The Online Darkroom Store

Friday, April 21

Shedding light on the darkroom

Darkroom sink in need of a wash

If anyone out there still gives a toss, then you might not be surprised to learn that I'm no nearer getting my darkroom up and running - but it's not all my fault. In fact, I'm taking a step backwards to, hopefully, make a few giant leaps forwards. The last time I wrote about it, I'd fitted out the small room I'd created for a darkroom and just needed to find/build a sink and plumb it in to be operational.

Then there was a development. Our 18-year-old daughter, Freya, who occupies a bedroom that is about 25ftx12ft, got her first proper job at a bank and decided she wanted to move into her own flat. Freya and her two older brothers are very independent people and I knew there was little point in trying to talk her out of it despite my misgivings. In my opinion she's far too young. I suppose I'd naively thought she'd still be around to make me chicken soup when I was a gibbering, dribbling geriatric. It's not like it's too far off.

So I thought I'd make the best of it instead and divide her bedroom into two - one half would be a study and the other half a darkroom. No way was I going to leave a large room as a spare bedroom only inhabited once or twice a year. Then Freya exercised her prerogative and decided she would, after all, be staying.

However, she thought dividing the room up was a good idea even though it would mean her moving to a smaller bedroom. Her thinking was that I'd redecorate the spare room for her and she'd be able to furnish it as she fancied. I said to her, "So you only decided to remain at home because you would get a new bedroom?" She replied, "No, I'd miss the dogs as well." I now know my place. Freya has been safely decanted to the spare room upstairs (I wanted to send her to the dungeon but Cath said that was unduly cruel) although we've got so much going on in the house right now that she'll have to wait for redecoration.

When we moved into this house 18 months ago, it was in good decorative order but it was very dated.  We've slowly been doing it up but the downstairs bathroom and a wee en-suite shower room off our bedroom are now in the firing line and we have a plumber coming soon to start on them. I've got the great job now of knocking all the tiles off the bathroom wall. It's been made easier since I stuck pictures of Nicola Sturgeon onto each tile. For some reason battering that face with a heavy chisel is no great problem for me.

So the bad news is that my darkroom is further away than ever but the good news is that it will also be bigger than ever - around 12ftx10ft. And, since the bedroom already had a vanity unit with a sink, plumbing in a sink will be straightforward. AND, I picked up a fibreglass sink that the local art college was throwing out so I'll not have to build one. That's it above. We've had an estimate from a joiner for building a partition wall and that should hopefully be going ahead in the next few weeks.

The "wet side".

The "dry side".

Wet side with sink placed roughly in position.

A view of what will be the darkroom from the other half of the room that will
eventually become a study. A partition wall will be built along the line marked
by the end of the wardrobe seen on the left.

The darkroom sink is a monster - 2.84m long and 60cm wide. I'll be able to sit three trays, a print washer and a drying rack in there with room to spare. It's on the deep side, though, so I might have to cut away the front a little to make it easier to get at the trays or use some duck boards to raise them up. To be honest, I'd have preferred something smaller - around 6 ft long would have been ideal. As it is, the sink will occupy almost an entire wall of the darkroom. I think there will be two feet to spare.

There will be plenty of room for enlargers, a print dryer, lightbox and all my camera gear. Things like spotting and mounting prints will be done in the study. It should be a great space that's big enough without being too big. I was toying with the idea of setting up a webcam so that people could see me working in the darkroom. Then I realised that would mean me having to be on my best behaviour at all times in case I was caught on camera singing salty sea shanties or making up obscene limericks. 'Twas on the good ship Venus, etc.

I can't actually believe how long it's been since I last printed. For some people it doesn't make much difference how long they've been away: it's like riding a bike to them. Not with me, though. My last consistent, regular printing sessions were about 12 years ago. That's when I'd disappear into the darkroom for five or six hours at a time. I've printed a bit since then but getting a feel for it will be like relearning the craft. It's probably true - it is for me anyway - that it takes people longer to learn things with each passing year.

