Sunday, November 20, 2016

My basement darkroom

In my cellar I have a small half bath that is never used. I recently decided that it would make a suitable location for a small darkroom space. With a little preparation I was soon back into developing my own images.

The nice thing about this particular space in my house is that it naturally resides in darkness. Being in the cellar there are no windows to worry about. What little light leakage there was, like around the door and in one small corner, was easily remedied with minor alterations. Another nice feature about this setup is that I have ready access to running water. A necessity for rinsing between development baths. I'll write more about that in a separate article.

My decision for setting up a darkroom came about out of necessity for developing some new direct positive paper from Galaxy Paper, a Kickstarter campaign I had supported. For my support I received a package of 25 sheets of 4x5 paper and the required chemicals to develop them. Now that I had the space it was time to do some shopping.

I have been planning on eventually doing something with my 4x5 so i had already collected a few film holders. They are the typical double sided holders with the removeable dark slides you often see shown in the movies whenever they portray a photographer in a period piece. From experience I knew I would need to get a couple more things.

I purchased a used GraLab timer off eBay (one of my favorite sources for stuff) for about $30. You can see it hanging on the wall in these photos. Once mixed, the chemicals would need to be stored in a light blocking container. I visited my good friend Jesse at Milford Photo and he was able to hook me up with four of them. The last stop was at the local Wal-Mart for the remainder of the needed materials. I dragged my buddy Xavier with me.

Since I am looking to only develop 4x5 prints I knew I did not need large developing trays. After some browsing it was Xavier who suggested getting one of those plastic desktop drawer storage systems. It was brilliant. I found one with four drawers that are roughly 5x7. They are perfect for my needs. A quick walk through the kitchen utensil isle and I had four tongs, a litre measure and a 5oz measure. I also picked up a small kitchen thermometer for checking water temperature. All that for under $30. Not bad. Here is a clearer picture of my setup. The only thing missing is the roll of paper towels for cleanup.

Another fortunate thing about this bathroom that worked in my favor was that it came equipped with two lights. The ceiling light is actually an exhaust fan which I left as the main light. The second light is over the sink, above the mirror. I changed the bulb to a red safety light so I could work in the dark without exposing my papers. I just have to make sure I don't accidently back into the light switch as I'm working.

As you can tell by this photo, the bathroom is really small. I was able to get a piece of scrap lumber, an old particle board shelf, to use as a work table. I mounted a support on one wall and rested the other end on the toilet. Instant work table. I can easily transport photos from the trays to the rinse station in the sink without effort.

Having a mirror over the sink is also nice as I can throw the wet prints onto the glass to view and dry. Wet paper sticks to glass really well. When I'm done developing I turn my main light on and admire my work.

I'm still playing with the photo paper. Once I'm comfortable with this new workflow I'll write about some of my analog experiences in future articles. In the meantime I hope this is of interest and maybe spur you into trying your hand at more traditional photographic processes.

Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below. I'd love to hear what you have to say.

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