Day 1 in the Darkroom…

On Friday I did something I’ve been promising myself for a long time, and something I specifically wanted to do in 2017. I went on a darkroom beginners workshop. I’ve built a darkroom at work, and have for a long time had much of the basic theory in place, I’ve just needed that supervised tuition to kick me off. Friday was the day!

AG Photographic run a variety of workshops from their near-Birmingham location – which provided the traffic is ok – is less than an hour from me. So when I had the email from Matthew saying they were running a Friday course, I jumped at the chance.

Matt, mixing chemicals

On the day there were only three of us there: me, Janine (who I work with at F8) and a chap called Richard. Richard clearly had the most experience of the three of us. I know most of the words and theory, but lack the hands-on, and Janine hadn’t really got much of an idea about even what goes on in a darkroom. All of us came away with a half decent print.

The morning was spent experimenting with contact sheets. I’d sent a test roll from my recent 1950’s 50mm Sonnar purchase to AG a few days before, so that was waiting for me ready to be printed from. The roll was shot with a Kiev 4 that I wasn’t even sure was working properly, most of the photos were shot lackadaisically without a meter, and I hadn’t even finished the roll when I sent it in. Surprisingly, I’d managed to shoot a couple of gems. I really wanted to come away with a photo of both of my girls, and one more of something else. I found all three images on the same test roll:


After lunch, we got to the business of printing actual photos. As a sort of happy accident, the lackadaisical approach to shooting the roll actually worked out quite nicely. Since there was some pretty serious variation in neg density, it made the printing process a little harder, or at least I had to think through what I was doing a little bit more when it came to printing individual photos. To kick off, Matt showed us the ropes on a photo of Norah, he did a quick test exposure and we picked which time we thought would reap the best outcome.

To kick off, Matt showed us the ropes on a photo of Norah, he did a quick test exposure and we picked which time we thought would reap the best outcome.




After that, Matt pretty much left us to it, just popping in to check how we were getting on and answer any questions. After not long, Janine who was also there to get some c-type printing done with Matt also left, leaving the darkroom free for me and Richard to get on with it by ourselves.

I must admit, this was probably the most fun part of the day! Matt said we could use as much paper as we liked, so I pretty much took advantage of that and used it as an opportunity to experiment. I won’t go into too much detail, but this really helped me get my head around how the timings worked, gave me a chance to play with different grades, and ultimately make a lot of mistakes… which is really what helps the most in my mind!

The outcome was these two images. I’m really pleased with the shot of Connie, which really only involved getting a nice skin tone and letting the rest of the image be what it was.


This image, on the other hand, gave me a real challenge! I’m still not sure it’s as perfect, but the process involved me having to make creatibve decisions about how I wanted it to come out.


The crux of the issue came how bright I wanted the sky and how dark I wanted the figures. In the end I settled on quite a hard contrast, with the sky getting almost as close to white as I could get it. I’m pretty happy with it, but moreover very happy with the opportunity it gave me to experiment a bit. Not bad for a shot lackadaisically taken with as part of a test roll… theres a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time…


Next step… get my own darkroom finally fully kitted out! I shall document as much of my journey as I can… I have a feeling this is going to be a good year for my photography! Thanks again Matt!

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33 thoughts on “Day 1 in the Darkroom…”

  1. Great, Hamish! I love the gulls photo. Beautiful.

    I have been given an enlarger and all the appropriate stuff by my brother in law lately and I need to find a space to set everything up. Guess I’ll need some tutoring too.

    1. It’s worth it… I found it very easy to get my head around, but am very thankful for the little bit of a prod in the review that direction!

    1. I know what you mean, the contact print just made the whole process click somehow… it’s a part of the process I’ve never paid much thought to. I just wished I’d had a red pen!

  2. I love the river mist picture Hamish, one to keep.

    A couple of years ago I did a similar course with a great bloke called Dave Champion at the Black and White Basement in St. John’s Wood. Since then I have developed all of my own films with varying results, but I am enjoying the fun part, which is finding out why A or B happens during the process…

    Sadly, I haven’t followed up on any of the wet printing since that day. It is quite an investment to set up a darkroom with running water, sinks, bench and enlarger etc..

