View Full Version : Contact prints without a darkroom?

Calamity Jane
3-Feb-2005, 14:05
Every year I spend 4 days at a large "agricultural fair", compete with pioneer village, rodeo, sawmill, and all sorts of things reminiscent of the early 1900s. Over the past 15 years, I have run steam engines, exhibited the 1/2 scale steam threshing outfit that I built, and last year I took my 4x5 wooden camera, dressed in period clothing, and made like a 1900's photographer. I have to say that doing "old fashioned photography" attracted a LOT of attention from the tourists.

Unfortunately, the pioneer village does not include a photographer's studio (or darkroom) but I have been thinking of a way to take peoples pictures and offer them a 4x5 contact print later the same day.

I can load and unload film holders in a dark tent in my motorhome (old school bus) and I can load my Combi-Plan in the dark tent and develop B&W film. I can make a contact printing frame but . . .

What I haven't figured out is how to expose the contact print without an enlarger (as a light source) and how to develop the paper without a darkroom. I am used to watching prints develop and judging the development time by eye.

Does anybody have any ideas how I could produce B&W contact prints "in the field"?

Thanks gang!

Erik Gould
3-Feb-2005, 14:10
You could use POP paper. Expose with sunlight or UV lamp and then tone and fix later. Very beautiful stuff.
http://www.albumenworks.com/ (http://www.albumenworks.com/)

Calamity Jane
3-Feb-2005, 14:22

That's BEAUTIFUL! I love the prints.

This I will have to study some more!


3-Feb-2005, 14:24
A small light bulb is enough to expose the paper. Either very low wattage or put the thing far away from the paper. 15watts wouldn't be too small. For developing drums. You won't be able to watch the print but light tight drums don't need a darkroom. The same drums often used for colour work.

Erik Gould
3-Feb-2005, 14:31
As to POP, I just have to add that there is nothing like setting up a few print frames in the sun and then taking a little snooze while they expose! Tough to go back to darkroom work after that.

Ralph Barker
3-Feb-2005, 14:34
How about . . . a Conestoga darkwagon that you could tow behind your school bus? ;-)

POP is probably the easiest solution, but you could probably do conventional contact prints in the bus by adding black felt curtains to darken the interior. A printing frame, and a small 12v light is all you'd need, well, along with the trays.

Daniel Schmidt
3-Feb-2005, 14:47
Polaroid 56 produces prints that look like they are sepia toned.

Leonard Robertson
3-Feb-2005, 15:36
The "light bulb in a box" contact printer might be useful. I found a couple on eBay - #3870837518 and #3871515912. Once upon a time, every begining darkroom worker had one of these, until they could afford an enlarger. They show up on eBay often, but are hard to search for, since most people don't know what they are and don't know what to call them. As far as developing your prints, could you use your Combi tank, or get one of the cheaper "daylight" sheetfilm developing tanks? I've heard of doubling the capacity of a Combi by placing sheets of film back to back. Might not work with paper, or give uneven development with paper. Unicolor print drums will work for B&W, but if you want to do a lot of prints at one time you may want something that holds more sheets of 4X5 paper. If you are doing this to make money, you may have to use RC paper for the quick wash time. I don't know if there is a sepia toner that works well with RC to give an "old-timey" look. I see packs of 4X5 and 5" wide roll paper on eBay. I would guess these go pretty cheap, since most people want paper big enough to enlarge on. As far as the POP, I have a feeling the next camera you make will be at least a 5X7 if not 8X10. Then you can use POP for your personal work.

3-Feb-2005, 15:39
Those contact printers are designed for contact paper. I've got one and I think it would be too bright with enlarging paper. Maybe I should try it-)

Ted Harris
3-Feb-2005, 15:41
As for the light bulb in a box contact printer .... I have one gathering dust (don't ask how many years since it has been used). Send me a note offlist if you want to borrow it ....


Ellen Stoune Duralia
3-Feb-2005, 15:50
This thread is SO cool! I had no idea!! Somebody hide my credit card quick!!! (How do you make a contact printing frame?) Can I follow you around, Jane, you're an awfully talented girl!

I love what I learn on this forum!

Pete Watkins
3-Feb-2005, 16:04
I would go along with Dan, Polaroid 56 would make life so much easier.

