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Thread: Grayish whites and other problems in my new darkroom

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jul 2020
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    Grayish whites and other problems in my new darkroom

    I am thrilled to have my first purpose-specific darkroom ever (in a basement rather than a temporarily converted bathroom), however I am having some problems with my new setup. The enlarger is only medium format (an Omega C760; I do contact prints with my 4x5s and am looking for a larger one) but I want to ask here because I only ever get fantastic advice on this forum. For context, I shoot black and white in 35 mm, 6x6, and 4x5 and use mostly Ilford papers and chemistry, for now using RC paper.

    First, the symptoms

    1. Whites are not coming out white. What I expect to be white instead has a slight grayish hue.

    2. It seems like specifying a higher contrast resulted in lower contrast. I think this means that the proportion of light bouncing from a light leak relative to light from the enlarger might result in something like this.

    3. RC paper seems to have a slight yellow tint immediately after processing


    Second, some ideas for underlying problems. I will try to solve each in turn, but wanted to see if people had intuitions about which could cause which problem. Also I wanted to check if there's a larger space of problems I should be thinking about.

    1. There's pretty bad light leak from the enlarger from just over the negative trayŚ possibly as a result of it getting hit while moving. The enlarger is next to a white wall so there is some amount of reflected light. I'm going to try re-aligning the enlarger head and if that doesn't work throw up a baffle.

    2. The paper is old -- 3 years or so, and was in a place where it reached 90F for two consecutive summers. It also went through a TSA x-ray for checked bags

    3. The fixer was re-used from earlier in the month when I developed some LF film (just 4 sheets)

    4. There's a tiny bit of light coming from a power strip (nb, I do all my film handling in a pop-up box, so I'm not going for complete darkness; there's also a tiny amount of light coming in from under a baffle far from where I do anything with paper)

    Thanks!

  2. #2

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    Re: Grayish whites and other problems in my new darkroom

    Each of these could be causing your problem. Together, there is no doubt in my mind they are the cause. You need to work at preventing all of them.

  3. #3

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    Re: Grayish whites and other problems in my new darkroom

    I'm not sure about the yellow tint you report, but it may suggest weak fixer. The fogged whites could be due to the hot storage and X-ray scan -- checked bags get heavy doses. However, your multiple light leaks certainly aren't helping and need to be addressed anyway. A darkroom needs to be what its name implies.

    Darkroom work is also a kind of controlled laboratory work, in that control of variables requires eliminating as many problematic ones as possible so that the intended ones can be mastered. My suggestion to you would be to address the light leaks first, then test your safelight(s) for potential fogging. Put aside the paper you have, buy one 25-sheet package of the paper you mainly use, start with fresh chemistry, and make sure you have things under control. Only that way can you then fully evaluate the issues with the paper you're using.
    Philip Ulanowsky

    Sine scientia ars nihil est. (Without science/knowledge, art is nothing.)
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/156933346@N07/

  4. #4

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    Re: Grayish whites and other problems in my new darkroom

    Congratulations on the new darkroom. I'm sure it's a big relief.

    All you need to do is a simple test.

    Turn off the safelights. Put a piece of paper (use a high contrast MG filter) in the easel with the head at normal height and negative carrier in place without a negative. Place a coin in the middle of the paper. Cover up the front of the lens. Turn on the enlarger for two minutes.

    Process normally.

    The spot under the coin should be white -- compare it to an unprocessed sheet -- if not, you have a processing problem.

    The rest of the paper should be white -- if not, you have a light leak, probably reflection off the rear white wall. Paint it black or hang some black felt -- available at fabric stores -- behind the enlarger.

    In the end, you need to re-test again -- similarly -- with your safelights ON. If they cause fogging, move them farther away or use a weaker bulb -- and retest.

  5. #5

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    Re: Grayish whites and other problems in my new darkroom

    Quote Originally Posted by smeylan View Post
    ...
    1. Whites are not coming out white. What I expect to be white instead has a slight grayish hue.
    The paper is light or age fogged. (I'm assuming here that you're printing well enough to get real whites when you want them, but if you're dealing with very thin negatives and are at max contrast, you should re-visit negative exposure and development.)

    The very first thing to do is to make sure your space is really dark. Get a small mirror and then go to the darkroom. Turn off all lights and sit there for 10 minutes or so to let your eyes adjust before you begin searching. Now, look for light leaks from doors, sealed windows, wall joints, etc. Take your mirror and lay it in your sink where your trays are (or just put it in the trays one at a time) and check from all angles possible to get a prints-eye view of everything. Deal with any light leaks.

