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.
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!