How To Build A Cheap Darkroom For Photography

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Edifice your own darkroom to develop film and paper might seem tedious in these digital days. Yet, if you have the time and space, it tin exist a rewarding feel that will aid you better understand photography.


Many of those born and raised in this digital era haven’t feel the magic of the darkroom, and in that sense, building your own can exist a “going back to the roots” experience that will give you a solid background in yesterdays techniques when it comes to photography.

There’s no reason to defend one medium confronting the other, both have their virtues and drawbacks, but the preparations to build your own darkroom and to develop your films and create prints will requite not but be an adventure in terms of knowledge, it will be a rewarding and fun activeness that may reveal new horizons in your own photography.

Let’s build a darkroom on a budget!

Kodak published a leaflet with information and multiple ideas for darkroom layout
Kodak has a leaflet with data and multiple suggestions for darkroom layout

Choosing the Right Space

Creating a darkroom means having a spare room in the house that can exist used. The preference is a permanent infinite, but it is also possible to convert a room temporarily for a twenty-four hours or two or work. The permanent space does not have to be big, a 5×5 human foot closet can be fabricated to piece of work.

Information technology’south also important to annotation, that you lot don’t actually need a darkroom to develop film. However, a darkroom is required for printing.

When I started printing, at xv, I used my parents wash closet to make contact prints. It was my outset try into photography. And so I used a friend’s darkroom, until I bought an enlarger and started to practice my own printing at habitation, over again, in a launder closet.

A second bath or closet can be turned into a darkroom fairly easily. Running water is a huge assistance, but not required. It must be able to be darkened so no lite enters. When I got my first flat, I created a permanent darkroom in a second, rather large wash cupboard, which I kept for some years.

Every bit I mentioned, y’all’ll need water, at the very least in buckets, trays. Kitchens should be avoided, as information technology is not a good idea to mix the chemicals for the darkroom work with areas where food is prepared. It does not matter how conscientious y’all are, it is a bad idea to mix your passion with your cooking area.

You’ll also need to take at to the lowest degree 1 electrical outlet for your enlarger and other equipment used.

Developing films at home is only part of the experience You need to buy developing tanks to properly develop your films
Developing films at dwelling house is only part of the experience. Y’all need to buy developing tanks to properly develop your films

Making Your Darkroom Light Tight

Developing your photographs at night might seem similar a adept idea, until y’all discover that darkroom work tin can take hours, and y’all may non e’er accept a time schedule or feel in the mood to spend nights in the dark out of bed! Not only that, only if your room has a window, light from the street volition still cause problems.

Yous need to brand the room calorie-free tight. For this reason a room in a basement, or with a small window is easier to transform into a darkroom. Use black curtains and blackout sheeting or products like Magic Coma Blinds to keep low-cal out.

Once you’ve prepare your room, plow all lights off and wait for a few minutes so your eyes accommodate. Information technology won’t be difficult to find out if your darkroom is light tight. Even the slightest leaks can crusade bug with light sensitive photo paper.

A starter kit to develop films at home can look something like this As you progress you can start to get more equipment but start with the basics to understand if you really want to explore the darkroom experience further
A starter kit to develop picture at domicile can look something like this. As you progress you can start to get more equipment, but start with the basics to understand if yous actually want to explore the darkroom experience further.

Safety is a Priority

Your darkroom will demand some form of ventilation. Staying in a room for hours with the fumes from the chemicals is non good for your health. If you are using a bathroom, the bathroom fan should be enough. In a permanent darkroom, you’ll do all-time to install some form of exhausting for the fumes. Small fans specifically for this purpose are available.

Also, recall to use gloves to touch chemicals. Although they may brand you driblet something now and then, they protect your skin. Continuous immersion of your hands in the chemicals used is not good for your health. Some people have reactions to the chemicals immediately, breaking out in a rash.

