Online Darkroom Induction
Photofusion is home to London’s largest professional rental darkroom, which is available to hire to both members and non-members.
Printing in a darkroom can be a rewarding experience because the final image is 100% controlled by you. Like with most technical skills relating to photography, it can be tricky at first. But after a bit of practice, most darkroom tasks will become second nature. We’ve put together a useful darkroom guide, which we hope will make your darkroom skills develop quicker.
GO BACK TO ➞ DARKROOMS
Our darkroom has six black and white enlargers and three colour enlargers, all of which can print from 35mm up to 5×4. One enlarger can print up to 10×8.
We provide almost everything you need to print your own photographs. All you need to bring are negatives, a can of air, and some paper (we currently stock black and white film and paper – please call for availability.)
How to set up the enlarger
An enlarger is a very simple machine, its sole function is to shine a light through your negative and project it onto a light sensitive material (i.e. your paper.)
There are a few steps you need to follow in order to set up your enlarger correctly before you start printing …
1. Place your negative in the carrier with the glossy side pointing upwards, and back to front. The enlarger lens will flip the image the right way around
Be careful not to get any fingerprints on your negative, and use a can of air or blower to remove any dust. Centre the carrier in the enlarger to ensure an even spread of light from left to right of your picture.
2. Next you need to adjust the height of the enlarger head so that your image is the correct size for your paper. The enlarger head is moved by wheels at the front of the enlarger, which when positioned correctly are locked into place.
3. It’s pretty tricky to focus an image by eye, so once you think it’s about right, place a focus finder directly under the lens on the easel. Fine tune the focus until you can see the grain of the film, you should see lots of speckled dots. Once focused, lock the enlarger head in place using the levers near the focusing wheels. Be sure to set the focus finder to your eyesite . To do this stand underneath a bright light, loosen the locking screw at the top part of the focus finder, and then move the eyepiece back and forth until you can see a sharp white line running through the horizontal black line. Re lock the eyepiece once you see this line.
4. Just like exposing film in a camera, you have to expose your paper for a controlled amount of time at a certain aperture. For black and white printing you’re able to control exposure and contrast via the timer. For colour printing, instead of contrast you control the colour filtration.
Black and White printing
When using modern multigrade paper, the contrast of an image is controlled by the colour of the light projected by the enlarger. Some enlargers require that you place coloured filters in the light path in order to change the colour of the light, which in turn changes the contrast of the printed image. Our timers have contrast control built into them, so that when you change the ‘grade’ (contrast) the colour of the light changes inside the enlarger head, hence no need for external filters.
Contrast is represented by numbers 0 to 5, and changes in half steps. Grade 0, the lowest contrast setting available, is a yellow colour, and is reserved for negatives with extreme contrast. The highest available contrast setting, grade 5, is magenta in colour and best used when you have very thin and underexposed negatives.
As you increase the contrast the grain of the film becomes more apparent, and appears more ‘grainy.’ Grain also increases as the size of the print increases; the larger the print the more grainy it looks.
We have a large communal sink area in the darkroom to process your prints, the largest paper size we can accommodate being 20×16 inches.
We provide Dev, Stop, Fix, and washing facilities with an archival washer available for fibre papers.
After the prints have had sufficient washing our drying facilities include a resin dryer, drum dryer for fibre paper, or fibre glass mesh drying racks. Also included in the darkroom hire is a press to flatten any air dried fibre prints.
With colour, instead of adjusting the contrast, changing the filters alters the colour of the image.
When scanning a negative a computer will analyse it and then apply its best guess as to the correct colour filtration. When printing by hand it’s up to you to find the best colour filtration by changing the amount of yellow and magenta light which passes through your negative and onto your paper. There are in fact three colours which can be adjusted in the enlarger – yellow, magenta, and cyan. Cyan however is usually only needed when you’re printing from cross processed negatives. By varying the amounts of yellow and magenta light you should be able to achieve a respectably colour balanced print with most negatives.
The largest sized print you can do in colour is 20×24 inches using our Colenta processor.
A quick word about lenses
When focussing always open the aperture as wide as possible in order to see the grain more easily. It’s never a good idea to print with the aperture wide open, so, after focussing stop the lens down. The optimum position for the aperture in any lens is always two stops down from wide open, to ensure the grain is sharp and even throughout the entire print. Modern lenes however are good enough to print at other apertures except wide open. The aperture is part of the exposure process, which is linked to the time the paper is being exposed. So if you find that after setting the aperture two stops down your exposure is too short you can close the lens down a whole stop, halving the light which means you can then double the exposure time. You can also change the lenses to make the enlarger head higher, this will also lengthen the exposure time.
