I remember the smell of the chemicals and the feeling of fixer as it dried on my hands. The darkroom was a form of sensory deprivation until your eyes adjusted to the soft, amber glow of the lights. My first darkroom was a humble space with two enlargers and a closet with a bottle opener for film retrieval. Starry Eyed Surprise was on repeat as I danced and watched the images from my yellow Hasselblad 501cm come to life on pearl paper. To this day, I can’t think of anything more therapeutic.Continue reading…
“I like having only 36 photos to go through,” says Mike Caputo when asked why he prefers analogue to digital for his photography work. He enjoys being in complete control of his creative process, from shooting all the way to developing. From the looks of it, he doesn’t seem like he’s giving up photography any time soon. A resident of Hawaii for over two decades, Mike successfully crowdfunded a darkroom in his local town some years ago, and it’s his go-to place for hanging out these days.Continue reading…
The sensory romance of contemporary photography is long gone, and that’s something worth mourning.
While I’m not necessarily sad about the loss of film photography in many ways, I’m more heartbroken about the lack of romance. Let’s think about this. Lots of major hobbies have some sort of perfect combination of senses. Whiskey and fine alcohols are all about it. Cars exude sensory indulgence. Gaming adds to it in various ways–from the arcade consoles at the pizza store to chugging Mountain Dew in a basement. Even the outdoors hobbies have it. But photography has more or less robbed itself of this. And unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like manufacturers care about it. That’s why I feel the soul has been sucked so much out of photography. It’s a major hobby that’s been replaced by an unfeeling algorithm.Continue reading…
Legendary photographer Weegee has a special print available that he probably worked on himself.
We understand that cameras themselves are cool. But so too is what photographers make with them. And a pretty fascinating print from Weegee has appeared on eBay. The photo seems to be a print from his distortions series. We reported on a similar print he did of Marilyn Monroe a little while back. From what it seems, this could be one of the rare prints that WeeGee made himself.Continue reading…
Want more Useful Photography Tips? Click Here.
Today’s tip is our 200th! And we’re very excited to bring it to you! We’ve been looking at what you’ve been putting into the search engine on our website and figured we’d create this piece of content just for you folks. There’s lots of information online on how to make your digital photo look like a film photo, but those photos often lack that film photo aesthetic when printed. And in fact, many of you were looking for how to do something just like this. It’s a process that starts in the post-production stage and transfers to the printing stage. Here’s how you do it!Continue reading…
Serbest Salih has been helping Syrian refugee children creatively express themselves with the Sirkhane DARKROOM.
“Seeing children learn photography and getting the chance to express themselves motivates me to continue this workshop and make it bigger,” says 26-year-old Serbest Salih. Currently based in Turkey, he is the Director of Sirkhane DARKROOM, a photography school in an impoverished neighborhood in the city of Nusaybin. “It gives young people the opportunity to develop life skills such as group dynamics, adopting universal values, improving coordination and concentration, therefore developing a healthy personality and healthy social communication skills.” Now, he’s trying to turn this into a bigger project with the Darkroom. Sometimes called the Flying Darkroom, it’s a giant shipping container that has been converted for educational and Darkroom usage. The vessel will travel every three months to serve underprivileged communities–or at least that’s the goal. For Serbest, this project is all about helping children express themselves.Continue reading…
If you’re a film photographer who develops and prints your own photos, Ilford wants to know your darkroom printing habits through a survey.
Passionate film photographers who want to be active in keeping the medium alive can do more than buying films and going to independent film labs. They can also support their favorite brands and companies in research and development. One such opportunity comes in Ilford Photo’s callout for their latest global film users survey, which aims to “inspire others to print and/or address the gaps that stop people from printing.” So, if you’re a regular darkroom printer, the company wants your insights.Continue reading…
Ever wanted to build your own darkroom or even dreamed of opening your own film lab? You might want to take notes from our guy Brock Saddler.
It’s been a while since we last touched base with Brock Saddler, the Australia-based photographer who showed us how to hack the Bronica ETRS to shoot Fujifilm Instax Mini Film. While he hasn’t been successful yet in creating a seamless version of this project, he was actually busy with something else: his own film developing lab. It was something that was always in his mind, and he was happy to report that he was finally able to set it up and get it running for the past 8 months.
The Hawaii Darkroom hopes to bring the community darkroom experience to the Big Island through Kickstarter funding.
Heads up, film photographers! If you’ve setup your own darkroom and hope that more people will get to experience its magic, here’s a project that definitely deserves your support. With your pledge on Kickstarter, you’ll help bring the complete darkroom experience to the film photography community of Hawaii.
Itching to try darkroom printing for your photos? With The Mobile Darkroom, you won’t need any negatives and enlargers to get started.
While Spanish-American photographer Adrian Otero was feeling under the weather for a week, he had plenty of time to come up with a little project. He ended up putting together something he calls The Mobile Darkroom. If you’re interested in darkroom printing your own photos — whether film or digital — his bright idea might be something you’d like to try yourself.
Photographing fireworks on film surely does require more work than when shooting digital.
