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  1. #1

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    Darkroom for enlarging - How dark is dark enough?

    Background: up 'til now I've developed black and white film in a daylight tank, and then scanned the results and processed the photos digitally. None of my photos have gone further than being posted on flickr; and while that approach has its benefits I'm really beginning to miss having a physical print to hold and savour away from the monitor. I've considered printing from digital files, but... I spend every working day and much of my leisure time on a computer and I really want to try a more 'old-fashioned' approach.

    So... wet printing. I think I could set up a darkroom just for enlarging and developing prints, but how dark does it actually have to be? Absolutely pitch black? Or is a little diffuse light acceptable without harming a print? Reading Dr Croy's 'The Complete Art of Printing and Enlarging', I get the impression that dim light won't cause any damage, but has paper sensitivity changed enough since then that this would no longer be so?

    With three children in the house it's difficult to find a dedicated space so I'd be looking to use my kitchen of an evening; it has two large window and a frosted glass exterior door, but there are no external lights shining directly in, nor any nearby streetlamps. At night the brightest illumination would be from a full moon.

    So to recap, would I have to make the room absolutely lightproof? Or would it be sufficient simply to put up blinds in the windows and over the exterior door, and perhaps add a heavy curtain across the door to the rest of the house?

    Thanks in advance for any advice and suggestions you may offer.

  2. #2
    Kevin Caulfield's Avatar
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    Really dark, like blacker than black. I am partly joking but partly serious.

  3. #3
    eddie's Avatar
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    In a situation similar to yours, I used blackout cloth, and velcro, to light proof a room. It worked fine for b&w printing. Using the velcro made set up/take down quick and easy.

  4. #4
    Rick A's Avatar
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    Your work area needs to be like the inside of the camera, no extraneous light. Cover windows and doors with black out material. I have a black drape velcroed to the frame around my door so it can be removed when I'm not using the dark room. I can use the room for loading and unloading film holders or my developing tanks. There is a small window in there with the same treatment, sometimes it's good to open the window for fresh air when I'm doing other work in my DR.
    Rick A
    Argentum aevum
    BTW: the big kid in my avatar is my hero, my son, who proudly serves us in the Navy. "SALUTE"

  5. #5

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    And after you've made it what you think is dark enough, sit in there for 20 minutes (not what seems like 20 minutes, but twenty full minutes) with the lights off at the brightest time of day ...

  6. #6
    paul_c5x4's Avatar
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    My darkroom is (currently) a small box room approximately 8'x8'. Purchased a couple of pieces of blackout lining from a local shop that supplies fabrics for home furnishings and curtains - After cutting to size, a strip of self adhesive velcro was stuck around the edges (don't use sew-on as you will end up with a neat row of holes). The other half of the velcro strip is glued around the window and door frames so when I need to block out the light, the blackout cloth is easily fixed in place.

    Other people have used heavy duty black polythene sheeting which is just as effective and cheap.

  7. #7
    ic-racer's Avatar
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    Paper is slower than film, but to expose and process a print it may be out in the open for quite a few minutes. The usual "safelight test" that one needs to perform before using a darkroom, tests for stray white light irrespective of the source.

    If you do decide to print in a darkroom with stay white light you might as well start a few threads like these now
    "Lack of contrast in prints, what to do..."
    "Can only get Grade 3 with filters..."
    "Prints all come out gray..."
    "Help, I have tried six different film developers and my negatives still print all gray without contrast..."
    "Broke my odd-shaped irreplaceable Magenta dichroic filter trying to clean it because prints are coming out gray..."
    "Looking for S-Orthoplanar enlarging lens; prints are too gray..."
    "Prints are too gray, help me modify my [perfectly functioning top-of-the-line] enlarger with duct tape and bailing wire"
    Last edited by ic-racer; 06-25-2014 at 07:32 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  8. #8

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    If you're serious about your photography and want to get the best results, total darkness (as suggested in earlier replies) is essential. And safelights need to be tested at the correct working distance with the particular paper to be used...it is not impossible for the filters to fade and cause mysteriously dull and grey prints (was caught out that way myself, before I knew better!).

  9. #9

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    OP I am sure no-one means to put you off but I feel that some may have erred on the side of caution here.

    Provided that you print at night, I suspect that you would get away with a curtain rail and heavy black drapes over the windows and door. That way conversion to a darkroom and restoration back into a kitchen is as quick and as easy as pulling curtains which is what you do at night anyway

    The key I feel is thick drapes and ensuring that they go several inches beyond the door and windows. Diffuse night light has difficulties turning corners

    The sitting in the room for 10-20 mins and needing to still see nothing might be required for film but not, I feel, printing

    A former APUGer called Les McLean who know his stuff, tells of visits he used to make to a printer whose darkroom was in the basement with windows which allowed him to see the lower part of the street so very shady I assume but some daylight entered nevertheless . He had a dark red rubylith type covering on the windows but could still see if a customer had entered the shop so he could leave the darkroom to attend to the customer.

    Your set-up with curtains and at night would be nowhere near as risky. Worth a try

    pentaxuser

  10. #10
    winger's Avatar
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    While pentaxuser might be right, since you're new to enlarging, it really might be best to find the darkest space you can and make it darker. Like ic-racer posted, it will keep you from having to ask why your prints are too gray, etc… Why are you starting by choosing the kitchen? Do you have a basement room or a bathroom? Those are usually easier to make completely dark than a kitchen. Though the chemicals used are not truly nasty (plenty of info on apug about that aspect), I wouldn't be in a rush to use a food prep area for developing prints.
    My darkroom is in my laundry room and there's just one window that I had to black out and the top of one wall (semi-finished basement). I used the black plastic that paper comes in and also bought a roll of thick plastic from B&H. It's all taped up with gaffer tape. But mine is always blacked out and doesn't need to be taken down. Check out the darkroom portraits thread to see if that gives you ideas for a better space to use or ways to make it really dark.

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