Oh, the smells of fixative, how I have missed you. I went wholly digital in 2002, and have nary set foot in a darkroom since. But if it hadn’t been for dark-rooms and the manual art of processing film, I think I wouldn’t have been nearly as good a photographer today*.
Developing your own film
Did you know that you can develop your own film on a shoestring budget? You can – you need a room that’s completely dark (bathrooms are good, add a bit of black duct tape, and you have a dark room!), a developing tank, reels, and chemicals. Oh, and you need to know how long stuff needs to be processed, of course.
You should be able to buy a dev tank for next to no money – your local photography club will probably have them on loan, or you can buy a kit (including measuring jugs, a temperature meter and chemicals) for very little money. (think £25 / €40 / US$50 or so).
If you feel brave, and are getting the knack of black and white film developing, why not take the next leap and get into the C41 process as well? Yup, it’s colour developing in all its glory. it has advantages, and isn’t that difficult, especially with the good guides that are available out there
After you have developed your film, you can either feed it through a film scanner (or make your own film scanner…), or you can start thinking about doing your own printing as well.
Printing in a darkroom
It’s the most rewarding part of darkroom work (read why in popular photography magazine), but you should also be aware that it’s extremely addictive…
As with so many other things, Photo.net has a fantastic introduction into how to set up and plan for a black and white darkroom, but photogs.com also have a thorough rundown of all the equipment you need – and it also offers tips with budgets in mind! We like these guys. Chris over at Apogee Photo also has a set of 10 tips to setting up a darkroom, again with a tight money-saving angle.
Even in the age of digital this and digital that, the classic darkroom has a place in the hearts of many an aspiring photographer. Understanding the basics of a Real Darkroom™ will help you understand how Adobe Photoshop does its magic, and will also teach you a whole new mindset as to how you can work with photographs.
And of course, there is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing your images appear, as by magic, in the developer.
*) Note that this implies that I’m a good photographer, which obviously ain’t the case
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