With pyrotechnics, the stars of the show are quite literally shooting stars (“stars” being the fireworks industry’s term for those bits of flying sparkly fire). As in any performance, stars need a stage, and in a photograph the stage is everything else in the frame: the dark sky, buildings, or monuments, even your fellow audience members watching the show.
Although shooting on film eliminates digital photography’s near immediate feedback loop, it has other advantages. If you use color transparency film, you give up dynamic range with film and the ability to easily manipulate color in exchange for sensationally saturated color against a very dark background. The challenge is to get the exposure right while shooting without resorting to post-shoot processing manipulations. On the other hand, ISO 100 to 400 color negative films have an inherently large highlight range and lower contrast which is great for recording the color and details of the bright but short-lived streaks.
The invention of silver gelatin based photography as a ready made media changed the world as profoundly as the printing press, the cotton gin, the steel plow, the Wright Brother’s first airplane, the first controlled atomic chain reaction, and the personal computer. It changed the world by making photography both portable and widely accessible. No longer did photographers have to manufacture their negatives immediately before exposure and likewise when they went to print those negatives. The invention of shelf-stable photographic media transformed photography from a tool with rigid technical constraints tool used by only those who went to great lengths to use it and made it a medium for the masses. Silver gelatin media launched photography’s classical period by allowing freely roaming photographers to go out into the world, transforming our knowledge of it. As a tool of creativity, it allowed photography to take its rightful place as a powerful, expressive art form, helping usher in the era of Modern Art and what has come since.
Like those other great technological revolutions this one is built on discoveries that came before it and in turn launched a flowering of possibilities. Silver gelatin photography changed the world by democratizing photography. If you had the desire and the means to afford a camera and film, you too could record the world around you and share your visions with others on a previously unprecedented scale. And if you had the desire, you too could learn and practice the craft of developing your own film and the art of making your own prints.
At its heart silver gelatin photography is a kind of alchemy: light and chemistry are used to reduce light sensitive silver salts suspended in a gelatin emulsion into pure silver. During the manufacturing process ions of silver bonded to atoms of the halogen family (usually bromine, chlorine, iodine) form crystals of water insoluble silver salts, known as silver halides. These are suspended uniformly in a flexible gelatin emulsion which is coated on a transparent base to make film or on a paper or plastic base to make photographic paper. Unlike their photographic predecessors, these crystals are shelf stable for long periods of time. Once exposed to light the crystals absorbs the energy of pairs of photons. This absorbed energy causes atoms of pure metallic silver to build up in flaws in the crystal – electron traps known as sensitivity specs. The more photons absorbed by the crystal the denser the cluster of silver atoms grows, forming a latent image, once enough silver has formed on the surface of the crystal it becomes something that you can develop. Once bathed in a solution of a film developer such as Kodak D-76 or HC-110, Ilford Ilfosol-3 or Agfa Rodinal, the light-struck crystals are entirely converted into metallic silver. As the development process proceeds the developer is increasingly exhausted the film is then submerged in an acidic stop bath to full stop the activity of the developer. The film is then bathed I n a fixer which stabilizes the image by removing the remaining unexposed but still light sensitive silver halide crystals. How dark an area of the negative or print becomes during the process is a result of rich the emulsion is in light exposed silver halide crystals, the volume of light that reached that area, and the action of the developer on the latent images.
The revolution started in 1871 when amateur British photographer Dr. Richard Leach Maddox invented a relatively shelf-stable silver gelatin photographic emulsion that could be coated on glass, so that photographers did not have to make their own light sensitive materials. Maddox’s inspiration came from being made sick by the fumes mixing the emulsion for wet collodion plates. The problem with the wet collodion process is that it requires the light sensitive emulsion be prepared and “flowed” over glass plates immediately before exposure. If the emulsion hardened before you could expose and process the plate you had to start all over again. However, it was not until the late 1870s that a truly shelf stable version of Dr. Maddox’s invention was perfected to the point that a negative was light sensitive enough to allow for very short exposures, a development followed in 1888 by Eastman Kodak’s introduction of the first commercially viable transparent celluloid roll film. It was these three steps – the invention and evolution of R. L. Maddox’s silver gelatin emulsion, the ability to sensitize it to low levels of light, and the ability to coat it on a flexible transparent base – which launched photography as an art form anyone could take up and which could be easily made, reproduced, and distributed widely.
Silver gelatin prints are like silver gelatin films but the emulsion is coated on a nearly opaque paper or plastic base. This means that a silver gelatin print is a negative image of a negative image. Virtually all black and white prints made during photography’s classical era were made on silver gelatin coated media. The great apostle of silver gelatin printing as both a high craft and as a modern art was Californian Ansel Adams (1902-1984). Adams made his living as a commercial and landscape photographer and from the photograph concession in Yosemite National Park that his wife Virginia inherited from her father. Some, but not everyone, consider Adams to be the greatest black and white landscape photographic artist the world has known. But it is through his teaching of the craft and his pushing for “straight” photography to be accepted as a true form of Modern Art that he had his greatest impact.
