Skip to main content

My basement darkroom

In my cellar I have a small half bath that is never used. I recently decided that it would make a suitable location for a small darkroom space. With a little preparation I was soon back into developing my own images.

The nice thing about this particular space in my house is that it naturally resides in darkness. Being in the cellar there are no windows to worry about. What little light leakage there was, like around the door and in one small corner, was easily remedied with minor alterations. Another nice feature about this setup is that I have ready access to running water. A necessity for rinsing between development baths. I'll write more about that in a separate article.

My decision for setting up a darkroom came about out of necessity for developing some new direct positive paper from Galaxy Paper, a Kickstarter campaign I had supported. For my support I received a package of 25 sheets of 4x5 paper and the required chemicals to develop them. Now that I had the space it was time to do some shopping.

I have been planning on eventually doing something with my 4x5 so i had already collected a few film holders. They are the typical double sided holders with the removeable dark slides you often see shown in the movies whenever they portray a photographer in a period piece. From experience I knew I would need to get a couple more things.

I purchased a used GraLab timer off eBay (one of my favorite sources for stuff) for about $30. You can see it hanging on the wall in these photos. Once mixed, the chemicals would need to be stored in a light blocking container. I visited my good friend Jesse at Milford Photo and he was able to hook me up with four of them. The last stop was at the local Wal-Mart for the remainder of the needed materials. I dragged my buddy Xavier with me.

Since I am looking to only develop 4x5 prints I knew I did not need large developing trays. After some browsing it was Xavier who suggested getting one of those plastic desktop drawer storage systems. It was brilliant. I found one with four drawers that are roughly 5x7. They are perfect for my needs. A quick walk through the kitchen utensil isle and I had four tongs, a litre measure and a 5oz measure. I also picked up a small kitchen thermometer for checking water temperature. All that for under $30. Not bad. Here is a clearer picture of my setup. The only thing missing is the roll of paper towels for cleanup.

Another fortunate thing about this bathroom that worked in my favor was that it came equipped with two lights. The ceiling light is actually an exhaust fan which I left as the main light. The second light is over the sink, above the mirror. I changed the bulb to a red safety light so I could work in the dark without exposing my papers. I just have to make sure I don't accidently back into the light switch as I'm working.

As you can tell by this photo, the bathroom is really small. I was able to get a piece of scrap lumber, an old particle board shelf, to use as a work table. I mounted a support on one wall and rested the other end on the toilet. Instant work table. I can easily transport photos from the trays to the rinse station in the sink without effort.

Having a mirror over the sink is also nice as I can throw the wet prints onto the glass to view and dry. Wet paper sticks to glass really well. When I'm done developing I turn my main light on and admire my work.

I'm still playing with the photo paper. Once I'm comfortable with this new workflow I'll write about some of my analog experiences in future articles. In the meantime I hope this is of interest and maybe spur you into trying your hand at more traditional photographic processes.

Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below. I'd love to hear what you have to say.


Most Popular Posts

Large DIY Diffusion Scrim

One of the most commonly used tools in my photographic arsenal is the all purpose diffusion screen . I use it to soften light, create gradients and light fields or as a background. One of my current favorites is a metal framed 4' x 4' foot scrim with thick white artificial silk made by Matthews. I didn't think I would use it so much, being so large, but having borrowed it from a friend I really came to love it. The downside for me is the price. At just over $100 I couldn't really justify the cost, considering I want at least two of them. Time for a DIY alternative.

DIY Softbox Storage Hanger

If you own a softbox, or two, you understand how bulky and unwieldy they can be. Imagine owning several in different sizes. Storage becomes an issue. One solution is to break them down and store them flat, but that becomes a pain after the first few times struggling to put one of these things together. It is more convenient to just grab one "off the shelf" and go to work. Allocating shelf space seems like such a waste of valuable storage space. In my case I have two square softboxes, three striplights and soon two more rectangular ones. That's a lot of real estate. Time to come up with a storage solution that doesn't require floor space or shelf space. The solution I came up with is a compromise of an idea I originally had of hanging them from the ceiling on pulleys so they would be out of the way until needed. I still like that idea, but for now I will be suspending them from a wire rack shelf system in my studio. Here is what the system looks like.

Don Julio - Hero Shot

For starters, a hero shot is one in which the product is showcased in all its splendor. Careful attention is placed on making the product look its very best. For this shot of Don Julio I knew I wanted to give the bottle some majesty by photographing it from a low angle. That low angle makes the bottle look tall, towering over the viewer and creating a position of dominance. Can't you hear the choir of angels singing in the background? I also knew that I wanted a rich, moody image with lots of darks. I am partial to darker images, which is surprising to most people because the majority of the work I do are images on white backgrounds. But that's another story. I also tried a lifestyle type shot with glasses and lime slices but I wasn't feeling it and ended up scrapping it. Again, that's another story.

Observations on composition - Pieter Bruegel

In this article I am reprinting a critique I published on regarding the painting entitled ' Census at Bethlehem ' by famed painter Pieter Bruegel , who was born in what is now the Netherlands in the 1520s. The first point I would like to say is that you first need to consider both the medium and the time frame of this painting. Being a painting, the artist has a certain advantage of being able to carefully direct the large amount of content presented to the viewer, unlike, say, a photo of opportunity of the street photographer (I strongly believe Pieter would have been the 'street photographer' of his time). Even a studio photographer, with the luxury of space and time, would have a hard time justifying creating such a complex composition. Where you would see this type of visual composition today would be in modern cinema. In particular, period pieces that rely on background elements to "sell the era" .  Secondly, the era in which thi