Do you want your own darkroom? Do you want to develop film in your home? The goal of this simple guide is to show you a DIY method so that you can achieve your goals of developing film from home. It’s cool, and rare these days.
More photos are taken each day than during the entire previous century. (I’ll give you a moment.) The art of photography has become diluted, considering the convenience of smartphone cameras and the seemingly endless data we can store them with. Barely anyone prints digital photos anymore, preferring the quality and shareability of our pixellated screens.
Clearly for you—I mean, you’re reading this, right?—photography is more than digital replicas of tangible moments. You want to hold your pictures and create art. Even more, you want to dig your hands into the very process that allows you to do that.
Here are the ten easy (and affordable!) steps to create your own in-home darkroom lab.
1. Where to put it, where to put it.
First rule here—don’t put a darkroom in your bathroom. Although many people look at the sink beside their porcelain throne and swear it could be a killer photo bath, those chemicals should not be near your naked body.
Look for a space with electricity, minimal natural light, and running water. Additionally, make sure the place is little-used by others and is located far away from the kitchen. You don’t want darkroom chemicals near your quinoa.
2. Kill the Lights
First, use heavy black garden plastic, black tarp, or layers of black garbage bags to cover any windows. If the room is used for other purposes, use a material that can stretch and cover the window when necessary.
Next, close the door. Is any light peeking through? If so, use felt weather straps to seal the strips. For larger leaks, you might have to repair the door or use black electric tape. It will be a nuisance to seal the door every time you use the darkroom, but it will get the job done.
3. Clean it up, paint it over
Use sandpaper to remove all loose material from the walls. Despite the obvious nature of the color, white is the best option to paint over your walls. Sealant is another good idea for your darkroom, so invest in an additional coat to protect your walls.
4. Wet, dry
There are several hazards that come with darkroom photography, from electrical fires to ruining your prized photos. Without proper wet areas and dry areas, you could step into a mistake waiting to happen and lose precious time and money.
Quite obviously, the spot with running water should be your wet area. The dry area should be where the electrical socket is, to avoid dripping water where it shouldn’t be.
The “dry” area will be for your enlarger, paper storage, and storage for equipment including developing tanks. You might also want some towels on hand, for when you’re loading film into reels and printing.
5. Air it out
This requirement can be difficult for some situations. Ideally, you install a light-proof extraction fan above the wet area, but such steps can be expensive or downright impossible. Instead, utilize a range-hood extraction fan to remove chemical fumes. They run relatively cheap and will not add extraneous light. Ceiling fans found in typical bathrooms can also do the trick (but again—don’t use your bathroom!).
6. Space for things, things for space
First, you’ll need a bench to place at least three trays that will be used to process your exposed photographic paper. Ideally, this is your sink. If you plan to produce 8×10 prints, 30×12 inches will work. For ease of use, purchase trays that are one size larger than your intended print size. If you’re careful with equipment, you can cheap out on this space, as long as you avoid future spills.
A dry bench will need to support your enlarger. It should also be home for a timer, paper, and negatives as well.
Keep this area clean and dry; you don’t want dust scratches all over your work.
7. Get organized
Look at each aspect of your space and consider what you can improve. Do you have a hard water problem? Water quality can have massive impacts on your work, so perhaps you should invest in a filter. Consider other fixes, including surge protectors and wash systems.
When moving through this stage, keep in mind two criteria: Everything should be clean, and you shouldn’t have to spend too much money for that to happen.
8. Light it up
Before you decide on a safe light, check the details of the photographic paper you want to use. Some types of paper will work with certain colors, and some safe lights will ruin the quality of other papers. Finding the perfect match is key!
The ultimate test requires nothing but a penny. Place a coin on a blank sheet of photographic paper. After ten minutes, check to see if an outline appears. If so, you might have a problem on your hands.
9. Find your dream enlarger
You might have a hand-me-down waiting for you, which can be fantastic for your wallet. If not, there are some criteria to keep in mind when faced with buying an enlarger.
First, check the maximum print size. Some enlargers only allow you to print in large sizes, too, so don’t limit yourself in that regard either. Maximum negative size also plays a role here. 35mm might be okay for now, but other formats might better fit your equipment.
Lastly, you must choose between a condenser and a diffuser. Condensers tend to produce sharper images and are more tailored for black-and-white photography, whereas diffuser enlargers are great for color negatives. Do some research and compare brands and customer reviews. Darkroom equipment can be found all over Amazon.
10. Start processing and printing!
You’ve come this far—get printing!