Leonard Robertson
3-Feb-2005, 16:10
I think Nick is right about the printing boxes being designed for slow contact paper. A sheet of some sort of neutral density material or white plexi under the glass might solve this. A rheostat with a low wattage bulb might work, but I think it might give uneven light if dimmed down too much. I'm trying to remember if I have one of these printers in my attic (AKA - the elephant's graveyard of photo gear). I'm not sure I've ever actually used one of these. I guess it is a life experience I should have.

Bob Douglas
3-Feb-2005, 16:13
Calamity Jane,

If you have AC available I'd suggest using a motorized drum like the Jobo. With the jobo and a large drum you could develope multiple prints at once. Additionally the jobo can be used to process the negs. If it's ease of use you're looking for give the Jobo a try. A word of caution. I had bought a one of the smaller Jobos on ebay cause I'm really cheap and lived to regret it. What I really needed was the CPP2 and I mention this because if you want to use the expert drums you'll need the bigger CPA2 or even better the CPP2. The Jobos were upgraded over time to torqueier motors and differnt RPM rates to spin the big drums. So find out the serial number http://www.jobo-usa.com/bulletins/b019.htm (http://www.jobo-usa.com/bulletins/b019.htm) before bidding. http://www.jobo-usa.com/faq/faqfrontpage.htm (http://www.jobo-usa.com/faq/faqfrontpage.htm) A lift kit is worth it's weight in gold!

Good luck,


QT Luong
3-Feb-2005, 18:26
How about using Polaroid P/N ? You hand over immediatly the print to the subject,
and you keep the negative. Drawbacks would be cost and the fact that the optimal
exposure for the print and the neg are different.

Darin Cozine
3-Feb-2005, 18:27
Sounds like a fun adventure.

I was never happy with changing my film holders in a changing bag. So I made a large dark-box which makes it easy to change film or load it into processing drums. I made it using a black plastic storage bin, which made it easy since the lip of the lid made an effective light seal. I cut holes in it, then glued arms from an old changing bag into the holes. Also I store all my processing equipment in it!

Now you sound pretty handy, so you could build a dark-box large enough to hold a paper safe, a contact frame, and 2 or 3 trays of chemicals. Remove the print from the box for the final wash. Expanding on the idea, you could build 2 light sockets into the lid. One for the printing lamp and one for a safelight. Why a safelight? Because you could make a window in it an install a red glass filter used for safelights. That might allow you to develop by inspection.

However, if you really want to stay in period, you should build a dark-tent. Wet-plate photographers used to travel with large tents that were light-tight. They had to develop the plates immediately after exposure.

Calamity Jane
3-Feb-2005, 18:29
Thanks for all the great ideas folks - KEEP 'EM COMIN!

What I have in mind is offering "studio sessions" to the public in the morning, probably against the background of the pioneer village and having 1:1 prints available for pickup late in the afternoon (I can drop them at the General Store for people to claim). The more "old timey" the prints, the more people will want them. The more of the process that people can watch, the more attention it will attract.

I think if I shoot from 9 to 11 and develop between 11 a.m. and 12 and dry film in a warm cabinet, the film would be ready to print after lunch and the prints could be delivered to the store between 2 and 3 p.m. That would leave me time to take "general interest shots" in the afternoon to sell the next day.

I'll have to experiment to work out the timing. The Combi (or maybe 2 of them) would allow me to get thru the developing fairly quickly but a long exposure time for the prints would require a number of contact frames (not necessarily a problem). A UV light is also no problem! I'm sure I could get the bus dark enough for that (though it'll get toasty in the summer sun!).

I think I'll buy some of that POP paper and play with it.

Ralph: I'd LOVE to have a "darkwagon" but I am not prepared to invest THAT much money in a charity event ;-) I will take enough of the proceeds to cover my cost and the museum can keep the balance.

Ellen: How would you feel about being "the photographer's assistant"? Are you busy the last week of July? BAW HAW HA HA!

P.S. In the bus, I'd have AC and non-potable running water - good water has to be brought in by the 5 gallon pail. "On the set" I will have neither electricity nor water.

Maybe I'll make a fake flash pan just for "effect" and to startle the subjects (snicker!)

Tom Perkins
3-Feb-2005, 18:30
I think you could contact print on AZO in low light or in the evenings, with the windows in your bus open. It is slow enough that it will not fog on you if you keep the direct light off. You could expose it with a bulb hanging down from the ceiling, a piece of plate glass and a flat surface. If you don't want to mess with amidol out there you could use dektol, it's a little blue is all. I agree with the polaroid idea as the simplest solution, but AZO is easy to work with, so long as you can figure out how to fix it and wash it. Good luck.

