Our Time with tons of tips like the above, but my searches aren't turning it up... Has it been killed?)

    This allows you to save money and spend it on things that matter - A sturdy, stable enlarger and a good quality lens to put in it. A few good books like Tim Rudman's "The Photographers Master Printing Course" are also well worth the investment.

    The chemicals used for B&W are mostly fairly benign, as long as you don't go bobbing for apples in them, etc!

    Whatever route you choose, remember to have fun with it! :wink:

    All the best,
     
  5. Mike Kennedy

    Mike Kennedy Member

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    I think that Frank B has given you some sound advice.
    For years I had a complete darkroom kit (given by a friends older sister) and it lay dorment in my closet.All the manuals were there explaning film processing and enlarging but I found it so darn intimitating.Luckily I spotted an addvert from our local community college offering "An introduction to Darkroom".The rest is history.
    If there are no classes offered in your locale maybe you can place an add in the paper.Could be a few people who have there own setup and would be willing to give you a quick briefing.Same goes for gear.I quickly outgrew my first enlarger (Durst 66). After placing a "Wanted " add I had 18 responses in 2 days. Tons of gear out there laying dorment.

    Good Luck

    Mike
     
  6. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Andrew,

    Take a look at the free 'Our Darkrooms' module in the Photo School at www.rogerandfrances.com. It's far from comprehensive, but it's free and you might get some useful ideas from it.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  7. Uncle Bill

    Uncle Bill Subscriber

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    Andrew,

    I started a few months ago with a gifted Durst M300 along with some relevent Chirstmas gifts. What was said above, I agree with, however if you can find it look for Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz's book Dark Room Basics. I don't think its in print anymore but well worth hunting for.

    I would also start with RC paper because its cheaper and user friendly. Once you get comfortable with that then give fibre paper a try.

    Bill
     
  8. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    I don't know what you are paying to get your film developed but last time I checked here the cost of pro B&W developing 2-3 rolls wasn't much less then a film tank and reel.

    Mini lab C-41 is cheaper but B&W the cost of paying somebody else to do will cover your equipment costs fairly quickly.
     
  9. haris

    haris Guest

    I started darkroom 7 years ago. No courses/teachers, my way of learning is try/error, books and internet. In those 7 years I managed to collect complete equipment for up to 6x7 negative size and up to 30x40cm prints, for less than 2000USD. That include (beside cameras and equipment needed for making/taking photographs, that is extra): 2 enlargers with both b/w and colour heads, 6 enlarging lenses, exposure meters/timers, FB and RC washers, and everything else. Something bought new, something secondhand.

    I even managed to buy 320WS and 2x160WS studio flashes and accessories for them. My biggest problem in photography is not equipment but finding models (mentality of people here and lack of money for payed models) and landscape (country was 4 years in war, lots of land mines remains, not safe to go outside of concrete paths if you are in unfamiliar area... :smile:)

    2000 USD for 7 years is not much, and even if I would like if I could have "real" teacher, you can learn without one. So, cost and equipment or worrying how to learn are not reasons not to go into photography. In fact, there is NO reason not to go into photography. Just do you want it or not. If you want, you will find the way to do it. We all did that. Go for it! :smile:
     
  10. Snapshot

    Snapshot Member

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    Although it may seem intimidating, darkroom setup and processing isn't really all that hard or costly. I use my basement laundry room and just taped off where some light leaks in. You can buy chemicals really cheap and they're not that hard to use. If you can measure and mix things (e.g. bake cookies) then you can handle your own chemicals.

    Hardware, such as an enlarger or developing trays, can be obtained reasonable prices off of eBay or other folks who are looking to get rid of them. I received my enlarger from my friend for nothing and when I factored in the cost of all the other materials, it wasn't more than $500. Buying paper and developing prints is cheaper than going to a lab.

    As an example, I recently started to develop my own prints, including color, and I was surprised how easy and inexpensive it was. I'm sure as my tastes become more refined it may be more difficult to get the exact results that I want. However, you'll have fun learning the processes and have an interesting hobby that isn't very expensive when compared to other activities.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 14, 2007
  11. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Bill,

    Thanks for the plug. I HOPE it's still in print because we've not been told by the publishers that it's gone out of print -- ISBN 1 - 85585 - 812 - 6 (hardback, which may be out of print) and 1 - 84340 - 048 - 0 in softback.

    And I'd certainly back your advice to go for RC to begin with.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  12. Neal

    Neal Subscriber

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    Dear Andrew,

    FWIW, 6x7 enlargers with dichroic heads (handy for printing with variable contrast papers) are really cheap on the used market. Systems for 35mm alone are even cheaper.

    Here are some links. Please excuse me if this is the sort of information you already have.

    http://www.ilfordphoto.com/applications/page.asp?n=9
    http://www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/support/techPubs/aj3/aj3.pdf
    http://www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/support/techPubs/f2/f2.pdf
    http://www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/support/techPubs/ak3/ak3.pdf

    Neal Wydra
     
  13. RobLewis

    RobLewis Member

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    Andrew-
    Welcome to the dark. As most here will say, and some already have- it is really not that difficult to get up and running, equipment wise. Check Craigslist-Chicago for darkroom stuff on the cheap- I got easily enough equipment to start two complete basic darkrooms for under $100. Working pros going digital is our gain! You might have to drive a bit to get the stuff, but probably worth it.
    As far as classes, in da region, (NW Indiana, for the non-region rats among us) you may want to check out Ivy Tech for a photo course- or maybe Purdue Cal or IUN. Maybe the Munster Arts center offers something.
    The non-darkroom aspect of the course will most likely be waste of time, if you are an experienced shooter.
    But as already been said- don't be intimidated by chems, either. Might stink up a room for a few hours, and if you're messy, could stain clothes. But mostly harmless. Like many here, my laundry room also serves as my darkroom. Takes 15 minutes to black out the window and door with black plastic and painters tape, and I'm good to go.
    Have fun!
     
  14. Andrew West

    Andrew West Member

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    Thank you all for the advice and encouragement. Like haris, I prefer learning through trial and error (with the aid of books and the occasional Google search). That said, I agree that a class at a local college would be a good starting point; it saves me from wasting chemicals, film, and paper with simple mistakes and, of course, it's far easier to self-teach when you have some idea as to what you're doing.

    I've found some darkroom equipment, thanks to RobLewis. It might just be everything I need for now.

    Thanks again, everyone.
     
  15. RobLewis

    RobLewis Member

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    glad to help.

    *Here's the disclaimer on craigslist stuff- or ANY used stuff for that matter- particularly the enlarger, as it is the most important and most costly of the things you'll need- make sure the head moves up and down the chassis nicely, the lens is in good shape, (should be- since it probably never gets handled- but make sure the aperture is functional), make sure the focusing works, the unit is stable overall, (a wobbly head=useless enlargements) etc etc.
    Just about anything else you buy as part of a kit can be replaced or substituted pretty cheaply if it's broken.

    Cheers-