Tag Archives: darkroom

Laziness is the mother of efficiency

In my last post, I briefly mentioned I don’t do much in the way of test strips. I don’t like doing them as it takes time, and more importantly, wastes paper, and quite frankly, the less effort I have to make the better. And at a buck a pop for a sheet of 8×10, (yes, Foma is expensive, but gorgeous), I hate wasting paper.

Instead, I make work prints, one sheet per negative, without bothering with a test strip at all. How do I do that? Well, I’m no darkroom guru, reading my negative and knowing just what exposure it will print at. You need to spend a few years slaving away in a commercial lab, day in and day out, making prints, to get to that stage. For us amateurs, there is an easier way, an enlarging meter.

I have this nifty gadget from Darkroom Automation, which allows me to do wonderful things like profile my paper versus my negatives and stuff, works as an enlarging meter and a densitometer, but I’m lazy. I use it to simply give me a base exposure which allows me to pop out a work print in one go. I measure the darkest tone, which gives a value in stops. I compare that to my base negative (one I’ve printed with a full range of tones and a known exposure time and value for my paper) and calculate the difference in exposure. Using that, I can pop out a work print, usually with a reasonable exposure (at least as a starting point to fine tune from) with just one print. If I want to also factor in contrast control and dial in the right amount of magenta, I can also measure the lightest tone, and with the difference between the two, (compared to my base neg/print which I measure all against) I can dial in the contrast too.

It does involve using a calculator as I might need .67 of a stop less exposure, but I’d rather use a little time than waste paper, and do things only once. Thus, other than determining that first exposure for my baseline negative, which I do test strip, to get a baseline exposure, I don’t bother with test strips at all. Unless of course, some bastard at the darkroom changes the enlarger bulb on me. At which point, I usually have to do it again. Now, bear in mind, I am using the same enlarger all the time, and if you use more than one, you would need to do a test with each one to get your baseline exposure for each.

I’m all for making your life simpler with handy gadgets that actually work.

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F-stop printing

I wanted to share a darkroom technique that I use when I print that not many people seem to know about. It’s called F-stop printing.

Now, this isn’t something new, it’s been around for a long time, but it’s not what we are taught in school or in many photography books. When I was taught to make test strips, we’d make them based on multiples of seconds. So start at say 5 seconds, the next bit would be 10, the next 15 etc. I personally find this to be rather inefficient.

Instead, I do my test pieces (which are few – but that’s another post) based on using stops. Just like when you factor in stops when you shoot, you can factor in stops when you print. A stop more is doubling the light, a stop less is halving it, regardless of whether you are exposing film or paper. So to begin, I’ll pick a starting exposure in seconds based on a best guess, knowing what my paper, aperture etc tends to go with. For me, 10 sec to 20 sec, which is one full stop by the way, tends to cover my average negatives, and makes for easy calculations. This will be different for you and depend on your paper, your negatives and what aperture you choose. I use a very slow paper, Fomatone, which is a full two stops slower than Oriental for example, and commonly print at f8, if you are curious.

Next I simply divide that one stop range into quarter stops, so you get 10 sec, 12.5 sec, 15 sec, 17.5 sec and 20 sec. Now, someone is likely to pipe up at this point, that these aren’t exact 1/4 stops, which is true, but they are close enough and a simple extra 2.5 sec from my starting time. If you want real quarter stops, from 10 to 20 it would be 10/11.9/14.1/16.8/20. See the unblinkingeye.com link below for a chart if you are picky. While I am very exact with measuring chemicals, 0.7 of a sec at this point isn’t a big deal.

I then expose the test piece or strip accordingly. When I take a look, I can see which is closest to the exposure I need and since it is all roughly quarter stops apart, I can very accurately, off that one strip, pick a good exposure. No guessing, or fiddling around with a few more seconds, here, or a few less, taking several tries to get it narrowed down. Now it can be pretty close and sometimes hard to tell the bits apart, but you can always make it thirds or half stops, whatever works for you.

F-stop printing also helps when it comes to burning and dodging, as it makes things easier to decide. You can burn or dodge half a stop, a full stop etc.

Here’s some further info to take a look at, including a couple of manufacturers of F-stop enlarger timers, which are on my wish list.


If you own Tim Rudman’s The Master Photographer’s Toning Book, (a previous post) there’s a chart in the back. If you don’t, what the heck are you waiting for?

Give this a try the next time you print. You might be surprised at how it simplifies things for you.

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Another darkroom DIY – film drying cabinet

Here’s my second darkroom DIY project. A film drying cabinet.

I purchased one of those soft plastic hanging clothes storage bags, the rectangular type, from Ikea. I got one of those old bonnet style hair dryers that has a dryer base, hose and shower cap style plastic head cover from my grandmother. Hadn’t been used in probably over 20 years. Packrat grannies can be good thing.

I cut a hole in the side near the bottom of the bag. Then I cut the hose fitting off the bonnet and taped it into the hole in the bag. After hanging it from a portable shower rod, I was able to attach the hose to the bag. Some duct tape around the hose took care of it being sticky from plastic breakdown. While I put some small slits near the top in to let air out, they didn’t do much, so I just keep the zipper down a foot or so so the air can escape. Now I have a nice, heated film drying cabinet.


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Do it yourself darkroom lights

Finding darkroom lights these days, that don’t cost a fortune, can be pretty tough. I came up with a simple solution for red lights, as I do a lot of lith printing and want to make sure I don’t have fog problems.

Now bear in mind, I haven’t tested these to see if they might fog. I figure, if ruby lith film has been used on windows safely enough, it’ll be fine for led lights and they aren’t pointed right at the paper for long anyhow.

Now, what I did was go and get three little push lights from my local Canadian Tire, the kind with three leds. What is nice about them is that you can have one, two or all three leds on, and so control the amount of light. I also picked up some ruby lith film, which I cut into a circle and taped over the light with opaque tape around the edges. If you don’t know what ruby lith is, it’s a red film used by printers and generally pretty safe for darkroom stuff.

These lights are surprisingly bright and even with the red film on them, which does cut down light intensity, they still give off quite a bit of light. What was surprising is that the light is rather directional, far more of a beam than I expected. Which is good, as I am able to nicely hold one in my hand (they are only about 3 inches across) as a darkroom torch. With one light on, they work very nicely to check the progress of my lith printing.

Now go have fun in the dark.

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