Still, no matter. I'm really looking forward to trying to make something of the negatives I've been accumulating beyond just scanning them for the blog.

Now, where did I put those chicken soup recipes?


David Smith said...

Most delighted to see that you still think in Imperial measure, even though you do slip into the Metric foolishness.

Bruce Robbins said...

I'll be winding down the Metric stuff as we approach March 29, 2019, David. It was great, from my point of view, that Article 50 was triggered on my birthday - the same date as Norman Tebbit and, sadly, John Major.

Nasir said...

Please keep us updated on the progress. I'm in the very early stages of planning my own darkroom but it will have to be in its own shed/outbuilding because there's not enough space in my house. I've been thinking about 3m x 3m but can't decide whether having a square is a good idea.

Bruce Robbins said...


Sheds can work well. Have you seen this FADU article?

slackercruster said...

I have not been following your darkroom threads. But if you had no darkroom how have you been doing your photos for the last few months?

Regarding your daughters room...that is a nice size $2000 a month apt in NYC!

Herman Sheephouse said...

I am so glad that that sink has got some love again - it's a biggun isn't it. You should have told folks that the art college has gone all modern and nothing wet is now considered for photography.
You might also be surprised to hear that the sink is a mere baby and that the actual BIG darkroom sinks from the main DOJCA darkrooms were even bigger and deeper - Joe once caught some students having a bath in one of them . . they were that big and deep.
Anyway Bruce, progress is progress and this looks like progress to me - you'll get there and really, I reckon you'll find printing like that legendary bike skill - you'll be straight back into it.

Bruce Robbins said...

Sadly, just about every image you've seen on the blog for the last couple of years has been a scan of a negative. :(. That will hopefully change. :)

Bruce Robbins said...

Like the bath story, Phil. I can see this becoming the dogs' bath as well now! Perfect height, taps with hose to rinse them off and bottles of bleach handy to keep their coats nice and white...

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed seeing your pictures over the past few months, from scanned negatives, also reading your discussions of them, all of interest to me, and I look forward to seeing images of your scanned prints. Better still, of course, would be seeing an actual print. However, we're across the world from one another. When you're up and running, perhaps you could offer one of your prints for sale. Bill/Colorado Springs, Colorado USA

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks Bill. I have been thinking of offering prints as I get inquiries now and again. I'll maybe get myself sorted out in that regard by late summer.

DavidM said...

Just when you've got so good at scanning negs, you embark on a new and risky venture. Congratulations anyway. I'm looking forward to seeing the results of developing in Chickensoupoline. Is it true that it cures everything?
I'm not looking forward to jugs and quarts and fluid ounces. Presumably you'll be weighing things in Avoirdupois. Remember, the Troy ounce is different. Remember that "a pint's a pound, the world around" except that, around the world, it isn't. Have fun.
I'm wondering what units of measurement you'll be using after Caledonia becomes a free and independent state. It might only take a couple of referenda to swing it...

Bruce Robbins said...

You forgot grains. That'll be my unit of measurement. :)
Re independence: I suppose it will be the usual approach of the SNP government asking the question over and over until it gets the answer it wants.

tjen dezutter said...

12 years is a bloody long time for not talking in a way like :"hello darkness my old friend I come to talk with you again " (remember the lyrics?)For me it is more than 1 year . Sometimes I hear the photopaper calling : hey let me out - use me ! "
Having the Epson V600 is not a form of richness-'s more creative poverty ....Now I'm using my darkroom also for a new world that's going open for me ... Photo transfer and acryl painting ...Oh yes sometimes it was easier to stay in the normal job and not being one of those early aged pensioners who will tasting from this and tasting from that .... Oh lord what a shame to have such big range of creative fruits to taste , I can't survive them all .... Do I ?
greetings from the other side of the CHANNEL xxxx

DavidM said...

Scruples and drachms? Perhaps timing by as long as it takes to say the "Ave" three times, leisurely?
You are probably in for a referendum a week until you get it right. Then you'll have to pay for another Wall, as Hadrian's excellent effort is a bit too south. Or will the Peoples's Chieftainess claim everything north of Housesteads – Carlisle to Wallsend??
This must be gibberish to anyone outside the UK.

