Photography is my passion. I’m sure there are a lot of new photographers or people who just put together their own darkroom that are thinking “how do I develop a print” You are not alone, when I first started developing photographs, I didn’t have a clue what the process was. Luckily, I had many people to go to to ask question. To help out new photographers, I have decided to write a detailed, how to guide to developing black and white negatives into prints.
To be able to turn your black and white negatives into prints, you will of course need to first take photographs with any 35mm camera (assuming that’s the type of camera you plan on using) and you will need to develop your negatives. I’m not going to go over the developing process for negatives, because it varies for different brands of film. The developing process for negatives is a lot like the developing process for photographs, except they use slightly different chemicals. Any easy thing you can do to get your negatives developed would be to take them to a photo shop and have them send the negatives out to be developed. This should take between two to three weeks and will probably cost you about $10 to $15 dollars. If you have negatives and are ready to start making prints please read my instruction guide below.
1. Using an Enlarger.
The first step, before using an enlarger, is to get situated in the darkroom. Remember, it is a darkroom, hence it will be dark so you will want to know where your supplies are. You should have a lightproof photo box (to keep your light sensitive paper in), your negatives, paper trays, tongs (I prefer plastic ones), scissors, a paper easel, a red-light box, so it’s not pitch black. As well as all of the developing process items (see details below). First, Turn the enlarger “on” and make sure its working properly. Second, you will put your negative strip into the negative carrier of the enlarger. The negative carrier is the piece that holds the negative in place to let light pass through it. Before you start making actual prints, it’s helpful to make a test strip first. You can make a test strip by cutting one sheet of paper into strips and using one to expose the image onto, using five second intervals (i.e cover the paper up with cardboard and slowly move the cardboard back after every 5 seconds of exposer. That way you wind up with your test strip having an example of what the print would look like exposed at 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 seconds). It is best to make test strips so you don’t waste any paper. I usually use an aperture of F8 because that’s a commonly used aperture. Take out a piece of paper and place it in the paper easel and expose the paper to the light.
2. The Developing Process.
The first step of the developing process is to put your photograph in the developer. The developer will take about 3 minutes. You will want to leave your photo in the developer until the blacks on the image are clearly developed. While the print is in the developer (and all chemicals, for that matter, you will want to lightly lift the edges of the developing tray to make the developer evenly flow over the print. You will also need tongs for your chemicals, metal ones can scratch your prints, so I prefer plastic ones. It is important to NOT use your fingers to remove prints from the paper tray, doing so might leave chemical fingerprints on your images. It is also important to keep separate tongs at each paper tray, as you don’t want to contaminate the different chemicals. After your print is fully developed, you can remove it from the paper tray and put it into the next tray, the stop bath.
3. The Stop Bath.
The stop bath is very important, but then again so are all of the chemicals in this process. The stop bath is what stops the developer from over-developing your print. Put your print in the paper tray filled with the stop bath chemical for thirty seconds to one minute. Some photographers leave their photographs in the stop bath for up to a minute. It is important that you leave your print in the stop bath for at least thirty seconds, so that your print does not over-develop. After you have had your print in the stop bath for at least thirty seconds, you can move your print to the next paper tray, the fixer.
4. The Fixer
The fixing chemical is what makes your print able to remain in the light without deteriorating. A print that has not been fixed long enough could be ruined by the light and will not last as long as a properly fixed print. Put your print in the paper tray filled with fixer. It is extremely important, for the quality of your print, to remain in the fixer for five minutes. After you have properly fixed your print, remove it from the paper tray and put it into the next one, the H2O rinse.
5. The H2O Rinse.
The H20 rinse is exactly what it sounds like, rinsing your print in water. Rinsing your print in water will help remove any excess chemicals remaining on your print. I would recommend leaving your print in the H2O rinse for about one minute. After the H20 rinse you will need you let your print rinse in a separate tray of water for five minutes to ensure that the chemicals have been cleaned off. Next you can dry your print.
6. Drying Your Print.
If you want to purchase a print dryer you can. You can either purchase a plug in one or a simple drying rack for your prints. If you do not want to spend money on these items, you can simply hang a line (a laundry line or a thick string) in your darkroom and use close pins to hang your prints up. Allow your prints a proper amount of time to dry. You can tell by looking at them if there dry or not, but I would say leave them hang for an hour or two.
7. Technical Problems.
Look at your print while its drying or after you take it out of the water rinse. If your not happy with it, you can always develop a new print (it can take many prints to get one that’s the quality you want it to be. If the print is too dark or not dark enough try taking a couple of seconds off the times it took to expose the photographic paper to light. If you notice that one or more of the corners are very light and white, you can always make another print, but this time “burn” the edge(s) of the paper. To burn the edge of the paper, you simply cover up the light coming through the lens of the enlarger and exposed the extra light just on the corner that is too light. This is called “burning.” This is one of the simplest tricks to do in the darkroom. If a part of your image is too dark you can always “dodge” that part of the image. To doge, you take a thin wire and tape a round piece (or whatever size piece you need) of cardboard onto the wire. While exposing your image, hold the the wire above the paper easel, about halfway between the easel and the enlarger lens, and slowly move the wire around above the spot that needs to be lighter. This is called “dodging.”
I hope this “How To” guide helped you understand how to create a print in a darkroom. Now, you should be ready to start making your own photographs. If you don’t get it right the first time, you can always try again! I’m sure your photographs will turn out beautifully.