Darkroom Technique and Discipline

Discussion in 'Darkroom Equipment' started by Kino, Feb 26, 2006.

  1. Kino

    Kino Subscriber

    Jan 20, 2006
    Multi Format
    Having just hurriedly cranked-off a couple of rolls of film and sheet so paper in my newly launched darkroom, I was acutely aware that I had not properly established my routines and had to fumble around in frustration, trying to get my information in place.

    It made me wonder just what everyone else does to keep themselves on-track and within tolerances?

    How do you speed up the process and maintain precision?

    Do you mark up your graduates with color coded notations for various processes, tanks, trays, etc.?

    Do you have index cards?

    Do you routinely test each box of paper for fog?

    How do you record your depletion of chemistry or is it all one-shot to be sure?

    How much pre-planning/setup VS execution time do you use or need?

    In a nutshell, how do you operate?

    I know thats a lot to ask...
  2. Clueless

    Clueless Member

    Dec 6, 2004
    Multi Format
    I always bring my secretary in (to take notes); when she's not available I just read her notes.
  3. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

    Apr 24, 2005
    Delta, BC, Canada
    Multi Format

    This is a good question, but may be difficult to deal with in this distance-based forum.

    I have worked in a variety of darkrooms - from a dedicated darkroom in my family's basement, to school darkrooms, to newspaper darkrooms with a large number of photographers (many of whom drank a lot more whiskey than I ever will), to professional colour labs, to ...

    Each situation required its own approach.

    What always assisted me was a methodical approach, and keeping notes.

    I like to combine visualization of the process, with the setup, cleanup, and shutdown procedures. Those procedures are usually done in the light, so you can see where things are, and where they go.

    I try to orient those things that move in the same way each time.

    Even where safelights are available, if you can develop a habitual procedure, you can work by touch, and by memory.

    Do not despair if you have initial difficulties - just make sure that you learn from them.

    If you run into problems, try to re-enact them in the light.

    If you run into problems, experiment with different layouts and procedures. Don't follow slavishly the procedures of others. Try alternatives that may be better suited to you. As an example, if like me you are left handed, and receive advice from someone who is right handed, try working in the other direction.

    Embrace patience - in general, once you develop your own routine, everything will proceed more smoothly.

    Embrace flexibility - once you develop your own routine, don't be afraid to fine tune it or try something really different (just keep notes!).

    You are just starting out - work slowly, observe carefully, and record those observations.

    If you have a chance to work with someone else who has more experience, take advantage of that chance, but be careful to remain flexible and open-minded after.

    Most important of all - have fun!!!!

    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 26, 2006
  4. argus

    argus Member

    Dec 14, 2004
    Multi Format
    How one operates is not that important, more important is that you stick to a workflow that suits you.
    I have my darkroom for over 1 year, so please call me a novice. I used to mess around in the begining but finally I am at a stage where everything is better in sequence.
    Preplanning and setup don't take long because I have a dedicated darkroom.

    I make notes on the back of the prints I make. If the print is lost, so is the note but keeping index cards adds the difficulty of finding them back.

    Graduates are mixed over various solutions. That should not be a problem if you clean them between uses.
    Tanks are labelled with permament ink and they never see another solution than the one marked.
    Dedicated coloured trays are usefull: I had to change the working direction from left > right to right > left once, and I really had to make attention to put the exposed paper in the white tray (dev) and not running to the other end of the table as I used to do in the months before.

    fresh developer for fiber, RC mostly sees re-used developer. The stop-bath has a color indicator, so it's rather obvious when it's exhausted. Fixer is dedicated: on bottle for film (smaller dillution) and another for paper and I label them to record use times.

    Contact proof prints (35mm, MF or LF) are always made from the same light source to paper distance so I have a good indication on the final exposure times.

    There must be a zillion ways to organise your workflow and everybody will have his/her own personal view on it.
    Again and most important: if you have a method that suits you, stick to it. Repeatability in the workflow will speed up the process. It is more likely that you will be able to locate errors and easier to correct them.

    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 26, 2006
  5. Nige

    Nige Subscriber

    Sep 8, 2002
    Multi Format
    I recently added a whiteboard to my darkroom and have written all my 'need to know' bits if info on it. I took a picture of it in case someone decided to clean it, although I think it's time for a re-write!

    Attached Files:

  6. NikoSperi

    NikoSperi Member

    Mar 2, 2004
    Multi Format
    Continuously repeat to myself, "Close the paper box, THEN expose the print... close the paper box, THEN..." :tongue:

    Actually, I put up a cork bulletin board, originally to hold the paper to in the misguided and over ambitious attempt to do some horizontal enlarging... When that idea went out the window, it quickly became the posting area of:
    Paper speeds, contact sheet exposures for max black, and all calculated dilutions for my trays.

