Imogen Rabone explains how to print black and white photographs in a darkroom.
Setting Up The Darkroom
Bring negatives and photographic paper with you. “Multigrade” paper is best if you are just starting out.
Lay out the three coloured trays in the sink, red on the right for developer, white in the middle for the stop bath and grey on the left for fix. On the far left put the big grey tray under the tap for washing prints.
Chemicals are provided ready mixed. Pour the paper developer, labelled with red tape, into the red tray. Pour the fix, labelled with green tape, into the grey tray which also has green tape on it. Fill the white tray halfway with water. Also clip the tongs, labelled with tape, to the side of each tray.
Locate the negative you want to print, slide the negative holder out of the enlarger and lay your negative shiny side up and back to front between the two glass windows. Close the holder and slide it back into the enlarger.
Turn on the enlarger at the wall, turn on the safelight and turn off the main light. From now on until your prints are fixed, all work is done in the dark under the safelight. The main light is only switched on to look at test strips.
Focusing And Setting Up The Enlarger
Switch on the enlarger light at the timer and set the aperture of the enlarger to f/2.8 or maximum aperture. The negative should now be visible on the easel underneath the lens.
Wind the handle on the right side of the enlarger to set the image to the size you want to print. Adjust the easel by sliding its arms to frame or crop the picture at the dimensions required.
Use the larger wheel on the left side of the enlarger to focus the projected negative image. For fine focusing, place the focus finder onto the image and look through it. Turn the smaller wheel until you see the individual grains come into focus.
Set the aperture of the lens to f/8. Set the yellow and magenta dials on the enlarger head to the appropriate figures for a contrast of Grade 2 (see Appendix). Leave the blue and white dials at 0. Printing black and white pictures only needs the yellow and magenta filters. The others are for colour printing.
Set the timer to 5 seconds and switch off the enlarger bulb.
Making And Developing A Test Strip
Open the box of paper and cut a strip about 10cm wide off one piece. (Remember to close the box after taking out paper and always make sure it is properly shut before turning on the main light.)
Lay the strip of paper across the base of the easel so that it covers a cross section of your image to give you an idea of the exposure for the whole print. Secure it under the easel arms. You can swing the red safety glass under the lens and switch on the enlarger light so you can see the image to position the paper. Switch the enlarger light off afterwards and swing the glass away again.
Using a piece of card cover all but about 2cm of one edge of the paper, switch the timer on and expose the paper for 5 seconds. Move the card 2cm down the paper and expose for another 5 seconds. Repeat until all of the paper has been exposed. You should have made five exposures altogether.
Take the paper from the easel and put it into the tray of developer. Make sure it is completely submerged and rock the tray gently whilst developing. Time the paper in the developer for 1 minute.
Take the paper out of the developer with the tongs, let it drip into the tray and then put it into the stop bath and rock the tray gently for about a minute.
Take the paper out of the stop bath with tongs, allow it to drip and then put it into the fix tray. Make sure the paper is fully submerged and rock gently. Paper stays in the fixer for 5 minutes to fix properly, but after a minute it is safe to turn on the main light to look at the test strip. Transfer the strip to a spare tray and turn on the main light. Make sure your paper box is closed first.
Making And Developing The Final Print
Look at your test strip under the main light. You should have a picture of part of your negative with stripes of varying exposure across it, ranging from 5 to 25 seconds.
If it is completely black and over exposed, close down the lens aperture one stop to let through half as much light, turn off the main light and make another test strip as before. If the test strip is completely white and under exposed, open up the aperture one stop and make a new test strip. If you have a good strip, light on one end and dark on the other, choose the time you think will give the best exposure and set the enlarger timer to the relevant time.
If the contrast of the correctly exposed part of your strip is too high or low, adjust the filters in the enlarger head to change the contrast. (0 will give the lowest contrast print, with the most grey tones visible, 5 will give the highest contrast print with strong blacks and whites.) If you change the contrast, you will need a slightly longer exposure, if you lower it, a slightly shorter exposure.
Once all test strips have been done and you have decided on your exposure settings, adjust the aperture, timer and filters as appropriate and put a whole piece of paper into the easel and expose your pint. Develop it in the same way as you did the test strips. Remember to fix it for a full five minutes.
When fixed your print needs to wash in the big tray under running water for half an hour to remove all chemical residues before drying.
Dodging And Burning Prints
If your final print has areas that are too dark or too bright and you want to bring more detail into these parts of your picture, you can dodge or burn-in the places that you want to change.
Dodging-in a part of the print allows you to lighten an area that is too dark by giving it a shorter exposure that the rest of the picture. This is done by covering the area for part of the overall exposure time either with your hand, or with a piece of card. You can cut a piece of card to the shape and size of the area to be dodged-in and tape it to a bit of wire. This allows you to get at awkward parts of a print accurately without leaving a mark across the rest of the picture.
You may need to do extra test strips to determine the exposure difference for the area to be dodged-in. Once the exposures have been decided, make a new print and during the exposure cover the part of your picture that you want to lighten for the time that you have chosen. Hold your hand or dodging tool between the lens and your paper so that the shadow cast onto the paper is the right size. Whilst covering any part of the print it is important to shake the dodging tool to avoid leaving a hard line on your print. Expose the rest of the picture as normal and develop as before.
Burning-in allows you to darken areas of a print that are too bright by giving them extra exposure. This is done by cutting a hole in a piece of card and covering all but the part of the picture to be burned-in during the extra exposure. As for dodging-in, new test strips may be needed to decide the additional exposure for burning-in. During the exposure, hold the card between the lens and the paper so that the light shining through the hole in the card lands on the right place on the paper. Shake it to avoid leaving a line. Expose the rest of the print and develop as normal.
When your prints have washed under running water for half an hour, they can be dried by running them through the print dryer. Print dryers are a much better alternative to the washing line but they are more fragile than they look and can be temperamental, so be patient and careful. Dryers are for resin-coated paper only. Do not attempt to put fibre-based paper through the dryer.
Turn on the dryer and allow it to warm up for about five minutes. Turn it up during this time from the blue dot to the red dot and to a heat setting of about 4. Take your print out of the water so that it is dripping wet – it must be wet – don’t put dry prints through the dryer.
Feed the print into the dryer between the two wheels. Make sure it is straight otherwise the dryer will chew the print. Also make sure that the other side of the dryer is clean and dry when the print comes out.
The print will be rolled through the machine and should come out perfectly dry and a bit curly. Lay it out on a flat surface and it will straighten out as it cools down.
It is best to dry all of your prints at the end of your printing session rather than keep turning the machine on and off. When you are finished, turn the dryer to the blue dot and allow it to cool down for a few minutes before switching if off completely.
Closing Up The Darkroom
When you have finished printing, throw away any unwanted prints and return the chemicals to their bottles with a funnel and close the lids tightly. The stop bath can be poured down the sink.
Wash the trays and tongs with water to remove chemicals.
Wipe up any wet patches and spillages. Turn off the enlarger and dryer at the wall and switch off the safelight and fan.
Don’t forget to take your negatives out of the enlarger.
Turn off the main light and lock the door when you leave and don’t forget to return the keys.
Table 1: Filter settings for making prints with Multigrade papers when using a colour enlarger. (Y = Yellow, M = Magenta)
Table 2: F/stop exposure times.