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Darkroom Practice


Developing Film.


This is where you'll make or break a good photo-shoot. Understanding that you can go out and take some of your best shots and loose it in the initial processing highlights the importance of getting the basics right when it comes to processing film and subsequently starting a print run in the darkroom.

We use ID11 which is a good fine grain black and white film developer. Generally speaking its hard to go wrong with this developer and if you have indicators on the rebate which show that your film is over or under-developed, then you have to go back and review your process.

  • At some stage it will be beneficial to get to know the difference between film that is overexposed and under-developed or film that is underexposed and over-developed. This is the trickiest to differentiate as initially the negatives can look quite similar and it's only in the rebates / rebate numbers, that the story becomes clear.

Good processing starts right when the film is loaded into the lightproof bag. Things typically go wrong when the spool has residual moisture and the gelatin in the emulsion absorbs that and expands or starts sticking to the spool runners causing the film to buckle as its being wound on. Sometimes you won't know this has happened until you pull the film from the wash and see the tell-tale evenly spaced dark marks across the face of the film where the developer has not been able to clear the unexposed silver salts. However if you feel any resistance, however slight whilst winding the film onto the spool, its probably best to gently pull the film off the spool, blow the spool dry or get a new one and wind the film back on.

  • From here you can't go wrong until you actually start processing your film.
Time and temperature and the most important ingredients in the next step of the process. Always use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water before adding it to the developer in your graduated measure. And just to be on the safe side take the temperature again after the chemicals have been mixed; here can sometimes be variables of up to 1degree and that can make a difference to the negative.
Get hold of a temperature conversion chart so that you can make the appropriate adjustments to your developing time if the temperature of the water is above or below 20 deg Celsius.

Prepare your stop bath and fixer in advance so that you have smooth transitions between solutions, remember that your film will keep developing until the stop is added so it's good practice to skim a little off the developing time, usually about 15 secs (it takes about 5 to empty the canister and 10 to pour the new solution in) otherwise if you wait until your developing time has elapsed you could be up to 20 secs over.
Transition between stop and fixer is not so crucial, you can even take the film out to examine the general state of development of the latent image.

  • Some people do not use stop bath and prefer to use water instead; while this is OK, its good to remember that water won't arrest the developing process immediately and it will also contribute to shortening the life of your fixer, especially if you re-use. (Ilford is generally good for about 60 rolls of film before becoming exhausted)
  • So at a dilution of 1+3 (from stock) for ID11, the developing time at 20deg will be 20min
  • Stop bath 30secs (stock dilution)
  • Fixer 2 min @ 1+4
  • You can get away with a wash of about 7 min if you use hardener, but generally speaking to get the best life from your film a wash of about 20 mins should be more than adequate.
  • After washing the film prepare some Wetting and Glazing agent in a tray and dip the film through it several times.
  • Hang your film to dry in a dust free environment.
  • When dry, cut into appropriate lengths and protect / preserve in a good quality neg sleeve.

The image below gives you a good visual indicator of negatives in
various states of exposure and development.



image source: ephotozine.com




Processing Paper.


Prior to printing check that all your chemicals are in good condition. Oxidized developer can be easily identified, just check for any discolouration in the bottle before mixing in the tray. Oxidized developer will begin to turn a rusty brown colour as the oxidization process progresses.

  • (if it's a really dark brown throw it out, Ilford should have a shelf life of about 10 weeks after opening)
Stop bath is good for nearly as long as the bottle lasts and the mix can be left in the tray until it turns purple.

  • again, if water is used there will still be developer contamination on the print, (print feels greasy to touch) and this will shorten the life of your fixer.

Fixer can be checked by placing the end of a length of unexposed film in the developer mix, it should clear within a minute, if it doesn't the developer is exhausted and needs replacing.

Make sure the wash tray is free of contaminants. If you run your hand around the inner edge or along the bottom of the tray and it feels slimy, empty the water, wash the tray out until the plastic or metal feels clean, refill and make sure the water is flowing gently through the wash tray.

Ratios and times for paper development are as follows;

  • Developer 1+9 @ 1 min
  • Stop bath 1+40 @ 30 secs
  • Fixer 1+9 @ 2 min
  • Wash (RC paper) 2 min | 20 min for archival wash.

Getting ready to print.

Prior to printing make sure your enlarger has a working timer and ensure that it is connected. It's a good idea to use a lens brush to clear any dust from the lens itself. You can also remove the lens and clean the top side of the lens holder and the lens. Make sure that your filters are in good order and that they are all there. Sometimes students put the filters back into any box without checking and you end up with multiples of filters you possibly don't want.

When you are ready to print make sure the ventilation is on, safe lights are on, main lights off and the light trap curtains are closed.

It's also a good idea to keep your paper away from any working light source. Keeping it in it's lightproof plastic under the baseboard or easel is usually the best, or in its box off to one side of the darkroom, that way you won't get any spill from other enlargers if there are any openings in the plastic (the smallest pinhole can cause fogging).

When you place your negative in the negative holder of the enlarger hold it by the edges so that you don't get any fingerprints on the emulsion. Make sure that the emulsion side is down and the rebate numbers face the wall. Place a grade 2 filter in the filter drawer and adjust the enlarger height so that the light coverage on the easel matches the size of the paper you are using.

  • Bear in mind that this information is to support what you have been taught in the darkroom, just memory prompts.

Test Strips and Printing.

To get your exposure time correct you will need to make some test strips. A test strip will give you a graduated guide to the exposure options for your print. This way you can see the tonal range for your print and which exposures are giving you the best details in your highlights and shadows.

  • There are many ways to make a test strip and these will be demonstrated in the darkroom.
  
Next set up a piece of white card on the easel and adjust the enlarger height and focus to suit the size of your print, you can then use the blades on the easel to mask the edges of the print. Use a focus scope to get your focus exact (this will allow you to use the grain of the negative to focus)





Easel with aligned image







Focus-Scope




Troubleshooting test strips.

If your test strips do not have an adequate tonal range you will need to adjust your exposure increments or number of increments. You may also need to review the area of the negative chosen for sampling. Your sampling area should have a good tonal range that includes white and black across a range of exposure times wherever possible.

There are occasions when your test strip will give a good general indicator of exposure options. You can refine this further e.g.,

Recommended exposure appears to be between 10-15 seconds and your exposure increments for that test strip were @ 5 secs over 30secs. Do a new test strip but have 10 secs as your minimum and 15 secs as your maximum exposure time and bring your exposure increments down to 1 sec, (do this by making the initial exposure for your test strip 10secs, i.e., expose the whole strip for 10 sec, then add 5x 1 sec stops). This will give you a fine graduation across the recommended exposure at 5 stops of 1 second each.







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