Into the DarkroomPosted: July 9, 2015
We finally moved to the second part of my son’s photography project – printing photos the old-fashioned way. We’re lucky to have a large laundry room with some kitchen counters (we had a temporary kitchen down there while remodeling our kitchen a few years ago), so it makes a great darkroom. There were only a couple of small windows to black out with plastic garbage bags and duct tape. There were a couple of ceiling light fixtures in which we could replace the bulbs with my old safelights. There were even two separate sections of counter so we could have a dry area for the enlarger and a wet area for the trays, which was very near the laundry sink. In the sink we rigged up a makeshift print washer by simply setting a very large developing tray on top of the sink, running water into it and letting it run over into the sink.
We started out by making contact prints of his two rolls of film one evening. I had some very old photo paper left from the last time I worked in the darkroom, probably 15 years ago or more. Turns out that unexposed photo paper doesn’t last forever! The pack of 8×10 Kodak RC paper came out really dark with hardly any contrast, as if it had been fogged. I had a pack of Illford 5×7 paper that fared better, so we were able to piece together contact prints of all of the negs using several sheets of that. I ordered a new pack of Illford 8×10 gloss RC paper and we looked at the contact prints for a few days while waiting for that to arrive.
He settled on a couple of images that he wanted to enlarge, and we got to work. I had forgotten most of what I used to know about chemicals and the timing of developer, stop bath, fixer, washing, etc, so we had to do some research, but it all went pretty smoothly. We spent a few hours in there to get good prints of two images, but they turned out great. The negs seemed a little low on contrast, so we used a fairly high polycontrast filter to boost the contrast of the images.
The first photo we printed was a close-up of a moss-covered tree with a blurred background of a small stream, shot in the Cascade mountains. We did a test strip to figure out the exposure time, and he decided he liked a pretty dark exposure. That print went pretty quickly and we had a nice final print in just a couple tries. I helped him set up the enlarger and focus, then he exposed the print, and I ran the timer while he worked the print through the developing, stop bath, and fixer trays, and into the wash tray.
The second one took a little longer to get the way we wanted it. It is an image of Pike Place market, with sky at the top and the market below. He liked the high-contrast look we got using the polycontrast filter in the enlarger, but it resulted in a washed-out sky when we got the exposure correct on the lower part of the image. This gave me a great opportunity to teach him about dodging and burning. We burned in the sky by exposing it for a few extra seconds while I dodged the bottom part of the image, and the building canopy at the right edge. A few tries and we had a very nice print.
He entered both photos in the 4H art competition at our county fair, and took home a purple ribbon for the Pike Place photo. Being in 4H is what prompted him to do this project in the first place — he thought it’d be a fun project to enter at the fair. Since he won a purple ribbon, he gets to exhibit it at the Minnesota State Fair at the end of the summer!
Aside: Even though the 4H building isn’t one of the most visited parts of the Minnesota State Fair, the fair itself is pretty huge — last year’s total attendance over the twelve days of the fair was 1,824,830 people! Yes, 1.8 million people. It’s a big fair. So I think it’s a pretty big deal that he gets to show a photo there.
I think the print turned out great:
It was a lot of fun, and now that I have some fresh paper and chemicals, I should get back in there and print a few of my own negs. A true silver-gelatin print is a beautiful thing!