Ellen Stoune Duralia
3-Feb-2005, 18:53
Where in the grand ole' USofA is this shindig taking place? I'll do just about anything for the learning experience!

Uuummmm... that didn't come out right *see Ellen blush* What I mean is that I'd be thrilled to assist even if it means I just get to watch :-D

Paul Fitzgerald
3-Feb-2005, 19:30
Hi there,

If you check ebay, Kodak used to make contact printing machines up to 8X10. It was just a metal box, a contact frame in reverse, with the lights and opal glass inside. You could change it to use 12 volt bulbs or just build one up from wood, not much heat.

For developing, a sheet of dark red plexi over the trays would work like a safe light.

Just a thought.

Donald Qualls
3-Feb-2005, 20:34
If you want to be even more "period" you could underexpose a bit (how much is a matter for testing) and sandwich the dry, finished negative over black velvet in a simple frame to make a faux ambrotype. Scattered light from the developed silver will make the highlights show light against the black backing. I've thought about doing this with a monobath developer and minimum-liquid processer to be able to go dry-to-dry in something like 20 minutes on a push cart, and hand out original "ambrotypes" in a lunch break. My cameras are a little on the new side to look right for Wild West or Civil War reenactors, though -- might have to work on that.

Other authentically period processes (some a little faster than POP) are cyanotype -- cyanotype was the first printing process, predating glass negatives by 20-30 years (it was used for reproducing line drawings and making photograms before there were negatives to print with it) -- albumen, salted paper, or van Dyke, all of which are printing out processes (meaning you can expose the print by eye).

Cyanotype is especially good because of low toxicity (the chemicals are safe for children), and will print out fully in five to ten minutes in full summer sun; only water is needed as developer, and paper can be sensitized ahead of time and kept, at least for a while (there are a couple sources of commercially precoated paper, so the box life must be at least a few weeks), and since it's UV sensitive, you can load the printing frame in a good light as long as the UV is filtered out.

Salted paper is the next simplest, but the sensitized paper doesn't keep as well as cyanotype, and has some sensitivity to blue, so you have to work in safelight; in addition, you need silver nitrate solution to sensitize the pre-salted paper, and fixer to stabilize the image after exposure.

Leonard Robertson
3-Feb-2005, 20:37
I think there is POP information on the Alt list: http://www.usask.ca/lists/alt-photo-process/ (http://www.usask.ca/lists/alt-photo-process/) Getting fiber prints dry and flat in a reasonable time may take some thought. I don't know what weight POP is, but the Azo contact paper that Tom Perkins mentioned only comes as single-weight so it should dry faster than double-weight papers. Agfa Neutol-WA or Ansco 130 give much better color to Azo than Dektol. A dry mount press is supposed to be the best way to flatten prints, but I don't have one, so I can't give any information on that. I've seen plans for a DIY dry mount press if you want still another project.

Calamity Jane
4-Feb-2005, 02:56
Yup, gonna have to haul out my old darkroom manual and look at some of the other processes to. Always wanted to play with some different methods of printing.

It is challenging in that your average fair-goers arrive sometime in the morning (9 a.m.) , spend the day, and leave between 4 and 7 p.m. If I could send them home with a antiquie-looking print for $5 to $10, it would be a big seller (maybe too big!). Having a picture of the kiddies on the back of a steam engine, a picture that looked like it was taken in 1900, would be a unique souvineer! Most of the visitors pack a modern point-and-shoot camera, so the antique look of the print is important to make them saleable.

(I never had so many pictures taken of ME as last year when I was photographing, in costume, with the LF!)

Ellen: Sorry, it isn't in "the U.S. of A." - try Manitoba, Canada! It's the Thresherman's Reunion at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, 27 to 30 July 2005 It typically attracts 10,000 to 18,000 visitors over the 4 days.

Thanks for all the ideas group!

4-Feb-2005, 05:12
You may want to look closer at the cyanotype process. You don't have to have darkness to coat the paper just semi-dark. You expose the print in daylight and you process the print in water!! All you need is a good harrison changing tent and a drum for developing the film and you are ready. It is also very cheap to do cyanotype prints. I beleive you will be well within your target cost to be able to sell an afordable product. On top of it all cyanotype was the first process print that was used. It is the grandfather of blueprints as we know them today.
Good luck and keep us posted on your progress, we would love to know.

