View Full Version : If I had to make a choice

Paul Cocklin
6-Jan-2006, 21:36
I'm relatively new to LF, and it's almost time to take the next step. I think I've convinced my live-in girlfriend to let me turn our bathroom into a sometimes darkroom. But I think I may have a dilemma; Do I need to choose between using it to develop film or using it to make prints?

I'm a complete novice when it comes to the darkroom, so I don't know the generally accepted sizes of working darkrooms (though from what I've researched they're a lot bigger than my bathroom). I can mount an enlarger on a rolling stand and make it somewhat portable so I can store it in a closet. It seems to me that an area for film developing would be smaller than an area for printing; my problem is the sink is not very big (or deep). Can I get away with doing both developing or printing, or should I just stick with one or the other; and if so, which one would I go with? I'm more comfortable with letting a pro like CaliColor or Cox B+W labs develop the film (they're both close to me), seeing as how if I screw the film up then I can't print anything from it.

It all seems a bit daunting to me, though I'm sure that's the case with every beginner. Assuming I go with printing only, what is the layout I would need? Trays for developer, fixer, stop bath and wash, right? Plus the area for the enlarger itself.

Please forgive me if all this seems so trivial and naive; I've got no formal training in photography but have shot 35mm and mf for about 10 years. Can you believe I've never been in a darkroom?!?

Any and all advice or suggestions will be most welcome. I get a lot of information (and inspiration) from this site, and I'd like to thank all of you for providing the best place to learn about LF.

Good light,

John Kasaian
6-Jan-2006, 21:48
You'll also need it to load and unload holders. Why not shoot 5x7 or 8x10 and make contacts so you can avoid having an enlarger? Soup your film in a Unicolor or Jobo(if you've got the $$$) What you'll need for printing will be enough counter space for all your trays and whatever you decide to contact print with (a light and a sheet of glass or printing frame) A piece of plywood set over a bath tub works, so do t.v. trays.

Good Luck!

William Mortensen
6-Jan-2006, 22:04
If you have room to set up trays for developing prints, you can use the same set up for tray-developing negatives. Only difference is the developers and turning out the safelight. Contact printing, as John noted, eliminates the need for an enlarger.

A small bathroom can still make a quite workable darkroom. Consider building a little counter-top that sits above the bathtub to hold the trays at a comfortable working height, with a little rim around the edge to catch minor spillage.

Of course, you'll also develop a reputation as the guy who spends more time in the bathroom than his girlfriend...

Oren Grad
6-Jan-2006, 22:51
When I lived in Japan for nine months, I had a bathroom that was about the size of a couple of telephone booths. But I used it as a makeshift darkroom anyway. Developing film (35mm, to be sure, but I could have managed larger formats too) was easy. Printing was a bit more of a challenge. As a "sink", the bathtub was large enough only for a set of 5x7 trays, so that's as large as I printed. I perched the enlarger, a medium-format LPL, on the toilet, and squeezed myself in around it - lots of good muscle-stretching exercise, deep knee bends too!

Where there's a will, there's a way...

matthew blais
7-Jan-2006, 00:13
Here's a link to APUG.org and a thread with numerous postings and images of darkrooms. From small to large there are many insightful ideas here.
Good luck.

www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=10966&highlight=darkroom+portraits (http://www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=10966&highlight=darkroom+portraits)

David Karp
7-Jan-2006, 00:42
A bathroom/darkroom can be fine for printing and developing negatives. If your bathroom has a bathtub in it, you can use the tub, or you can cut a sheet of plywood to give you a top that makes it easier to work. You can put some holes in it so any slop out of the trays can be pushed through the hole into the tub. You just have to make sure that you do something to hold the board on top. You don't want the thing sliding off! Rip a piece of 1x 2 or probably even better 1x4 and run it the length of the tub on the bottom of the plywood so that it holds the top on the tub. You can buy a finish grade piece of plywood at home depot so that you don't give yourself splinters all the time.

If you have enough counter space where the sink is, you can also get a similar piece of plywood and build yourself a little table that sits over the sink. You can buy some wooden legs and the hardware to attach them to the bottom of the plywood. This is what I did, since I had a lot of counter room. I just made the legs long enough to lift the table over the sink. That left the sink available to wash hands, etc. In my bathroom, I had enough room for four 11x14 trays, or three 16x20 trays. If using bigger trays, I could put the Perma Wash tray in the tub with the print washer. I know other people have rigged up a way to stack their trays: Developer on top, stop next, etc. The safelight (Kodak bullet type) was hung on the shower curtain using a couple of bent wire shirt hangers.