Carve up Your Darkroom into Wet and Dry Areas

Once you’ve found the right identify for your darkroom, y’all need to define ii areas: dry out and wet. In the dry area, most an electric outlet, you’ll have the enlarger, tools, and paper. On the wet side, you lot’ll take the developing trays, water, moving-picture show developing tanks and chemicals. This separation keeps chemicals off your newspaper and motion picture until y’all want them there. It besides keeps liquids away from any electronics associated with the enlarger.

Remember to always have a tray or sink with h2o to rinse your hands when moving from the moisture back to the dry area, and to change this h2o frequently for long sessions. Hand towels, preferably paper, are a must.

If you’re the happy owner of a permanent darkroom, go along your developing materials inside your darkroom. Place the paper in the dry surface area, on shelves above or below the working table, and the chemicals in the wet surface area, usually in a cabinet under the expanse where y’all’ve the developing trays.

Some people will accept enough space to create 2 distinct areas, with a corridor in the middle. If you’ve that choice, go for it. If you don’t, try the best you tin can. Just be sure that while you’re moving wet paper and trays around, you aren’t crossing over your enlarger or newspaper supply.

The Zenith enlarger can be packed inside its case which doubles as a baseboard
The Zenith enlarger can be packed inside its instance, which doubles every bit a baseboard

The Enlarger is the Heart of the Darkroom

Invest in a skilful enlarger, but do not buy more than than you remember yous’ll demand. When I started I bought a portable enlarger, the Russian Zenith UPA-5M, which was popular in the seventies, considering it could be taken anywhere in its case, which doubled as a baseboard. It was non a adept enlarger, simply an intelligent solution picked by some photographers on the motility that needed to develop their images in a hotel room, for example.

While studying photography at school I had Durst enlargers to play with, and likewise at some labs I worked in. For my own needs at home, I used Meopta enlargers, which was a brand well known among photographers in Europe, and finally settled for a Meopta Opemus III which could deal with 35mm and 6×6 films.

It is advisable to purchase an enlarger that tin can have film sizes above 35mm, simply in case you get happen to aggrandize into medium format motion-picture show. If you’re ownership on a budget, information technology makes no sense to buy an enlarger for formats higher up that, like 6×7 or 6x9cm, every bit you lot’ll probably never use them. All the same, if yous do want to experiment with large format 4×5 negatives and the like, you can find used equipment for adjacent to nothing. An enlarger that toll $1000 in 1980, might only toll $150-200 now on the used market.

Remember that lenses for enlargers are sometimes bought separately, so exist prepared for that extra expense.

Developing Film and Prints at Home

If yous’re starting out, black and white is the all-time selection to start with. You can always buy an enlarger that is set for colour, but blackness & white will be easier to control and will give y’all the chance to understand the essential aspects of darkroom work.

You’ll probably want to develop your own black & white films at home and I advise you to practise so. Yous’ll need developing tanks and a few other pieces of equipment, and while you can search for second-hand bargains, sometimes it is meliorate, and faster, to buy a kit that volition offer all yous need to get-go correct abroad.

If you already accept bought your enlarger, and want a one bundle solution, then the Paterson Processing kit contains everything you require for picture show and prints except the chemicals. The kit includes everything on the following list. This provides a skilful place to starting time if yous’re shopping for things individually, too.

  • A universal developing tank for 35mm or 120 picture
  • Two motion-picture show reels
  • Iii 8 ten 10″ developing trays
  • A Paterson safelight
  • A 600ml graduated measuring cylinder
  • A 300ml graduated measuring cylinder
  • A 45ml graduated measuring cylinder
  • A 9″ Thermometer
  • 2 impress tongs
  • Picture clips
  • A film squeegee
Nova BW 10x8 Slot Processor the most basic in the range presented as the ideal tool for those with small spaces
Nova B&West 10×8″ Slot Processor, the most basic in the range, presented equally the ideal tool for those with pocket-sized spaces,

The Consummate Darkroom Kit

If you have the time and experience to look for 2d hand options, go for it. If you want to try your paw in the darkroom and desire to practice it at present, and so one of the best options might be a processing and enlarging kit.

