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Thread: Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

  1. #1
    Daniel Stone's Avatar
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    Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

    Hey everyone,

    I've had a hairbrained idea for some time now, and I wanted to toss it up here to hear opinions, and thoughts.

    My current plan is to make a permanent exodus from California in the next few years, and in the mean time, save funds and performing reconnaissance/travel to various places to get a feel for the local climate/culture. Never fear, I will definitely will not be bringing much of any "California" with me, wherever I might end up

    A large part of this plan will be a permanent darkroom, finally. My initial thought was having a larger outbuilding to house both my sewing shop(Stone Photo Gear) and darkroom under the same roof. Looking at these container conversions, I've been reconsidering the repurposing of a high-cube container and converting it into a dedicated darkroom building, complete with 2 sinks, shelving and counter space to house both a setup for contact printing LF negatives, and enlarging medium format negatives with a 4x5 bench top enlarger. Black and white darkroom use only. I do not require tons of space, but being 6'5" tall, the high cube's added head room would allow less of a 'cramped' feeling, in my opinion. Water hookup from a garden hose would be the source, and power would be run underground from the house. Again, no massive amount of resources required, as I would be primarily contact printing with a low wattage light bulb.

    Both sides of container would be air conditioned and darkroom would be setup to have consistent air flow, as I would be building a fume hood for each sink, to minimize airborne vapors.

    A 40' container would allow both a wet side and dry side, where mounting, spotting and matting could be done. It could also house a digital printer for printing color photographs(which I do quite a bit, but just thinking forward). Both sides would have an air conditioner set up as to maintain proper temperature and humidity levels.

    Seeing that a single use high-cube container runs about $3-6k depending on length, this could potentially be a reasonable cost for a weather tight setup. I would install a side entrance door on the light side, most likely a sliding glass door of some sort, to allow lots of natural light into the "light" side of the container. Internally, a pocket door would separate darkroom from light room, making it light tight for loading holders when home(Harrison tent in the field).

    Does this sound feasible, and/or reasonable? I'm 31 presently, and in no rush to settle down or start a family, but I am open to such if the right woman was to present herself. I'm now at the point of truly realizing a direction I want to take my life in, and that would involve traveling several months per year to photograph and when home, building gear to support other photographers/videographers work as I am now doing, as a side business.

    Thanks for your time, and thoughts.

    -Dan

    p.s. YES, I have seen pictures of that military darkroom container posted here. Way too cramped for me, but certainly something to admire

  2. #2

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    Re: Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

    If the water comes from a garden hose you just left out a lot of the USA that have seasons!

  3. #3
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Salomon View Post
    If the water comes from a garden hose you just left out a lot of the USA that have seasons!
    I lived in a cabin in Northern Minnesota and dug a trench to the house for water and laid a high capacity cable for power. It was a one man job and worked to -45 F. Life was good.

  4. #4

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    Re: Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

    Yes, it is absolutely feasible. A now passed friend had a 40' container with his professional shop,and model railroad. He began by insulating the sides and top with solid foam. He ran full power as if to the house. everything was air-conditioned and thus very comfortable. I have often wished i had the space to have a container with studio and darkroom, but have not been able to fund it. I would run water via underground PVC pipe if i were you.

  5. #5

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    Re: Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

    Quote Originally Posted by Daniel Stone View Post
    Hey everyone,

    I've had a hairbrained idea for some time now, and I wanted to toss it up here to hear opinions, and thoughts.

    My current plan is to make a permanent exodus from California in the next few years, and in the mean time, save funds and performing reconnaissance/travel to various places to get a feel for the local climate/culture. Never fear, I will definitely will not be bringing much of any "California" with me, wherever I might end up

    A large part of this plan will be a permanent darkroom, finally. My initial thought was having a larger outbuilding to house both my sewing shop(Stone Photo Gear) and darkroom under the same roof. Looking at these container conversions, I've been reconsidering the repurposing of a high-cube container and converting it into a dedicated darkroom building, complete with 2 sinks, shelving and counter space to house both a setup for contact printing LF negatives, and enlarging medium format negatives with a 4x5 bench top enlarger. Black and white darkroom use only. I do not require tons of space, but being 6'5" tall, the high cube's added head room would allow less of a 'cramped' feeling, in my opinion. Water hookup from a garden hose would be the source, and power would be run underground from the house. Again, no massive amount of resources required, as I would be primarily contact printing with a low wattage light bulb.

    Both sides of container would be air conditioned and darkroom would be setup to have consistent air flow, as I would be building a fume hood for each sink, to minimize airborne vapors.

    A 40' container would allow both a wet side and dry side, where mounting, spotting and matting could be done. It could also house a digital printer for printing color photographs(which I do quite a bit, but just thinking forward). Both sides would have an air conditioner set up as to maintain proper temperature and humidity levels.

    Seeing that a single use high-cube container runs about $3-6k depending on length, this could potentially be a reasonable cost for a weather tight setup. I would install a side entrance door on the light side, most likely a sliding glass door of some sort, to allow lots of natural light into the "light" side of the container. Internally, a pocket door would separate darkroom from light room, making it light tight for loading holders when home(Harrison tent in the field).

    Does this sound feasible, and/or reasonable? I'm 31 presently, and in no rush to settle down or start a family, but I am open to such if the right woman was to present herself. I'm now at the point of truly realizing a direction I want to take my life in, and that would involve traveling several months per year to photograph and when home, building gear to support other photographers/videographers work as I am now doing, as a side business.

    Thanks for your time, and thoughts.

