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Darkroom Tutorial

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Gay Head.  Martha's Vineyard.  Massachusetts.

This section is devoted to traditional darkroom technique. For black and white photographers, the darkroom is the site of at least half the action. What shade of gray do you want your subject's face to be? This is the kind of artistic decision that a commercial lab technician can't make for you. Even if you have found a good lab, doing the darkroom work yourself means that you'll get much faster turnaround on experiments.

Why bother with chemicals, plumbing and wrinkled fingers when you can do it all digitally? The user interface of paper and enlarger is hard to beat. Direct manipulation of light and development time can be easier and less frustrating than struggling with a mouse, performing system administration on PCs, waiting for CPUs, disks, and printers to grind away. Plus there is the social element of darkroom work. Photographers go out into the field alone but often come back together to community darkrooms where they can view each others' work.


For success in the darkroom it is good to start with a solid understanding of photographic fundamentals. So make sure that you have Basic Photographic Materials and Processes (Stroebel; Focal Press) under your belt. More practical day-to-day advice may be found in Ilford Monochrome Darkroom Practice : A Manual of Black-And-White Processing and Printing (Coote; Focal Press). If you're thinking about building a darkroom into your home, The New Darkroom Handbook (Demaio; Focal Press) is useful.

For younger photographers or those intimidated by science and technology, we recommend Bernhard J. Seuss's Mastering Black-And-White Photography and Creative Black-And-White Photography : Advanced Camera and Darkroom Techniques.

Sadly, so few individuals do color darkroom work that there aren't many practical books on the subject. It is probably best to take a class or serve as an apprentice to a printer in a commercial lab. And, of course, color work is more easily done digitally.

Photo at top right by Philip Greenspun, taken with a Rollei 6008 camera on Ilford F film.