The home darkroom
It would be great to have the resources and room to have a dedicated area for a darkroom to develop your black and white photographs. But that isn’t always possible. But not to worry. You can have a makeshift darkroom with very little effort. I have used my kitchen, bathroom and laundry room at various times during my career as a photographer. The only thing you need to have in your makeshift darkroom is running water, a waterproof surface and the ability to become lightproof. Also since some of the chemicals you need to develop your black and white photographs may have a disagreeable odor, the fans in kitchens or bathrooms are helpful at keeping the air fresh. Currently I use my spare bathroom/laundry room as it has everything I need to develop my black and white prints. If you can make the room dark by covering windows and cracks under the door, then it will work as darkroom.
Once you have mastered the art of developing black and white photographs in your own darkroom you can experiment with soloraization, handcoloring, and toning to add your own unique touches to your black and white prints.
Tools for developing film at home
An enlarger is of course necessary to develop your black and white photographs at home. I use a Berkey Omega Modular System XL which can be used to develop color prints as well. With the popularity and ease of digital photography, finding darkroom equipment is becoming increasingly harder. But the good news is that if you can find good used equipment, you can purchase it for a very reasonable price. I bought everything I needed for my darkroom, including paper and some chemicals for $100.00. They even threw in a Pentax SLR camera for an extra $25.00. This was a real find.
Film, paper, and darkroom chemicals
Like darkroom equipment, film, paper and Chemicals can be hard to find also. Some photography/camera stores still carry supplies. Especially if they are located near a college or university with a photography department. Since the students need to purchase their own supplies, nearby stores tend to carry the basics.
Black and white Photography supplies can also be purchased online on sites such as Ebay. Just make sure you know what you are buying and that the dates on the products are current. Film, and paper are both dated products. B&H Photo is also a good source for new supplies. They have a large selection and very prompt shipping. The basic supplies needed are film, photo paper, and the chemicals needed to develop them. Kodak and Ilford are two of the most popular companies that sell photo development supplies.
Even though developing photographs is a fun and rewarding hobby, it can be an expensive one.
T-Max 400 film for black and white prints runs from $4.00 to $7.00 per roll of 24 prints.
Kodak or Ilford paper for printing black and white prints runs around $24.00 for a package of 25 sheets. Ilford often runs special deals where they include a roll of film or an extra 15 sheets of paper.
Four main chemicals are needed for processing your negatives and prints. Each costs approximately $8.00 to $10.00 for a concentrated bottle or a powdered form. When diluted the solution makes a gallon or two and depending on how you store it, can last up to 6 months.
The process of developing film at home
Since time and space doesn’t allow me to give complete step-by-step instructions on developing your black and white prints, I will give you an abbreviated version, just so you get a sense of what is involved.
Developing the film is the first step. The most important thing to remember for this step is that you need total darkness to remove the film from the camera. No lights, not even safe lights can be used. If you don’t have a room that is completely free from light than you can use a changing bag. This is a light proof bag that you slip your hands into, allowing you to remove the film from the camera and load it onto a reel. The reel then goes inside a light proof canister with a special light trap cover. This is where your film is processed into negatives.
The next step is to add the film developer to the tank. The developer
is the primary processing chemical. It makes the image visible. There
are many developers available and each one has its own directions for
use. In general, developing time for film runs between 6 to 9 minutes.
During this time, the canister is agitated at a rate of 30 seconds of
agitation and 30 seconds of rest. At the end of the developing time,
the developer is emptied out of the canister.
Following the developer is the stop bath solution. As its name implies,
the stop bath nutrilizes the develper. During this stage the canister
is agitated for 15 to 30 seconds. The chemical is then emptied out of
A fixing solution follows the stop bath. Fixer protects the negatives
from further development when they are exposed to the light. Most
fixers include a hardening agent which toughens the emulsion on the
film and makes it more scratch resistant. During this stage the
canister is agitated for 2 to 4 minutes, then poured out.
The final stage of film development is the washing of the film. It is
best to keep a flow of constantly changing water running into the
canister for 10 to 15 minutes.
Your negatives are now ready to be air dried, preferably in a dust free environment. Once they are dried, they can be cut into sections of 4 to 5 images and slipped into archival negative sheets, which protect your negatives from damage such as scratches and dust.
Into the darkroom
Now that you have your negatives, it’s time to print a contact sheet. This will give you a page of thumbprint sized images to look at. From the contact sheet you can decide which prints you would like to develop. The prints above are from a 35mm camera. Medium and large format cameras give you bigger negatives which result in clearer pictures.
The process for developing prints is much like that for developing your
negatives. The developer is specific for paper, but the stop bath and
the fixer can be used for both processes.
The following will sound fairly simple, but there is a lot of technique involved in turning out a perfect print.
darkroom, the chemicals are set up in trays, developer, stop bath and
fixer. The negatives are laid out onto a sheet of photographic paper
and exposed to the light of the enlarger. Once developed this sheet
will become the contact sheet.
The exposed photo paper is then placed into the tray of developer.
Developing time for RC (resin coated) paper is 1 minute. Fiber based
paper takes 2 minutes in the tray.
Next step is to stop the developing process with the stop bath. The
paper stays in this tray for 30 seconds and then goes into the fixer
tray. RC paper stays in the fixer for 2 minutes, 4 minutes for fiber
The final step is to wash the print in running water for 5 to 10 minutes.
The contact sheet is now read to be hung to dry.
Developing the print
Choose the negative you would like to enlarge and slip it into the negative carrier. The carrier is then inserted into a slot below the light source on the enlarger. When the light is turned on, the image is reflected onto a frame called an easel. The easel will hold your paper once you have determined the size, right amount of light, and the exposure time. All of these are a matter of trial and error using a test strip. The test strip is a strip of photo paper that you expose to the light for increasing amounts of time to find the right exposure for your print. The test strip is developed using the same process used to develop the contact sheet. It is then used as a guide for your final print.
Once the exposure time is determined, a piece of photo paper is inserted into the easel. The enlarger light is turned on via a timer, and exposes the paper. The exposed paper is then developed following the same steps used to develop the contact sheet and the test strip.
You may not always get the print you want on the first try. As stated above, developing prints is a trail and error process. But with a little hard work and determination, you will end up with photographs you can be proud of.
Toner is a solution that can change the tone of the print. There are
many to chose from such as red, blue, brown and sepia tone.
toners are applied in the darkroom after the final rinse. The toning
bath is placed in a separate tray, and the wet print is submerged into
Sepia tone is a two-step process. The first step
bleaches out the print making the image almost invisible. The second
step brings the image back in a sepia tone, giving it the appearance of
an old photograph.
For an artistic touch, rubber cement can be
used to paint specific areas of the print. These areas will not be
effected by the bleach or the toner. When the print is dry the rubber
cement is rubbed away leaving the original black and white tones in the
is added with oils or pencils. Marshall’s makes sets containing tubes
of oil paints, or colored pencils. Handcoloring can be used to add
subtle color or to color the whole print, opening the door to a wide
variety of possibilities.
Handcoloring does require a bit of technique, but with a little practice can result in creative black and white photographs.
Solorizing or the Sabattier effectis the process of re-exposing a partially developed print to light.
This leaves the print with silvery image that contain light lines that
separate the shadowed areas. Solorization is another technique that
requires a bit of trial and error to get the desired effects.