Setting the easel
The easel sits on the enlarger base board, and holds your paper in place during exposure. The easel can also be adjusted to achieve different sized borders by moving the blades and inserts. A bit of simple maths will help you set the easel correctly.
Always start with the length of the paper. For example if you’re printing on 16×12 inch paper and you want a one inch border at either end of the length of the paper, then set the first insert to the 1 inch position. The general rule is if you want the opposite border to be the same multiply the first insert position by two, and then move the easel blade in by that number.
1 inch x 2 = 2
Move the easel blade in two inches from the 16 inch marker on the easel. The easel blade should now be locked at 14 inches.
Now focus your image so that it just overlaps the edges of the easel and easel blade , this will ensure the edge of your image is a sharp straight line. Square up the easel so three sides of your image are overlapping the easel and blade.
It should look like this…
Finally you need to set the borders for the width. This example is using a 35mm negative, but sizes will vary depending the format of the negative. In this case with 16×12 inch paper the full frame image width is pretty close to 9 inches. Move the horizontal easel blade so it just covers the image at 9 inches (width.) The last thing to do is move the easel insert to the correct position so that your width borders are equal. General rule in this case is:
Paper width – image width = excess paper used to make your borders
Excess paper ÷ 2 = the position of the last easel insert
12 inches – 9 inches = 3 inches
3 inches ÷ 2 = 1 ½ inches.
Set the easel insert for the width at 1 ½
This example gives you a centred full frame image from a 35mm negative with even borders. If you don’t mind cropping the image to fill a certain area on the paper, or if you have a specific image size you want, then you can approach setting the easel like this:
A 10×8 image printed onto a 12×10 piece of paper.
First lock your easel blades at 10×8, as that’s the image size you want.
Now you have to work out where to put the easel inserts, again start with the length of the paper.
Paper length – image length = excess paper to make borders.
12 inches – 10 inches = 2 inches of excess paper
then (same as before)…
Excess paper ÷ 2 = insert position
2 inches ÷ 2 = 1 inch.
Set the easel insert to 1 inch
To find the easel insert position for the width repeat the process.
Paper width – image width = excess paper to make borders
10 inches – 8 inches = 2 inches of excess paper.
Excess paper ÷ 2 = insert position
2 inches ÷ 2 = 1 inch
Set the last easel insert to the 1 inch position
What you should have is a 10×8 image on 12×10 paper with an even 1 inch border all the way around.
Keyline and rough borders
When booking an enlarger you’ll be asked what size negatives you’re printing from, and what size prints you’re making. This is so the enlarger can be prepared before your visit, which means you can start printing straight away.
There is also the option to have slightly different carrier inserts that allow you to print a thin black border around your image, referred to as a keyline. Ask for ‘black borders’ when booking the enlarger, and we’ll make sure you have the correct inserts.
A black border insert is a normal negative insert that has been filed out slightly so that the film’s rebates are visible.
In the easel section I described how the image has to overlap the image blades and easel, in order to attain a sharp straight edge around your photograph. To achieve a keyline simply lower the enlarger head slightly, and focus the image so that the film’s rebate’s are projected onto your paper. Square up the easel so the thin black line looks even. If you want rough borders then all you have to do is lower the enlarger even more so that all of the rebates, and edges of the carrier insert are visible on your paper.
Photofusion offer beginner and intermediate darkroom printing courses to help you speed up the learning process. The course covers all of the above and goes into great depth about printing techniques. One-to-one tuition is also available – all are taught by our resident master printer Nick Jones.
PHOTOFUSION DARKROOM COURSES
In order to make shooting and printing film more affordable we’ve kept our member’s prices for film processing and darkroom hire low. We also offer student discounts across all services and hire facilities at Photofusion.
In addition, once anyone has accrued £50 or more on film processing you’re entitled to hire the darkroom at half price through our loyalty card scheme.
If you have any questions you can reach the darkroom technicians, Nick and Simon at email@example.com or call +44 (0) 20 7738 5774
We’ll be happy to answer any questions in person during your induction.