The Online Darkroom Store

Tuesday, November 17

Requiem for my Darkroom

It doesn't seem so long ago that I was celebrating its
completion and now it's gone.

Well, that's my darkroom ripped apart and ready for removal to our new home at the end of the month. The cupboards and shelves have been dismantled and most of my darkroom and camera gear transferred to my mum's spare room for the time-being. It was the fourth I'd built and somewhat sad to have to remove it, especially since I hadn't used it nearly as much as I'd have liked. 

There's little doubt that writing three times a week for a photography blog has the effect of limiting how much time I can spend printing. Since I can't write about what I had for breakfast and illustrate that post with a pic of my cornflakes a consistent supply of source material relating to our art/craft/hobby has to be found. That usually takes the form of fresh photographs.

As it was just after I'd completed it in the summer of 2013 and
before the Leitz 1C made an appearance.

There just aren't enough hours in the day to go out taking pictures, develop the film, print the results in the darkroom, scan the prints and then put it all together in a post three times a week. Something has to give. In my case, it was the printing side since it's quicker to scan a roll of negs to illustrate a post than print from them and then scan the prints.

Digital photography blogs - as with most things digital - are much easier in that regard and make fewer demands on the photographer's time removing, as they do, three of the most time-consuming steps in that publication chain. So, against my best intentions and as I've noted before, The Online Darkroom morphed into The Online Scanner, not at all what I'd intended when I set out. Thank God for Omar and his series of darkroom posts - they at least kept the blog honest.

At this point I'd love to be able to say that things will be different in 2016 but I don't know if they will. The decor in our new house is lovely - provided you really like that 1980s look. So I'll be decorating more or less the entire house. Then there's wardrobes to build in, a kitchen to rejuvenate, a wood-burning stove to install, possibly an internal wall to be removed and made good, new doors to hang, a summerhouse to construct (that was a rash promise to Cath that I'm regretting), an en suite bathroom to enlarge and two new bathroom suites to install. And I'll be doing almost everything myself - apart from the wood burning stove. Get that wrong and I'd gas the lot of us.

The Leitz 1C with its newer sibling in
the background

After that, I might then get the chance to consider building darkroom number five in one half of the garage. When will that be? I honestly haven't a clue. It involves constructing two plasterboard walls in a corner of the garage and then installing the units and worktops from the darkroom I've just taken apart.

There's one issue that needs to be sorted involving a patch of dampness on the rear garage wall. If I can get that fixed then I might get away with just painting the brick on the inside white but if it looks as though it might be a persistent thing then I might have to strap the wall and fit a damp-proof barrier. Nothing good can come of leaving fine enlargers and lenses in a less than dry atmosphere for any length of time.

Once the darkroom is finally up and running I'm determined to do more printing even if that means posting just once or twice a week instead of thrice. What effect might that reduced output have on reader numbers? It's difficult to say. On the one hand, more darkroom articles might attract new readers but, on the other, readership is strongly linked to frequency of posting. My viewing figures have halved over the last month during which I've hardly posted.

So there's lots to think about over the coming months and I hope you'll all hang in there until normal service is resumed. Just don't hold me to a date!

Thursday, October 22

Darkroom Ponderings

I've been messing about with an iPhone app that makes it easy to plan room layouts. The house it looks like we'll be moving to has a tightish double garage that I'll have to convert into a darkroom. One half will house the Saab and I'll have a space about 9ftx7ft for a darkroom adjacent to it.

It involves building a couple of walls, hanging a door and fitting the worktops and cupboards for storing all those darkroomy bits and pieces. At the moment, I have four enlargers - the Leitz 1C and V35, a Durst L1200 and a Paterson PCS150 - and I don't think I can justify taking them all with me even though it looks as if I might be able to make them fit with a little room to spare.

So, after a bit of faffing around, here's what I've come up with (see above). It's by no means cast in stone and I've already noticed one flaw - there's no space between the enlargers for timers, transformers, etc. Forgot about that! It could easily be cured by removing the 10x8 trays from the bench and putting the 1C there. It's quite a compact enlarger with a small footprint.

Although I've named the enlargers in the graphic above I've yet to decide which ones to keep and which to sell on. I've written about the dilemma here. One thing that is becoming increasingly clear, though, is that I don't think I'm going to make a large format photographer so the Durst could be on borrowed time. LF is just not clicking. There seems something virtuous in using 5x4 or larger - in some respects, it's "real" photography in a way 35mm isn't - but I'm not taking to it too well.

It's not the process of using a large format camera, although it takes a little getting used to, nor the issue of composing upside down under a dark cloth. I haven't found either to be much of an impediment to be honest. Finding the love for the whole big neg thing is what's missing.

