Although developing film and making prints is not as common as it used to be, it is still a lot of fun to learn how to develop your own prints. There is just something special about seeing an image develop right in front of your eyes that makes it so much fun. So, if you're brand new to darkroom photography here is a basic introduction to help you get started.
We'll skip developing your film and getting supplies for now and just talk about the actual process.
Making Prints with an Enlarger
An enlarger is a machine that turns your film into large printed photos. It does this by projecting light through your film and onto the surface of your photo paper, exposing the light sensitive chemicals buried inside.
In order to create a print, you will have to line up the frame with your enlarger's light source, then project it onto a blank mat and make sure it's properly focused by adjusting the knob on the side. Make sure you can clearly see the grain of your image otherwise get a magnifying glass to check. You'll need to play around with the exposure timing to make sure the image is how you want it.
Once you've decided on the correct timing and exposed a full photograph, it's time to get your hands dirty. Darkroom chemicals have a distinct odor and will ruin any article of clothing they touch, so make sure to wear an apron to keep yourself relatively clean. The chemical process can be broken down into four steps:
Soak your paper, which will still be completely white, in the developer. This chemical will activate the photo paper and over the course of a few minutes you'll start to see your image come through. If you don't like the contrast or exposure, just head back to the enlarger and get another piece of photo paper and adjust your timing. Once you have a print you like and it's done developing, move it to the stop bath for a soak.
2. Stop Bath
The stop bath will prevent your image from developing any further by neutralizing the chemicals found in the developer. If you've ever smelled the fumes from a darkroom, the smell you remember is the stop bath. Feel your image to see if you can move on; paper that has been properly stopped will squeak when you rub your fingers on it. This should only take a few minutes.
While the stop bath will stop the effects of the developer chemicals, your paper will still be sensitive to light exposure. Fixer is the final chemical in the process and once your photograph has been soaked with this chemical the paper can be exposed to light without ruining the image. You don't need to soak your prints in fixer for very long- usually about 5-10 minutes depending upon the paper and chemicals.
Naturally you'll want to rinse your photos of all the harsh chemicals you've soaked in them. Many darkrooms have a sink and a rinsing tub with a continuous flow of water so you can make sure your print is free of chemical residue by rinsing it for a while. This is a good time to print some other shots from your roll!
Once you have enlarged, developed, stopped, fixed and rinsed your prints, place them out to dry in a safe place or use a photo dryer. Don't forget to rinse your prints well because if you don't, your photographs will turn brown over time from the chemical residue left on the print. It's best to place the prints in a heavy book or between blotter pages to keep the images relatively flat otherwise they'll curl.
The darkroom can seem intimidating, but once you have a bearing on the process you will enjoy printing your own images. It's a wonderful creative outlet and gives you a lot more control over your final images then having someone else print them. Just remember to check before turning on the lights or you may just ruin someone's photograph!
Autumn Lockwood is a writer for Your Picture Frames and loves taking photos. If you're looking for antique wooden frames, visit our website or call 1-800-780-0699 to get friendly prompt help.