The kit volition include the materials mentioned higher up and an enlarger, negative carrier, lens, filters, switch and possibly a timer. Again, checking out these kits too makes a practiced shopping list if your buying things separately.

The enlarger itself may or may not come up with a base. Unless you’re handy, get one with a base. Leveling an enlarger on a homemade base can exist quite a chore. The lens volition usually exist a 50mm suitable for printing 35mm film. For medium format picture show (check to exist sure your enlarger can handle it), you’ll need a 75mm lens. For 4×5 film, y’all’ll demand a 135mm.

Negative carriers are of import, they hold your film in the enlarger. They are specific to the film size. You can’t use the same i for 35mm and medium format.

The most common fashion to print blackness and white is to use variable contrast paper. In guild to alter the contrast of your print, you’ll need a set of variable grade filters. These often come up with kits. If you’re ownership them separately, you’ll need to brand sure to buy ones the fit in the filter carrier of your enlarger.

The last thing y’all’ll demand a switch and timer. In society to control the exposure of your impress, you need to control the amount of time the prototype is projected onto the paper, merely like a shutter speed when using a camera. A switch but turns the enlarger on and off. You’ll have to have an external timer or but guess at the time. This is very hard and not recommended. You’ll need an enlarger timer. This volition have knobs or a digital display allowing y’all to choose the time for the exposure.

If you’re shopping second paw, trying to become an enlarger that comes with about of these things. Finding replacement negative carriers tin can exist difficult. Finding lenses is like shooting fish in a barrel, but can be expensive. Filters are easy to find every bit they should be replaced every few years. Timers are piece of cake to find on eBay, and yous don’t ever have to buy the same brand as your enlarger.

The complete kit from Paterson has everything you need to build your darkroom Just find the right place and youre set
The consummate kit from Paterson has everything y’all need to build your darkroom. But discover the right place to set it up and get started!


When yous determine to take a darkroom you’ve to think of ii important aspects. You lot’ve to go on buying chemicals to go along the fun active, and that tin go a fiddling expensive in the long run. It is too one of the reasons why more people have a black & white instead of color darkroom. The chemicals for blackness and white are cheaper and less sensitive to temperature and light.

For black and white processing, you lot’ll need a movie developer, a newspaper developer and a fixer that can be used in both processes. A stop bathroom is helpful when press, just not required. A clearing agent like Photo Flo is helpful when developing film, but besides not required.

Most chemicals last about six months if stored properly, though there are exceptions. Some concluding much longer, some much shorter.

You’ll also need to think of means to get rid of the chemicals once they’re wearied. Some are toxic and it can be illegal to pour down the drain. Properly dispose of photographic processing chemicals in accord with local sewer discharge regulations. You can buy big five or ten gallon jugs to hold wearied chemicals in until y’all can make a trip to a proper identify to become rid of them.

If you want to know more than about darkroom building, a adept source of information is Kodak’s Darkroom Design for Apprentice Photographers Pamphlet.

Does a Darkroom Make Sense in a Digital World

I have very fond memories of my darkroom times, and remember developing the photos I made of my first son some 23 years ago. The kickoff pictures I sold to newspapers, well over 30 years ago, were start seen nether the light of my darkroom. I’ve not thought about setting up a darkroom for a long time, merely I must admit this concluding yr I have given the idea some thought.

I was invited to fix a series of photography lessons for 2022 to assistance people get a improve grasp of photography. There is some space for a darkroom at the institution I piece of work with, and I’ve suggested that a darkroom could be an interesting characteristic of a digital photography course.

In that location is in fact some magic in the way an epitome forms on a sheet of paper. Building your own darkroom having never used ane is a daunting proposition. I advise searching for a local camera club or taking a course a local academy. It volition not just be a rewarding experience, it will help you lot to understand how digital photography has inverse everything. If y’all go them darkroom bug, so you lot’ll demand to clear out that basement room and get building.



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