I haven't really warmed to the idea of setting up and taking down the camera without exposing any film just because the scene didn't look the way I imagined it might on the ground glass. This happens not infrequently and uses up a lot of time. Some days I'll see the best shot quite quickly in which case large format is fine. But on others it might take me a few frames to work out the most pleasing composition or viewpoint - not a problem with 35mm or 6x6 but a bit expensive and time-consuming with sheet film.

It happens too often that I'll be passing a scene and wonder if there might be a photograph there only to keep moving because the thought of stopping, setting up the camera, etc and then realising there isn't puts me off.

The weight is an issue as well. I gave up using the old Mamiya Press outfit I had because I got fed up lugging it around and the Speed Graphic or Kodak Specialist II is the same thing but on steroids. I appreciate that if you want a big neg then it comes with the territory but that doesn't make it any less of a burden.

Then there's developing a single sheet - or maybe a few - at a time. The Mod 54 gadget for using with Paterson developing tanks can enable the photographer to develop six sheets in one go but, failing that, you're really back to tray developing - and what a pain that is! I've got a few sheets of 5x4 that have been sitting in their dark slides for several months awaiting development. I just can't be bothered! (note to self: get the bloody finger out!)

All these complaints are familiar territory for me. I've been here before on a few occasions which is why I've bought, then sold, then bought, sold and bought again the same or similar large format cameras. When I don't have one I think how nice it would be producing big negatives and making technically lovely prints. When I buy one I can never seem to fire up the necessary enthusiasm for some extended use. I normal shoot a few sheets then sort of fall away from it.

I'm tempted to off-load the Speed Graphic and Kodak Specialist, especially with the house move just over five weeks away, but I'm concerned that I'll miss them again and then the search will start to find a replacement.

I've reached a bit of a compromise with myself: I'm going to shoot some 5x7 negatives in the big Kodak and contact print them. If they don't blow my socks off in some way then that'll be it. Sadly, that would mean off-loading the big Durst. Since it's not something that's easy to wrap up and post, I'd probably find it easier to strip it of everything marketable and then ditch the chassis. What a waste - but what's the alternative? If I broke it up it would also fetch around twice what I'd be likely to get if I managed to find a local buyer for it.

There is an answer to all of this and it comes in the shape of the 35mm to 6x9 Leitz IIC. That would comfortably handle both my 35mm and 6x6 negs. I keep searching locally but to no avail so far. What are the chances?

Monday, October 12

Light and intermittent posting

Regular readers will know we've had our house on the market for about ten weeks. Well, we now have a buyer for it and, all going according to plan, will be moving out at the end of November. Our own house hunting has been continuing and it looks like we'll have a property to move into by then but we're in a bit of a chain - not too common in Scotland - so it's not entirely under our control. If it doesn't happen then we'll rent for a few months while we look around.

The upshot of this is that I now have about six weeks to get two garden sheds and half a garage of vintage racing bike parts and frames cleaned, photographed and onto Ebay. It's the same story with a lot of my camera gear and possibly an enlarger or two as I don't want to start off in a new home burdened by a surfeit of stuff. It was fun collecting all these bits and pieces and I've thoroughly enjoyed them but simplifying is the name of the game now. Plus, I have to dismantle the work tops and cupboards in my darkroom and reinstate it to something approaching a normal room.

Unfortunately, I can't plough through all this merchandise and decorating and still write three posts a week here. The biggest problem is that - despite my favourite weather now being here - I'll be struggling to get much camera time. A shortage of pictures usually means a shortage of blog material.

Although I'll still be writing from time to time, the next two or three months will inevitably see the blog updated less frequently. Even once we're ensconced in another home, there will no doubt be much to be done to get it the way we want it - and then I'll have to turn my attention to a darkroom.

As I was discussing with Phil Rogers just the other day, real life has a knack of getting in the way of the important stuff - photography in this case. So please bear with me during this busy period. I'm not quite sure when I'll be back to posting three times a week but I'll get there at some stage.

Monday, October 5

Putting the HP in HP5 Plus

If I could get as much atmosphere in my night shots as they did during the 1940s and '50s, I'd be a happy man. Of course, that would be impossible as a large part of the charm of these old photographs is the time in which they were made.

My late dad, John, learned his photography during this era, making a home-made enlarger and using low grade cameras. Working class life in those days was spartan compared to what we have today. As a result of his interest in photography, I started getting involved, too. He gave me a few pointers and then I just devoured the photography books he had lying around the house.

Thursday, October 1

Leica: Last man standing

Sad news from Stephen Gandy's CameraQuest website via The Online Photographer that Voigtlander - or, at least, the company Cosina formed to continue the name of the famous German marque - has decided to call it a day.