    If that's okay, the test the paper for age fogging. Fix an undeveloped strip in fresh fixer (see below) and compare it to an unexposed strip that has been through the whole develop-stop-fix processing. Do this in total darkness to eliminate the possibility of safelight (or other light source) fogging. If the paper whites match, the paper's fine, so move on to safelight testing. If not, then either toss the paper, use if for lith printing (if you do that) or, if the fog is slight, search here for one of the methods to deal with fogged paper (usually adding BTA to the developer or using a post-processing bleaching bath).

    There's great Kodak document on safelight testing here: https://www.kodak.com/content/produc...nation-K-4.pdf . The test seems convoluted, but it takes everything into account. Save yourself time and frustration by reading the whole test description and doing the test in its entirety. Do it again for every paper you use.

    Align and baffle your enlarger so it is not fogging your paper during exposure.

    One of the above will be the culprit.

    Quote Originally Posted by smeylan View Post
    2. It seems like specifying a higher contrast resulted in lower contrast. I think this means that the proportion of light bouncing from a light leak relative to light from the enlarger might result in something like this.
    This points to ambient-light fogging: higher-contrast exposures usually take longer, giving the light more time to fog your papers. Do the safelight test and fix the enlarger light leaks.

    Quote Originally Posted by smeylan View Post
    3. RC paper seems to have a slight yellow tint immediately after processing
    More than likely this is cased by exhausted fixer. See below.

    ...

    Quote Originally Posted by smeylan View Post
    1. There's pretty bad light leak from the enlarger from just over the negative tray— possibly as a result of it getting hit while moving. The enlarger is next to a white wall so there is some amount of reflected light. I'm going to try re-aligning the enlarger head and if that doesn't work throw up a baffle.
    First, you shouldn't leave your enlarger on during processing. Get a footswitch and timer. The enlarger should be dark except when focusing or exposing prints. If you're using a cold-light head and leaving the thing on for temperature stabilization (I did that for a while), really concentrate on sealing any light leaks from the enlarger. I hang strips of opaque plastic (cut from old paper bags) around the negative carrier and other places where light can leak. Place a mirror on the easel and check for light leaks that the paper can see but you can't from your position. I can't emphasize the importance of fixing light leaks from your enlarger.

    Quote Originally Posted by smeylan View Post
    2. The paper is old -- 3 years or so, and was in a place where it reached 90F for two consecutive summers. It also went through a TSA x-ray for checked bags
    Do the test for age-fogged paper detailed above.

    Quote Originally Posted by smeylan View Post
    3. The fixer was re-used from earlier in the month when I developed some LF film (just 4 sheets)
    First, never use fixer that has been used for fixing film for fixing prints. Keep two batches. Film fixer can have a lot more dissolved silver in it that fixer for prints and the film leaves some by-products (iodides) that aren't great for paper. And do use fresh fixer. Working-strength fixer goes bad fairly quickly unless in a full, well-sealed bottle. See the Ilford tech sheet on its Rapid Fixer here: https://assets.website-files.com/5ba...id%20fixer.pdf . It applies to most rapid fixers. Pay attention to the sections on capacities and shelf-life of working solution.

    Quote Originally Posted by smeylan View Post
    4. There's a tiny bit of light coming from a power strip (nb, I do all my film handling in a pop-up box, so I'm not going for complete darkness; there's also a tiny amount of light coming in from under a baffle far from where I do anything with paper)
    It takes a lot less light that you seem to think to fog both film and paper. Film is especially sensitive; it really needs total darkness. It's worth it to really light-proof the darkroom. Use gaffers' tape or even painters' tape for things like the light on you plug strip or the LED lights on your radio or GFP outlets.

    And be aware that some papers need red safelights and some can be used with amber safelights. Ilford should be fine with amber, but Foma papers really need red; an amber safelight will fog them quickly.

    Do all that, and you'll have peace of mind and save yourself a lot of headaches in the future.


    Best,

    Doremus

  6. #6

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    Re: Grayish whites and other problems in my new darkroom

    Take one problem at a time and fix it starting with light control. The enlarger light leak has to be taken care of. When I got my LF enlarger I put a lens cap on the lens and placed a mirror on the easel. AH HA! I saw exactly where the light was coming from. My filter draw, the lens board and the negative carrier were all leaking. I sealed m up one at a time. The filter draw door got some thin light seal foam. The lens board had a threaded hole I never knew was there. The negative carrier once I tuned for parallelism, I installed some thin light seal foam there as well. The enlarger is totaly light tight now.

    your old paper and depleted chemicals should all be trashed n buy fresh. Its worth the money in the long run which is what everyone is suggesting. Every weak link in the system has severe effects when combined and can drive you nuts sorting it out. BUT this is a one time thing, then you are on the way to a happier darkroom experience for a long time to come.

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