Bruce Robbins said...

As possibly the only Scottish Little Englander, I don't think the wall is far enough south. The Jurassic Coast would be a good spot if there's any rebuilding to be done.

Bruce Robbins said...


You're going to be very busy by the sound of it. Don't forget to vote. :)

DavidM said...

I've just looked at the Garden Shed darkroom. Seen it before but it's still excellent – an example to us all. And he gets to play with a Big Yellow Digger, too. Then I looked at your wonderful darkroom sink. A pity to cut away that nice rigid front edge. Would it be better to put in a relatively tall rack to give you a more comfortable way to work? This would give you a good reserve of space for spills and help to avoid cross contamination. A simple construction of 2"x1" perhaps?
You could even fit spacers and suchlike if you wanted. Naturally, print washers and suchlike could sit directly on the base.
(Note the Imperial measurements!)

DavidM said...

I've just been re-reading your previous post about getting back into the darkroom and re-learning the craft. I'm pretty sure that you won't have forgotten the mechanics. After all, if you can make a decent cup of tea, you have all the physical skills needed to make a print. Making a decent cup of tea is not as common as it should be.
What you might find is that your idea of what a good print looks like may have changed. Firstly, you are a little bit older and much, much wiser. Secondly, your main source of images has been a luminous screen rather than a paper print, held in the hand. This is probably the same for the rest of us, too.
Looking intelligently is the critical and difficult part of printing. It will be interesting to see what changes emerge. Best of luck.
I take that back; you won't need luck. Everything will be fine.

Bruce Robbins said...

Nail, head and hammer spring to mind, David! I read your comment carefully and could see that you are dead right in your assessment of my printing "abilities". Before the internet, the only images I saw were those I made myself, others at the local camera club and those presented by visiting lecturers and book reproductions (for better of worse). None of them were backlit! Seeing real prints gets a person used to seeing a normal density range in a way that viewing images on a screen doesn't.

If I take a photograph, scan the negative and get it looking just right in Photoshop - the software side comes very naturally to me for some reason - it's impossible to replicate that look in the darkroom. A good print will get close but it can't have the inner glow. I think I had been suffering from a general dissatisfaction when comparing darkroom prints and on-screen Photoshopped images. I think I'll be going back to basics when I'm up and running in the darkroom again. Base the print exposure on the highlights and select the grade to get the shadows right - but do it all without scanning the buggers first!

DavidM said...

Here's something that's floated up from the pond of my mind.
I knew a thoughtful photographer who believed that colour negatives produced better all-round results than transparencies. He devised a demonstration where he showed a print and a transparency, both 10x8, in a special lighting unit. The trannie was back-lit as you'd expect and the print was lit by concealed lighting of the same colour temperature. He could control both sources independently.
Then he showed this to viewers and asked them to choose which was which. By manipulating the light levels, he could make viewers believe that the print was the trannie. Interesting, eh?
There is a similar exercise in one of Saint A's books, but its intention was different.
He set up a print in a darkened room and lit it by a lamp controlled by "a rheostat" – a dimmer – set to a middle value. He would suddenly increase or decrease the lighting and ask his students if the print was made better or worse. It had to be a sudden change, because the eye accommodates so quickly.
If the print improved with brighter light, then it should have been printed on a higher grade of paper and vice versa.
I think we can see how this works, by changing the apparent brightness-range of a print.
Food for thought, perhaps...

Herman Sheephouse said...

Joe McKenzie semi-insisted on mounted prints on a lightish grey-toned board (rather than the standard buff or white) because he felt that it always lifted prints. I think he was sort of right - white mounts seemed to make a print a bit 'duller' whereas if the eye is registering grey already . . .
You get a similar effect if painting a sample pot on a different coloured wall for decorative testing purposes. The pot never looks the same painted on the wall. Definite food for thought.