The company has announced that it's ceasing production of its line of film cameras and a variety of related accessories. As Mike Johnston at TOP says, "The move leaves Leica as the sole surviving manufacturer of film rangefinder cameras."

I suppose it's fitting that the company that started the 35mm camera movement should be the one to carry the torch - but for how long, who can say?

Saturday, September 26

But I've no darkroom!

David M.'s week of darkroom related posts must have whetted some printing appetites but I'm sure there will be plenty of people who feel they just can't get started because they've nowhere to set up an enlarger.

It's understandable because temporary arrangements require a lot of dedication - not least because of the work involved in finding a solid surface for the enlarger and enough room to lay out the trays. And then, there's also scanning to fall back on which means that you can still see your photographs blown up to practically any size without having to get your hands wet.

In the middle of the last century, scanning obviously wasn't an option. Unless you could afford to pay someone to produce enlargements from your negatives then you had to do it yourself. That provided a level of motivation that's missing amongst many film photographers today.

Another wee magazine I found whilst packing stuff away in the darkroom is Photoguide from 1951. The article "No Darkroom At All" caught my eye. Reading it showed some remarkable dedication by the author in producing prints for publication and competition mainly during the darkness of winter nights.

Is this sort of approach viable today? For most frustrated darkroom workers the answer is probably no. Modern life isn't like it was back in 1951 - aside from anything else I doubt many men would be able to continue their printing in the dining room whilst their wives did the washing up!

But putting aside the different roles performed by the sexes in the good old days*, it might still be possible for some people to gain encouragement from this man's determination to do some printing. If that means that a few readers decide to follow his example then reprinting this article will have been worthwhile.



Last month we showed how it was possible to make contact prints with the aid of a special work-bench even if you have no darkroom. Now here is a solution of the more difficult problem of making enlargements.

Do you really mean to tell me that you are tied to the D. and P. man because you have no darkroom? That although you might manage to develop a film or two in your bathroom, you couldn't possibly make an enlargement?

Come, now, let me disillusion you. I have been doing serious photography for at least twenty-five years. During this period, I have not only developed more than 5000 negatives of all sizes from 35 mm. to quarter-plate, but I have made hundreds of enlargements. Many have been published. Some have won prizes in competitions. Some have been hung in exhibitions and reproduced in books. Yet I have never had a darkroom.

How is it done? Why, by the where-there's-a-will-there's-a-way method. And I never use the bathroom, spare bedroom, or cup-board under the stairs, for enlarging. They aren't available. I don't have to tell you how to develop a film because, with a tank, you can do that almost anywhere. It is enlarging which worries you, if you haven't a darkroom.


The first point is that if you haven't a darkroom, you just wait until it is dark. As simple as that! Of course, double summer time was a curse, and I often had to stay up until one a.m., but that's over, thank goodness! The natural effect of this is that, by and large, you do your developing in the summer, in a tank, and your enlarging in the winter.

To enlarge in the summer, you have to get everything ready and start about 10 p.m., staying up late. I enlarge in the dining-room and develop in the kitchen. Yes, the family is a nuisance. Yes, the washing-up has to be done first. Yes, my wife does interrupt me in the middle to get the supper ready. But I manage.

First, I keep my enlarger and my bromide paper in a specially-made cabinet in my bedroom. I begin by carrying these downstairs, which is quite a job, after taking other photographic equipment out of the cabinet so that I can lift the enlarger out. Then I fix my pendulum timing gadget on the side of a bookcase, take my dark-room clock and lamp into the kitchen, and plug the photometer into the enlarger circuit. The enlarger goes on the top of a revolving bookcase. While I am doing this, my wife is clearing the table and washing up, and the children are cleaning their shoes in the kitchen.


Next, I fetch the developing dishes, measures and bottles of solutions in from the garage and park them on the kitchen floor. As my neighbour's kitchen window faces mine, and he seems to spend his evenings practising signalling with his kitchen light, I have to cover my window even when it is dark. I use two large sheets of 5-ply wood (a relic of the black-out), which are kept in the garage. Before it is too dark to see, I stand these on the window-sill outside the kitchen and clip them in position with little screw hooks. These "hooks" are right-angled, not curved, and are screwed into the window frame.

The darkroom lamp goes on the washing machine, the clock on the window edge, the hypo dish on the floor. By its side I put a dish of water. I develop on a corner of the draining board. I am lucky in having a service hatch from kitchen to dining-room. The orange light in the kitchen enables me to grope my way across the dining-room and switch the enlarger on, for a little of it comes through the hatch.

