Darkroom, done very cheaply

Since I started shooting Large Format film this summer, I've had it in my head that I'd get into shooting black and white film eventually, and even develop it myself. Large format is great, but when a sheet of Velvia is $3, and processing that sheet is $2-$5 it feels tough to get through the 'experimenting' stage because every shot feels like it needs to really count.


Black and White is much cheaper to shoot, and can 'easily' be developed at home. So, I took the plunge. I was introduced to developing black and white prints back in the 6th grade, and I learned to develop film in the 8th - sadly I hadn't had another chance since then.


So, starting this weekend I began in earnest to put an absolute bare-bones darkroom together using the only available space in the apartment - the 1/2 bath.


I'll add some notes as to what everything is, but I'm pleased to say that the negatives actually appear to have developed fine! They're drying now and I'll probably work at scanning them in the new year. Optical enlargements will have to wait until I either have room for a proper darkroom with a 4x5 enlarger, or access to one.


One step at a time...

  • CP Cheah PRO 7y

    Looks like the negatives turned out fine. Well done!
  • t.sullivan photography PRO 7y

    Awesome! I learned to shoot and develop B&W film in high school too. I guess that's why I'm still partial to B&W shots to this day :) The immediate gratification of digital is really what I needed to get hooked on photography, but I kind of miss the developing part. It was fun.

    Seen in my contacts' photos. (?)
  • Scott Jones 7y

    I remember well the days of fumbling a strip of film into the reel in the dark, then putting in in the can and wondering where I'd put the lid...

    But it's nice to flash back vicariously. I look forward to seeing some images from Big Bertha!
  • Tyler Westcott 7y

    Geeky: Digital has been the same way for me - it certainly opens the door and makes it easier to get hooked. I love the instant gratification. The gratification from turning on the lights and seeing images on my negatives was pretty nice too though.

    Scott: There was certainly lots of fumbling in the dark for me too - it felt a little too easy to slip the sheets into the wrong trays, but fortunately it didn't happen. Sadly I scratched one of the negatives, but I also snapped two shots just in case - the next time I'll develop the backup shot and hopefully the second one comes out damage-free (then I'll have something to share).
  • Constantine Zuev PRO 7y

    My cheap solution was even without Stop Bath (just clean water instead and than fixer) and I've used a bucket with water as a final stage 8)
  • Tyler Westcott 7y

    That's awesome Z!Keeper - I've heard some pretty good stories of people developing film on the cheap. Apart from developing the film, just about every other step can be improvised or skipped entirely, and even developing can be done with Coffee (though I prefer to drink my coffee).
  • John Shappell 7y

    Hi Tyler, your darkroom looks good.
    I would suggest getting a dial thermometer. I might be a little more accurate.
  • Tyler Westcott 7y

    Thanks for the tip John - I've definitely got much to learn and I know temperature control is really critical (I think particularly with TMAX film too) and I'll need to improve that.
  • Darvin Atkeson 7y

    Oh yeah, I did this back in High School and I can still remember the smell of photographic chemicals and standing there under the red light. The worst part was rolling the 35mm film in to the chemical cans for processing. I messed up a few learning the technique but I bet I could still do it.

    I also had a lot of fun when I started processing my own Ektachrome color slide film. It was real easy to get in to and wasn't as costly to process as it was slides. I still have all of them and have scanned a few in but time has taken it's toll. Something I don't have to worry about with digital.

    I've been looking at the new Nikon D3, Sony and Canon 25 Megapixel cameras. Some reviews compare them in quality to medium format quality. The Sony going for around 3K. Still paying off my lenses but I suspect that this will be my next upgrade. Since I have Nikon glass I have to wait for that 10K price to drop way down or buy new glass.

    Looking forward to seeing how these look.
  • Tyler Westcott 7y

    Wow - Kudos for doing your own slide film too - I've always understood that to be much more tricky to develop.

    Those new 24MP cameras are all pretty sexy but sooo far out of my budget - it's really too bad. But hey, for my high res shots I've got my 4x5 - if you're willing to pay for it you can manage a 200+MP image scanned from it. (not that I'm willing to pay that price either).

    I'm hoping to scan some slides and negatives this weekend to see what I can share here on Flickr.
  • Darvin Atkeson 7y

    As I recall, Ektachrome slides were super easy compared to black and white and if you are processing black and white you probably already have all the equipment you need. I can't say how expensive the chemicals are as mine where supplied by Uncle Sam (US Army Art's and Craft Center) but it didn't seem like they were too much.

  • Eric Smith 7y

    Welcome to BW LF
  • Eric Smith 7y

    Have you looked into dev. tanks for sheet film? I like tanks better than trays.
  • Tyler Westcott 7y

    Thanks Eric - I'm looking forward to doing a lot more! I don't know much about tank developing for LF. I've heard of it, but really don't know anything - I really need to see what it entails because I'm kind of clueless. I haven't found the tray method too bad so far, but then I don't have a ton to develop either.
  • Eric Smith 7y

    Roll tanks are easy, they only need like 5oz of developer, so that works fine for me as I usually use a one-shot dev like HC110. However, If you are using a square tank, use something re-usable like D-76.

    Personally, I find trays irritating because I'm always worried about scratching the neg.

    Not the best price, but as far as square tanks go, this is one of the best:
  • louie imaging PRO 6y

    dip tanks maybe the better way to go and price have gotten way down these days for them. you can pick some up for maybe under a $100 for 3 tanks and hangers. much cleaner results too.
  • Tyler Westcott 6y

    Thanks for the advice on tanks and developers. I'm going to give HC110 a try for my next pass, and I'll keep my eyes open for Tanks - it seems pretty unanimous that these are the way to go.
  • Eric Smith 6y

    As far a HC110 goes, be careful with your agitation. HC110 is a very active developer, and over agitation can sometimes blow out your highlights. Other than that, it works quite nice.

    Also I forgot to mention, you can always taco-develop your 4x5 in a roll film tank

  • Eric Smith 6y

    BTW, you don't have an enlarger, so how are you getting your positives? Contact printing the negatives?
  • Tyler Westcott 6y

    Well, I did my first developing in HC110 last night and overall I was quite happy with the results. I did 8 shots total (4 at a time, done twice) and didn't seem to have any problems, though I appreciate the advice about HC110's aggressive development. With TMAX having a small toe for shadow detail, and HC110 being aggressive on the highlights I've probably made some strange beginner's choices. :-P

    As for reproductions, I do not have the space for an enlarger at present, though I'd like one and I'm hoping to find access to one I can use before I can make room for one of my own. I was actually just thinking about doing some contact prints from the negatives, though going that route is nearly enough to make you think about shooting 8x10. Regardless, that would be a relatively simple way to create a 'positive' image back out of my negatives, though I'd not get much chance for image manipulation that way.

    My current Flickr images from TMAX have come from scans of the negatives so for the very short term, that's probably the way I'll need to go.
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Taken on December 15, 2008
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