I used another piece of the good plywood as a table for the enlarger. I used the back of the toilet and a saw horse to hold up the plywood, and strong clamps to hold the table top to the horse.

You can also run the shower for a few minutes before you set up to generate some steam. This can drop some of the dust out of the air.

I hope you can use some of these ideas.

P.S. If you are shooting black and white, try developing your own negatives. I regretted it eEvery time I have had someone else develop my negs. Now I do them all myself. Although doable, color is a horse of a different color. For that, take a look at this: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/unicolor/

Good luck.

George Stewart
7-Jan-2006, 05:05
I only use my bathroom for developing (up to 8x10) now. At one time I even made contact prints with LF negatives with a simple lamp that had a slot(cut with a saw) for contrast filters and a darkroom timer-all worked well.

My recommendation would be to setup your development trays in the bathtup itself and sit on its edge while doing the film. Then, I'd have a tray with water to carry the film in, to the kitchen, so that washing can take place in the typically larger sink. When your done, just tilit the trays and let the chemistry go down the drain, and use the shower head to hose everything down with.

For printing, get a contact printer, a small lamp that can clamp/sit on top of the toilet and a darkroom timer. Then just print on top of the toilet seat, and again develop in the bathtub-couldn't be simpler. Again, I'd recommend washing your prints in the kitchen sink- just let the water from the tap run over them and shuffle them every once in a while. A little hypo-clearing solution to get rid of any fixer (for both negatives and paper) is a good idea, especially since my washing idea may not be the most archival.

7-Jan-2006, 05:57
"When your done, just tilt the trays and let the chemistry go down the drain, and use the shower head to hose everything down with. "

I'm not so sure this is the most environmentally sound method and very very likely NOT allowed in Europe, even though I can't point you to the source of legislation where it spells out you can't do it. Personally, I would have long and heated debates with my conscience if I'd do this, legislation or no legislation.

Matt Miller
7-Jan-2006, 06:19
Normally, you won't be developing film and printing in the same session. You can use the same space for both functions. When I was using a bathroom darkroom, I used an ironing board for the tray table, instead of the plywood over the tub. The ironing board was a good height for this.

I dump all of the chems down the drain without a second thought.

John Layton
7-Jan-2006, 09:02
Years ago I built a darkroom in a tiny (50X60") half bathroom. I first affixed a 1.5X4 foot piece of 3/4" plywood, with raised edges along each side of its length, by a hinge to the wall over the toilet, and this would either be stored flat against the wall, affixed at the top by a hook and eye - or laid flat with its free edge supported by and hanging over the sink. This was my tray-table, and at the end of each session, I'd just wash this down and let it drain into the sink, and fold it back up behind the toilet. Next to the toilet was a small but sturdy cabinet, upon which just barely fit my Omega D-2. The hight was low enough so that I could realize good extension. Very cramped, and indeed still very much a "dual purpose" space - but I made some wonderful, exhibition quality 11X14 prints there. And yes, film developing, in both trays and tanks, was also possible.

Joe VanCleave
7-Jan-2006, 10:57
I'd definitely choose the darkroom over the girl friend.:)

You said that you "think" you've convinced her, right? Go ahead and set it up for tray developing, and also for contact printing, which really only needs the addition of a small-wattage hanging light and timer.

Then see if you can make both the relationship and the darkroom compatible.

For darkroom issues, just ask us.

For relationship issues, ask Dr. Laura.

William Mortensen
7-Jan-2006, 11:22
You know, Paul, if your girlfriend *really* loves you, she won't mind if you turn the bedroom into a darkroom. You could both sleep in the bathtub. Tell her the people on the Large Format Forum said it's okay. There, I think we solved that problem!

(BTW, you know that closet where she keeps her clothes? Wouldn't that make a great drying cabinet?)

John Berry ( Roadkill )
7-Jan-2006, 12:06
If she really loved you santa would have left you an enlarger for Christmas. You have to get permission from a girlfriend? What's up with that. You have more to think about than darkroom issues. I've been married for 36 years and we respect each others boundries that we have set, not the ones imposed on each other.

Donald Qualls
8-Jan-2006, 11:04
Okay, all the silliness about shopping for a new Significant Other aside, I use my bathroom for both film developing and enlarging (the latter only when my wife is out, since she doesn't like to use the smaller second bathroom -- the vanity interferes with her knees, she says). I can set up for full darkness to load tanks and tubes in under ten minutes, finish the work in ten minutes or so, and then I check if she'll need the place for a bit before I pour developer (I do all my developing with daylight fill tanks or tubes, but with this setup I could just as easily work in trays; I'd only have to have the door closed for a half hour at a time). For enlarging, it takes a little longer to set up, since I have to pull out the throw rugs, wheel in the enlarger on its cart (my Omega D2 with factory baseboard will pass, fully assembled, through the relatively narrow bathroom door with a couple inches to spare), string cords, clamp the safelight on a shelf, mix chemicals, etc. Since the enlarger blocks access to the toilet -- which would be *very* unpopular for a 3-4 hour printing session -- I plan these sessions for times when she's at work and I can expect to be uninterrupted for several hours.