Of course, I find and dust the negative with the ceiling light on, but once it is in the enlarger, out goes the ceiling light until the print is developed, and there is no darkroom lamp in the dining-room. I draw the curtains close. When I have made the exposure, I place the paper on the flap of the hatch, walk into the hall, close the door, then walk into the kitchen, lift the print through the hatch and develop and fix it. In case of interruptions, I have a cardboard light-tight bromide-paper box of proprietary make which will hold prints while lights are on.


When supper time comes, I shut the hatch and continue enlarging in the dining-room, while my wife does her stuff in the kitchen. Prints go into the light-tight box, to be developed when I have had my cup of tea and sandwich in the lounge. The essence of this system is my discovery that you can leave bromide prints all night in water, unwashed, without damage.

I choose week-ends for enlarging. When I have made the last print, the dining-room table is quickly cleared while the prints are in hypo. (Incidentally, I do not move them or use two baths of hypo.) The enlarger stays on its bookcase all night. Dishes go on to the hall floor until morning. The prints are put into water in a dish and covered with another dish, inverted. 1 generally leave them on the kitchen floor until I get up next morning.

Next day the shutters come down and the dish containing prints goes upstairs and lies in the bath till I am ready to deal with it, after breakfast. Later, the enlarger has to be carted upstairs, timers, dark-room lamp, solutions and measures put away, and the print washer fetched from the garage.


I did have trouble with washing prints. I used to put the washer in the kitchen sink when I thought my wife had finished. But she seemed to live at that sink, and sometimes I had to wait all day. We were both patient! Now I use the bath for washing prints. The washer stands in it and I attach a very long piece of rubber tubing to the tap on the hand basin. The bath tap is too large.

Having worked like this for some twenty years, I can assure you that: 1. No harm comes to your prints if they are left in water, unwashed, even for 24 hours. They must be washed eventually, of course. 2. No stop bath or hardener is necessary. 3. You can put three prints into acid hypo on the top of one another. When you add a fourth, put it at the bottom and remove the top one into a dish of plain water. You will only get staining if you accidentally leave part of one of the prints sticking out of the hypo, exposed to the air.


When they are washed, I blot the prints with photographic blotting paper and hang them to dry on strings fixed round the kitchen walls. My wife uses these to dry socks and dusters on. I generally have to clear these away to make room for my photographs, although they were my idea! I use little metal clips to hold them.

Finally, I straighten the prints by pulling them across the edge of the dining-room table, and flatten them in a book with a typewriter standing on it. Dare you really tell me, now, that you can't do your own enlarging because you haven't a darkroom? I shan't believe you, if you do! 

* Better than a society run by radical feminists anyway!

Friday, September 25

A Week With David M. - Part Five

Reader, What Next?

by David M.

My 5x4 De Vere took pride of place but, yet again, I had two enlargers.

In those days, I went to quite a few workshops (not the current crop of sure-fire tripod-hole tours, but inspirational immersion in photography) so I packed the Vivitar in the boot as I set off for Derbyshire. Happily, the designers had made it very easy to dismantle.

Someone at the workshop was starting a photographic centre in Cornwall, and they were happy to take it away. Now I could be alone with The One, my True Love among enlargers. Have we lived happily ever after? Would I be writing this if we had?

Thursday, September 24

A Week With David M. - Part Four

Really Real Photography

by David M.

The f64 group began to interest me; I’d assembled all the 35mm lenses that I needed. I could make 20x16” prints with comparative ease and I had dabbled in colour printing. Where could I go next?

I’d borrowed an MPP from a friend for a day and liked it. Watching the out-of-focus areas on the ground glass was so entrancing that I very nearly didn’t bother to click the shutter. We didn’t know it was called bokeh in those days.

Wednesday, September 23

A Week With David M. - Part Three


by David M.

Today, it’s hard to imagine the exotic lure of colour, when every print is coloured and monochrome is confined to dedicated weirdoes (almost certainly with beards or even sandals) or imitated by enthusiastic owners of EfexPro.

My gigantic, earthquake-proof MPP enlarger was built for black and white. If I wanted colour, it had to be a new enlarger. No kindly donor needing to liberate space in the garage came forward and I had to contemplate the prospect of paying money for it.

Tuesday, September 22

A Week With David M. - Part Two

The Monster

by David M.

We moved to a bigger house with a spare bedroom and at last I could have a stand-up darkroom, next door to the bathroom. My knees were delighted.

Now that I was a member of a Camera Club, I could see other people’s work and try to emulate it. At the time, soot-and-whitewash was very fashionable and grain was particularly esteemed. I began to push Tri-X beyond all reason. It’s what we did.