    -Dan

    p.s. YES, I have seen pictures of that military darkroom container posted here. Way too cramped for me, but certainly something to admire
    Dan, I considered a container, but the fact that the surplus workshop I bought was prewired, had a A/C heater unit, and was insulated is the reason I bought it. Those things saved me all kinds of work ! At 6-5 you'd slam your head into the ceiling of my darkroom.

    There is a company in Las Vegas that converts shipping containers into portable offices....I'd go on line and look for them.

  6. #6

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    Re: Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

    Dan..go to Las Vegas Craigslist and go to "Business" and search for shipping container, There are at least 2 outfits that will customize containers for you. One has ads reading "Call Joe!" and the other is Storage on Wheels-(www.sowlv.com).

    Might give you a lead.

  7. #7
    Jim Jones's Avatar
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    Re: Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

    Before shipping containers were readily available, freight trailers were sometimes converted to similar uses. Some of the many new storage sheds might cost more, but might be easier to convert. I walled off a 8x12 section of a no-longer-used chicken house for one of my darkrooms, but the ceiling was rather low. The 5x7 Elwood enlarger had to sit on the floor. The wood construction and concrete floor were sturdy and easy to modify. Instead of running water, there was walking water. I walked in with buckets or jugs of it, and walked out with more buckets of waste.

  8. #8
    Eric Woodbury
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    Re: Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

    Just a few comments

    My neighbor bought a small one for storage, hoping to sneak by the building code as an accessory building (no permit), but it was too large and he had to remove it.

    Whenever I've been in an empty one of these things, the sound is boomy.

    Check on the cost of moving such a thing and how much tilt is required to place it. If moving cost is high, consider those prefabs at Home Depot or box store of choice.

    You talked about A/C, but not about heat. If you don't insulate, you will pay a lot for both. Consider one of these heat-pump deals that does both A/C and heat.

    These things probably flex when you move them. I'd be worried about glass doors.

    Sounds like fun, good luck.

    ew

  9. #9
    Daniel Stone's Avatar
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    Re: Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Salomon View Post
    If the water comes from a garden hose you just left out a lot of the USA that have seasons!
    Good thought Bob, and thanks for the reminder! Currently, the list is topping out with Tennessee and Idaho. Of course, with Idaho, I would have higher probability of heavier snowfall and cooler temps. However I still have much more "recon" to perform as I don't want to make a rushed decision in the slightest.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jac@stafford.net View Post
    I lived in a cabin in Northern Minnesota and dug a trench to the house for water and laid a high capacity cable for power. It was a one man job and worked to -45 F. Life was good.
    I would imagine that if water were left "flowing" like some people do with pipes, it might have less tendency to freeze up.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Noel View Post
    Yes, it is absolutely feasible. A now passed friend had a 40' container with his professional shop, and model railroad. He began by insulating the sides and top with solid foam. He ran full power as if to the house. everything was air-conditioned and thus very comfortable. I have often wished i had the space to have a container with studio and darkroom, but have not been able to fund it. I would run water via underground PVC pipe if i were you.
    My thoughts exactly. I don't mind wearing a jacket/sweatshirt if it gets chilly inside during cooler times of the year, in fact I would prefer it be cooler, as I'm quite hot-blooded and get to sweating quite easily
    Reason for garden hose and extension cord for power was simply to get around permiting, as I know that some places have weird laws about stuff being considered "livable space" if it is tied to the house via power/water with a permanent setup. Versus a garden hose which is detachable. Of course, if I can bury electrical cable underground, this would be best. I don't mind hooking up a garden hose when I set up to print, as I tend to print in sessions, not just at any point and time.


    Quote Originally Posted by MrFujicaman View Post
    Dan, I considered a container, but the fact that the surplus workshop I bought was prewired, had a A/C heater unit, and was insulated is the reason I bought it. Those things saved me all kinds of work ! At 6-5 you'd slam your head into the ceiling of my darkroom.

    There is a company in Las Vegas that converts shipping containers into portable offices....I'd go on line and look for them.

    Sounds like a cushy setup! Ya, I bump my head quite a bit, guess that might have contributed to me being a bit hard-headed I will most certainly look them up, thanks for the reference!

  10. #10
    Daniel Stone's Avatar
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    Re: Setting up a darkroom inside a shipping container

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Woodbury View Post
    Just a few comments

    My neighbor bought a small one for storage, hoping to sneak by the building code as an accessory building (no permit), but it was too large and he had to remove it.

    Whenever I've been in an empty one of these things, the sound is boomy.

    Check on the cost of moving such a thing and how much tilt is required to place it. If moving cost is high, consider those prefabs at Home Depot or box store of choice.

    You talked about A/C, but not about heat. If you don't insulate, you will pay a lot for both. Consider one of these heat-pump deals that does both A/C and heat.

    These things probably flex when you move them. I'd be worried about glass doors.

    Sounds like fun, good luck.

    ew
    The plan would be to do any conversion work(doors, windows, plumbing, etc) once the bare container has been dropped and positioned into its final resting place. I wouldn't try and hide anything from local gov't regarding coding/use. I would be clear about what the designation of the structure would be for(not for inhabitation, just as a "workshop") so hopefully this would mitigate any possible hiccups. Especially regarding property tax assessments(one of the primary things I'm looking at, not just cost of land and cost of living). Transportation costs could most certainly be a consideration, but finding a "local" container would be ideal, but if I needed to load the container with my shop contents(sewing machines, etc) this could possibly lower shipping/moving costs as well.

    I do have(and maintain) a class-a license, and drove LTL trucks for a year in 2017. Was tremendous fun, being on the road, but if I were to do it again, I know it wouldn't be beneficial to my long term health.

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