Calamity Jane
4-Feb-2005, 06:12
Wasn't there one (or more?) of the old processes that photographed directly on to glass and the glass became the print? DANG! I'm sure, but I can't remember what it was called..... (Suffering from CRS!)

Erik Gould
4-Feb-2005, 08:19
The process you are probably thinking of is the Ambrotype, basically an underexposed wet plate that is backed with black velvet (or something similar) once processed. The image then appears as a positive. Obviously I'm a POP fan so here I go again: you can expose it on cloudy days (still plenty of UV) or you can expose it to black light, easy to get at a lighting supply shop. There is also a RC version of the paper if flattening is a problem, and unlike AZO, the fiber paper comes in DW. That's the last I'll say about it, I promise. Other non-silver processes are fun too, cyanotype and Van Dyke brown are simple and inexpensive. There is also a Liquid Light Tintype kit out there, which uses a gelatin emulsion on a metal plate, similar to what was done in the 1860's. Also fun.

Calamity Jane
4-Feb-2005, 08:44
Erik, Erik, Erik . . . what am I going to do with you ;-)

Fear not! I have already started toward ordering some POP paper and chemicals. I'll try it out, see what the results look like, and see how the total processing time works out. I will use a UV lamp to get more predictable results (and probably shorter exposure time). The rest of the process is pretty straight foward.


Leonard Robertson
4-Feb-2005, 09:23
It is usually recommended for Azo and most alt processes to shoot a much more contrasty neg than for normal silver paper. Maybe Erik can comment on this for POP.

Donald Qualls
4-Feb-2005, 09:45
CJ, you can see an effect similar to ambrotype by taking any modern film negative (underexposed or perhaps underdeveloped, highlights need to be thin but shadows shouldn't be blank -- that's a subject for testing) and mounting it on a light-absorbing black background (velvet etc.); glass plates would be most authentic, followed by lacquered iron with the emulsion painted on, as with the tintype kits, but the appearance is much the same done with film, and would require much less additional equipment. Inexpensive frames with card and velvet replacing the corrugated inner spacer and a vignette mask or similar replacing the glass would produce a reasonably authentic look, cheaply; you can get the simple metal self-standing frames in 4x5 for a few dollars each at retail, and might be able to save some if you buy a case or two. Alternately, you could get frames printed in card stock that would fold up and accept the negative and velvet slipped inside, plus incorporate a cover like the old Daguerreotype cases (similar styles were commonly used for ambrotypes, also, and occasionally for tintypes/ferrotypes).

The down side of ambrotype style photography is that you give up the negative -- like shooting a Polaroid, except that the negative, though thin, can still be scanned or printed (with some small effort) at higher quality than duplicating a print. If you're not concerned about giving up the camera original for these images, this may be the way to go.

Also, an option to consider for the short-stay visitors is to offer mailing of the finished photo for a small extra charge. Then you don't lose customers because they won't be around long enough to pick up their finished photo.

Ellen Stoune Duralia
4-Feb-2005, 10:08
I am finding the concept of alternative print making absolutely fascinating! I feel like I have stumbled into a whole new world of possibilities :-D I found a couple of books, "Coming Into Focus: A Step-by-Step Guide to Alternative Photographic Printing Processes" and "The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes". Have any of you read these? Would you suggest one over the other?

Many thanks ya'll!

Christian Olivet
4-Feb-2005, 11:50
Ellen, you can buy all of those books and you won't feel that you have repeated information. Sure the same processes are coverer in each of the books, but with a different style and approach. The Coming Into Focus is the most straight photography oriented book I've seen, nice for photographers. Others, like the Book of Alternative Photographic Processes is more oriented to photographic artists that use the camera to produce photographic art that does not look much like photographs. I own all of them and go back to the for the pure pleasure of reading.
Another book worth buying, although harder to find is The Keepers of light. This book is much more interested in the progression of the photographic processes. It is an awesome book, but wouldn't buy just for learning any of the processes. It is more for learning history than processes.

4-Feb-2005, 13:43
POP printing is a great idea. You can expose, tone and fix in 20 minutes. But you still have to wash & dry...

Another option for the period is tintypes. See:
http://www.rockaloid.com/products.html#tintype (http://www.rockaloid.com/products.html#tintype)
for pre-made kits...