Key to these abilties is having a window cover that can be slipped into place or taken down without pulling down with the curtains. It literally takes longer to haul the temporary counter cover (turns a double sink with no counter space into a useful work surface), tanks/tubes and related tools, and chemicals into the darkroom than it does to go from 100% bathroom to total darkness. Best of all, when we move out of this rented house, it'll take about 2.5 minutes to remove two small matt board baffles covering small light leaks, and the landlord's only clue about the use of the bathroom as a darkroom will be the weatherstripping on an interior door.

John Layton
8-Jan-2006, 12:56
Hey, its a darkroom - so invite your significant other in, turn out the lights, and see what develops!

Paul Cocklin
8-Jan-2006, 14:52

Paul Cocklin
8-Jan-2006, 15:00
Thanks to all for the great advice and suggestions, as well as the encouragement! I can't wait to get started; right now it looks like I'm gonna start with the plywood on the bathtub and tray develop my negs.

Question; how difficult is E-6 developing? I shoot a lot of color trannies with readyloads, but I'm reasonably certain I can't do it better than Calicolor. Is it worth it to try and do it myself?

Thanks again for all the great advice. I love this forum.


Donald Qualls
8-Jan-2006, 16:11
In theory, the E-6 process after the short stop (following first developer or "MQ" as it's sometimes called) can be done in the light, but I'm not sure I'd want to attempt it in trays even without trying to keep track of a tray line long enough for a 6-bath process in the dark. Oxidation is likely to be a problem with the large exposed area of a tray, and you'd need a lot of liquid for each sheet. A rotary drum system is ideal, because it uses little enough liquid to treat the perishable baths as one-shot, and has the added advantage that most drums you'd use on a rotary base are daylight fill.

The last time I did color myself, E-4 was new, and I know E-6 is a lot simpler (they cut about half a dozen steps, as I recall, in the upgrade from E-4 to E-6); temperature control and precise timing of the first developer are the only real challenges compared to B&W -- but unless you do quite a bit of E-6, you won't save any money over commercial processing (well, with sheet film, you might if you can use the chemicals efficiently -- using to capacity instead of tossing them because they've oxidized in a tray or expired in a bottle). I wouldn't reasonably expect to do a better job than a good commercial lab, either -- but you might well be able to see your results sooner, can experiment with the process (changing first dev formulations or times, for instance, can significantly change the final results), and if you avoid wasteful methods won't spend much if any more than commercial sheet film processing.

Nigel Smith
8-Jan-2006, 16:43
Of course, you'll also develop a reputation as the guy who spends more time in the bathroom than his girlfriend... --Mark Sawyer 2006-01-06 21:04 PST

Would you like to rephrase that? lol!

On the original question...

If you've got a tub, you've got heaps of room! I used to put two 4x2's over our tub and sit the trays on that. Never had a problem, it's not as if you shake the trays like a washing machine! I used to sit my enlarger on a printer stand (that came with a desk) over the wash basin, which allowed me to rinse my hands under it as mentioned above. I used to take the print out to the kitchen to wash. I think I posted pics of it once-upon-a-time, but can't remember where, probably p.net I guess. What format film are you developing. I started with trays but gave the 'taco' method (2-3 4x5 sheets curled using rubber bands in a Paterson 2 reel tank) a go and prefer this method.


neil poulsen
9-Jan-2006, 00:28
The nice thing about many small bathrooms is that they don't have windows.

I've twice set up a darkroom in small bathroom, and it worked fine. Don't worry too much about the "correct" dimensions. Take a look at the space you have and sort of expand into it. It'll will at least work for 8x10. One can get nice results from 8x10. Since you're learning, this is a nice, economical size on which to begin.

As to film development, it's my belief that it's not worth doing black and white if you can't develop your own film. You need to be able to print at different developing times to match negative to scene contrast. There's a learning curve to get to this degree of predictability, but I view it as important to do nice work. Anyway, film development is done at a different time, since the film needs to dry. So, there's no reason you can't use the same darkroom to do both. Keep in mind that "total" darkness is a lot more important for negatives than for paper.

Some people avoid the sink thing and use their darkrooms for enlargements and a place to load their Jobo.