As powerful as digital editing and printing is, I still enjoy producing prints in a traditional black & white darkroom. I enjoy the challenge of producing good prints using techniques that go back decades. The process is a lot slower than digital, and often an entire evening can be spent on just one image.
The basic processes involved in darkroom printing a quite basic. The film is first developed in an alkali solution that forms the image on the negative, before being moved to a mild acid solution that stops the development process. Lastly it is transferred to a fixing solution that washes away any undeveloped silver from the negative and fixes the image so it will not fade.
This entire process needs to be done without any light falling on the negative.
This negative is then placed in an enlarger, where it is projected onto photographic paper, which prints the lightest areas of the negative dark, to form a positive image on the paper. The paper is developed in a similar manner to the negative, except that it can be done with a red light on.
Once the paper is fully processed it needs to be thoroughly washed to remove any residue from the chemicals, and ensure that it won’t fade or discolour over time.
Test strips are created using thin strips of different exposure times to determine the best time for a print with a full tonal range. This part of the process can take several attempts to arrive at the correct time.
Local adjustments can be made while the paper is being exposed to light. Dodging is a technique where the light is stopped from hitting the paper using small tools that cast shadows. This results in lightening this area on the final print.
The opposite effect can be achieved with burning-in. this is where a selected area has extra exposure to the light, creating a darker area on the final print. This is particularly useful for darkening skies to reveal cloud detail.
I do all my printing in a custom built darkroom within a large garden cabin. It can be connected with running water and is insulated to maintain a constant temperature, allowing for a quick setup time. I use a De Vere 504 enlarger, which can handle a negative up to 5”x4” Large Format size.
I print on fibre based Ilford MG Classic paper using Ilford chemicals
The film I use is a combination of Ilford FP4+ for fine grain detailed images, and Ilford HP5 and Kodak Tri-X for images that suit the grainier look these films give.