    I keep trying to get in the habit of writing the exposure on the back of the print, but for some reason I keep remembering to do it after it soaks in the developer. As a result, the wall next to the enlarger has many scribbles - which are of no record-keeping use of course.

    I also have My Less Massive Development Chart from DigitalHalfTruths - a collection of times, speeds, devs, dilutions whatnot of films I've more or less ruined in my brief history as a self-taught B&W hack. I should print it off my computer before IT dies and I have to start from scratch, although I'm convinced that might not be a bad thing.

    Enough rambling... short answer: YES - I write down memos in the darkroom.
  7. noseoil

    noseoil Member

    Oct 6, 2003
    Multi Format
    I've streamiled my system to try to simplify things as best I can. Too many variables can cause trouble and lead to mistakes.

    Take notes! If you take notes first, then use them to evaluate things after the work is done, you have all the feedback necessary to learn rapidly. If you don't know exactly what you did, how can you know what to fix when results go south?

    Be consistent! Use your methods and refine them to an easy work flow. Don't try changing too many things at once as it can lead to confusion and mistakes. Do each step well.

    I use a "white board" approach as well. If you scribble down the steps as you go, you don't have to rely on memory when doing multiple prints, developments, etc. tim
  8. Mark Fisher

    Mark Fisher Subscriber

    Dec 13, 2003
    Medium Format
    I am a relative beginner, but here are a few things I do...
    Write the name and mixing date for the solutions
    Use all solutions as one shot (except film fixer)
    Write down all printing information in a note book
    Write down pertinent test strip info (time steps, lens aperture, grade) on the back of the print
    Set up everything in exactly the same place every time
    Self closing paper safe (!)
    Two wall mounted file holders (clear plastic like the ones outside of a doctors examining room) to keep negatives and proof sheets. One contains ones I need to work on and the other has ones I am finished with.
    Wall mounted timer to keep it off the counter (my darkroom is tiny)
    A convenient string pull incandescent light near my trays

    I love the white board idea.........
  9. jeroldharter

    jeroldharter Member

    Nov 6, 2005
    4x5 Format
    I have been doing B&W darkroom work for just over 1 year consistently. I am busy otherwise, so I am in the darkroom infrequently but intensely. I am just getting to the point at which I feel organized. I try to keep everything simple.

    I experimented with various papers and developers to find the combination that I liked best. I try to use only liquid chemicals (except for Zone VI paper developer). I use only one shot chemistry when possible. I have adopted the single tray method for processing the prints. I try to mix the same volumes of chemistry every time so I have a laminated sheet of paper with all of the mixing volumes e.g. 3 oz PermaWash/Gallon and 4.5 oz PermaWash/1.5 Gallons. I mix the chemistry in the same 2 gallon Doran containers (with floating lids) that I use for pouring chemistry back and forth in the single tray method. The chemistry for prints will last for the weekend and then I discard. I try to avoid keeping a bunch of bottles of mixed chemistry around, never knowing if it has expired, keeping track of its capacity, etc.

    I also have a laminated sheet with my processing sequences to program the process timer. I process the paper through washing and then do selenium toning at a later session because of time time constraints.

    I find a Jobo MiniLux on a lanyard around my neck helpful for adjusting dials and writing notes. I never take enough notes but I do keep a printing log. I have a form that is an Excel file adapted from various books etc for diagramming dodges, burns, exposure times, enlarger height, etc. If I process film (4x5 TMAX 100) I try to get everything ready the night before such as filling up the CPP-2 with water and mixing chemistry.

    I try to keep the darkroom clean and as dust free as possible. I have a central vacuum system which is very nice for the darkroom. I bought a used mini-air compressor and use that to film loading dusting off negative carriers. I cut mat board in a separate room because I think that generates alot of dust that needn't be in a darkroom.
  10. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

    Jan 16, 2006
    Chillicothe MO
    Multi Format
    I record printing notes on the negative container so it is always available when printing.
  11. jp80874

    jp80874 Member

    Jul 28, 2004
    Bath, OH 442
    ULarge Format

    Perhaps a long walk or several small walks through the "Darkroom Portraits" thread would be useful. At this writing there are 252 posts and 36,737 views, so someone likes it. http://www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=10966&highlight=darkroom+portraits
    Read and see what others are doing. Compare what you know of your process to what you see of others. It has helped me pick up several good ideas and make some useful changes. Hope it works for you.

    John Powers