    It is a shame because even with your digital photo’s of your pictures, you can see something that is not at all clear with a scanned image. The more normal workflow these days is to develop and then scan film to make digital files for any number of uses on the PC. However, I would contend that the print that you made the other day in the darkroom is better in every way than any print that you produced from that digital file on your PC…. You took part in the magic!

    I think I want to have another go and maybe set up my own darkroom.

  3. And when you thought that the magician could not get another rabbit out of the hat …
    I’ve been working with scanners for 25 years and I’ve never been able to get close to the magic of a wet print.
    And I love the smell of photographic chemicals;)
    Great photos!

  4. Brilliant Hamish! I’ve discovered your blog at a time that I’ve recently dusted off my film cameras and began Shooting film again. I can’t wait to see how you progress with your darkroom and it’s already inspiring me to get back to some wet printing myself.

  5. Now wait. You built the darkroom at work, THEN took the course? Ok, that’s a commitment :). And if I can say so, you got some really very very fine work out of a first time under a yellow safelight. You have a well-trained eye so I doubt it’s beginners luck.

    My own darkroom is mouldering away in the basement, untouched in 10 years. But I’m starting to shoot film again so mayhap I can turn that around. Time to light a fire under my a..

    1. My original intention was to wing it… I couldn’t find the motivation… I feel much more so now 🙂
      You should light a big fire!

  6. Nicely done. Nothing beats a gelatin silver print, especially for archival qualities. I know you treasure the pic of your daughter and so will she when she’s older, but the bridge pic is stellar.

  7. Great write up, brought back a heck of a lot of memories (and made me feel old). Somehow, I always assumed that you’d had darkroom skills. Also looks like you managed to cover quite a lot in a day, which is great. There’s no substitute for having large physical copies of your work and that wonderment of the moment when your picture appears on paper in your developing tray never fades. Hope you keep it up.

    Plus 1 on the bridge photo, it’s got a timeless quality about it. If you remove the couple under the brolly at the far right, it could have been taken at any point in time within the existence of photography : )

  8. Awesome, love that second shot of the bridge & gulls Hamish. A goal for 2017 was to develop my own B&W film, printing may also have to be added to the list now! Keep us updated as to how you get on (and a shot of your darkroom setup would be good).

    1. I will, it’s fully my intention to keep this up… talking about stuff on here keeps me going!
      Add it to you’re list!

  9. Darkrooms should come with a health warning, they’re addictive! I used to go into the darkroom at work at 10 am on a Sunday and come out at 7 pm thinking “Hmm, if only I’d had more time!” But that was when I was single, couldn’t do it now.

    Best thing is to set it up so you can do an hour or two at a time without making fresh chemistry every time.

    1. A dad of a mate of mine says that to me every time we chat about it – whole nights lost! I definitely need to find a way to manage that … keeping it at work, should help… :/

    1. Thanks! Good luck!
      (Thanks for the note about the double paragraph, I have a bug in the website that seems to like to do that sometimes)

  10. Love the shot of Connie. Have you noticed that children are the only creatures on the planet that can wear goofy hats, and look totally cool.

    Please continue your adventures in the darkroom! And, I’ve finally figured it out…I shoot film because the logical final result [for me] is a B&W print. That is how I see my process…not as digital vs. film, but as a tangible, physical output. I’m probably not expressing myself as clearly as I should, but hey…

    My daughter just emailed me and told me that this year is the 10th year I have been sending her a B&W [Ilford postcard paper] postcard. Once a week for 10 years. I go into the d/room/ print up 5-6 at a time, and send them out to her. She lives about 2 1/2 hours away in Boston. I started when she began art school.

    I’ve had a darkroom in every place that I have lived since 1970. I have worked in closets, bathrooms, under a table w/a heavy wool blanket draped over the sides, bedrooms, etc. My current darkroom is a permanent space in my basement.

    Happy printing!

  11. I am in the exact same stage! I just recently acquired all of the pieces to create a simple print darkroom in my laundry room (no windows, counter space, and a deep basin sink!) and set it up to do a few prints last week. It really does make you appreciate what the greats used to do to create those legendary prints. I look forward to more of these posts!

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