On Saturday I made my first (self directed) attempt at black and white printing. I'm very new to printing and my only experience so far has been the 8 hour printing course I went on a month or so ago. Despite this, I generally pick thinks up quite quickly and felt like I had remembered enough of the basics to start printing at home. My first session was a bit of a disaster though and I didn't get a single usable print.

My set up is a bathroom darkroom, with LPL6700 colour head enlarger with Schneider 80mm f4. I was using Ilford multigrad RC paper and Ilford multigrade developer 1:9. I've checked for safe lamp fogging and general light tightness of the room.

Basically I was trying to print a frame of 6x6 FP4+ on to 10x8 paper, making a 7.5" enlargement. The negative looked well exposed (may be a little thin) and had previously scanned perfectly, you can see it here: http://www.lomography.com/homes/simo...hotos/15678297. I was printing at grade 3.5 which I think equated to 75M, 25Y. I started with the lens at f8 and did a test strip with 5 second intervals, this came out completely black apart from the five second exposure which was heavily over exposed. I closed down to f11 and repeated, but blundered after completing the strip and accidentally gave the whole strip a further 3 seconds. Again the whole thing came out black, not even any detail on the 5 (8) second exposure, which seemed very strange. I went to f16, repeated without blundering and still found the times too short.

By this time it was about 1am and with my young son up at 6am most days, I tried to make a print at f22 15 seconds (my best guess from the previous test strip). The print was over exposed again. I am really surprised that I wasn't able to make a print even at f22, with a usable exposure time. I know I should have continued to test exposure before making a full print, but time was running out. Are these kind of exposure times something I should expect and it is just lack of experience. If not, can you think of anything that would have caused these kind of very short exposure times, even at the smallest aperture.

I know I didn't make a couple of noob mistake like leaving the enlarger on white light after removing the filters for focusing, or leaving the lens wide open after focusing. I checked both of these carefully after making those mistakes whilst on the printing course.

Two other quick questions. The focus scope I have is an small LPL model. When using the focus scope during the training session, I had no problem focusing accurately, but when I tried to use this one, I looked through the eye piece but couldn't see the grain at all and could just see a bright blob of white light that filled most of the view and moved around as I moved my eye around. I couldn't see any detail or grain at all. In the end I just focused the best I could on the easel. The scope has a wavy line to allow you to make adjustments to the eye piece focus and this is sharply in focus. Am I doing something wrong, or is there some missing component from the focus scope?

Also, I saved the developer after the session, what is the shelf life of mixed paper developer? It was in the tray for a couple of hours and is now in a concertina bottle, will it keep for a couple of weeks, or should I bin it?

Thanks for you help.