One of the things you will learn if you attend one of John Wimberley’s printing workshops is the importance of reducing enlarging flare. Enlarging flare is non-image-forming light that reaches the enlarging paper. Enlarging paper reflects a large percentage of the light that falls on it. This means that light from the enlarging lens travels to the enlarging paper and then scatters into the immediate environment and needs to be absorbed, otherwise it will return the the enlarging paper as non-image forming light, aka enlarging flare.

A number of things can reflect light back onto the enlarging paper, causing enlarging flare:

  • Light that reflects off surfaces or components of the enlarger
  • Light that reflects off the darkroom workers’ body or clothing
  • Light that reflects off the walls or ceiling of the darkroom, furniture in the darkroom, or equipment in the darkroom
  • Light that reflects from the surfaces of the paper easel
  • Light that reflects from burning or dodging tools or the darkroom workers’ hands
In addition, several other components inside the enlarger can contribute to enlarging flare:

  • Light that is scattered by an unclean or damaged enlarging lens
  • Light that bounces around inside the enlarger bellows
  • Light that reflects from the glass of a glass negative carrier, forming faint ghost images

Enlarging flare has the ability to subtly fog the lighter tones of the print, reducing the brilliance of those tones. There are several ways to reduce enlarging flare, including wearing black clothing while making prints, wearing black gloves while dodging and burning, using multicoated glass in glass negative carriers (you can obtain multicoated glass for this purpose at Glennview), keeping the enlarging lens very clean, and blackening the surfaces that could reflect light that comes from the enlarging lens or is reflected from the enlarging paper. This last item is the subject of this article.

I recently obtained a Beseler 45V-XL enlarger and even though it is painted flat black , I needed to further blacken it to reduce enlarging flare. Most flat black paint is quite reflective and so I have used black flocking paper to line many of the reflective surfaces of this enlarger. First, let’s take a look at what the enlarging paper in the easel “sees.” The following photograph was made with a small digital camera that has a 24mm-equivalent (35mm terms) lens. I placed it on the enlarging easel, facing up towards the lens of the enlarger. As might be obvious, I used the flash on the camera to give a very vigorous exposure to all of the images in this article so that detail may be more easily seen.

The enlarging paper in the easel probably “sees” a lot more than the photo above depicts, but this picture is suggestive of the surfaces that could directly reflect light back to the enlarging paper.

A word about flocking paper. This material is a black, velvety substance on a durable paper backing, and it is great at soaking up light with almost no reflection. Most sources that sell flocking paper sell two varieties: adhesive backed and non-adhesive backed. For most darkroom use, I recommend the adhesive backed variety because it avoids the messy and smelly step of using spray adhesive.

I have experience with two sources for flocking paper: Edmund Optics and Protostar. In my experience, the Protostar flocking paper is less reflective than the Edmund Optics product. My Pentax digital spot meter measures 1 1/3 stop less light being reflected from the Protostar product. It is quite possible that this difference is the result of a batch-to-batch variation, and not an inherent superiority of the Protostar material. Both products are otherwise fine, but I now prefer the Protostar material. Additionally, the Protostar material comes in a roll that is easier to store and cut to precisely the needed size:

In the photo below, you can see that I have applied flocking paper to many of the enlarger’s surfaces (although I still need to cover the enlarger exhaust vent with black velvet). Also in this picture, notice the flocking paper that is applied to the horizontal surfaces of the enlarger and compare it to the flocking paper on the vertical surfaces (the foamboard piece on the right side of the picture and the enlarger column shield seen at the bottom center of the picture). The flocking paper on the horizontal surfaces of the enlarger is the Protostar material and the other flocking paper is the Edmund Optics material. To me the Protostar material, at least from the batch that I have, is noticeable darker:

One of the problems that had to be solved in this case is lowering the reflectivity of the enlarger column. I could have approached this in several ways including adhering flocking paper directly to the column, but I decided instead to create a moving flocking paper shield in front of the column. This shield functions like blinds for a window and it allows me to view the numbers on the enlarger support column by peeking behind the flocking paper shield. The pictures below illustrate how this was done:

I used a 3/4″ diameter dowel to hold the spare flocking paper. The amount of flocking paper needed to shield the column varies based on how high the enlarger head is and so the unused flocking paper is rolled on to this rod.

I used 1.5″ brass angle brackets, with woodscrews inside a nylon sleeve to support the rod while allowing it to rotate freely.

I used a string-pulley-weight system to keep a small amount of tension on the rod. This causes the rod to wind up any excess flocking paper when the enlarger head is lowered. Contrarywise, the rod spools out paper as the enlarger head is raised.

Here’s the completed system. It works very well so far!

In addition to these visible flocking treatments, I added flocking paper to the following places:

  • The bottom of the negative carrier
  • Surfaces inside the chamber between the negative carrier and the lens board
  • The top surface of the lensboard

I think I’ve invested about 6 or 8 hours of work applying the flocking paper and building the mechanism that supports the movable column shield. Here’s the complete enlarging station (the black stuff behind and above it is a length of cotton velvet cloth):

As is so often and verily said, a chain is only as good as its weakest link. With these flocking paper treatments in place, I’ve removed one more weak link from my photographic imaging chain! I hope this information is helpful.

PS- If you ever have an opportunity to attend one of John Wimberley’s workshops, do it! He is a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of fine photography, a gentle sensitive guide, and a real master of the craft.