Adams advocated that photographers should master the craft of film development and printing so that when they went out to make photographs they pre-visualize before they even started to unpack the camera what a finished print of the place, person, or thing would look like, a mental process he called “pre-visualization.” An accomplished musician before he took up photography Adams applied his musical training as an accomplished pianist and, along with fellow photographer and teacher Fred Archer, invented what they termed the Zone System. The Zone System conceives a print’s continuous tonal scale range as being divisible into ten zones –the way a musical scale is divided into octaves. Zone 0 being a texture-less black and Zone 10 being paper white. By knowing your film and paper, and using a blue, green, orange, red, yellow or blue filter on the lens when exposing a panchromatic negative the tonal relationships between colors can be enhanced or diminished. Knowing what your chosen film was capable of and by carefully manipulating the film development process, gives you control over how to best expose the negative to create emotional and aesthetic effect you want the viewer to experience when viewing the print, but he didn’t believe that expressive photography began and ended with the negative. Adams wrote “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance. Each performance differs in subtle way”
Making a silver gelatin print from a black and white negative involves three things: a darkened room to expose and develop the print in; a light source to make the exposure, and trays full of chemistry to develop, stop development, fix, running water to rinse the print, and a place for the print to dry. If you are starting with small, medium and sometimes large format negatives and want to make prints which are larger than the negative you will also need an enlarger. Exposure of the print is controlled by time and aperture. Where required, you may need to “dodge” – block light from reaching some areas of the print during a portion of the primary exposure – or “burn” light into other areas for longer periods to make them darker. Adams joked that dodging and burning a print were necessary to correct “mistakes God made when establishing tonal relationships.” But sometimes, as is the case with Adams’ best known image “Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941” it is a way to correct mistakes the photographer made when exposing the negative. However, dodging and burning are creative tools.
I’ve made prints in a large darkroom fully equipped with state of the art equipment and in a crowded closet (not very comfortable but doable). While on assignment in Honduras in the early 1990s I watched as fellow photographers turn an even smaller hotel bathroom into a temporary darkroom. At the beginning of his career as a professional photojournalist, Bruce Davidson used his apartment’s kitchen as a darkroom, installing a red light in the refrigerator so he could snack on cold fried chicken during a printing session.
But what if you don’t have the space for a darkroom? Depending on where you live it you may find private or communal fully equipped darkrooms which can be rented, or schools that offer courses in silver gelatin based black and white printing. Or you can do what many photographic greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Josef Koudelka did: find a skilled and sensitive professional to do your printing for you. On a per print basis the last course of action will not be cheap but may save you time if you know what you want and can communicate clearly with the person making the prints.
Whatever path you decide to take, if you have a great image, a well-made silver gelatin print is a thing of beauty which you’ll be proud to hang on your wall.
Darkrooms were once photographers’ sacred space for harnessing the magic of photography. Today, we mostly find them in a handful of schools teaching traditional photography, independent labs, and private artist spaces. Still, most of them are being decommissioned by universities that have shifted their focus to digital photography. Some of London’s creatives have responded to this by putting up Bright Rooms, dubbed a 21st century darkroom built to celebrate the craft of photography and heighten engagement with analog printing.
Photographers who love black and white photography should check this out!
Are you drawn to dramatic and impactful black and white imagery on Instagram but find yourself wondering how to take the dull, somewhat faded looking black and white files you have and turn them into the dramatic and impactful shots you are drawn to? This post is for you. Continue reading…
When most people look at prints, they often see them in one way: glossy and pretty high contrast–but Red River Palo Duro Etching paper is looking to turn that on its head. Red River Palo Duro Etching paper is a matte paper designed to print in a way that emulates what a photographer would get in the darkroom. And indeed, it is surely something that goes along very well with all the vintage Insta-looks and the presets that you’re bound to find in images. But at the same time, it could take folks some getting used to simply because of the fact that if you’re part of the newer generation of photographers, you probably have never seen what a true darkroom print looks like.
Yes, we obviously know that lots of photographers everywhere across the country and the world shoot film. But arguably, some of the most film development labs per capita are in NYC. So if you’re in the tri-state area or want a lab that will develop your film, check out these offerings.
All images and words by Vince Alongi. Used with permission.
On black and white photography, I feel you can create a timeless view of a scene that strips away the unnecessary such as coloring of clothing, mute styles and really capture the players in the story. In a landscape or cityscape, that will put a focus on the structures and mood. To express your vision in black, white and shadows it can really leave an impact on feeling rather than getting caught up in tones of colors.
Though I don’t approach a situation looking to render this in b/w, it comes out in the processing stage. I’m starting to train myself, however, to view the world as if I’m colorblind. I enjoy the noirish feel in visual arts- there’s a romantic, edgy, classical feel when someone can capture and create a vision without color being the focal point. I strive to be part of that, hopefully produce images that will give people pause.
Editor’s Note: in a previous version of this article, we misspelled Vince’s name. We apologize for this.
It’s not every day or even every quarter of a year that new paper gets announced, but in the case of the new Red River Palo Duro Etching there’s a big reason for photographers to get excited. The paper is made of 100% cotton rag which is designed to present the look of classic fine art prints that can be produced in the darkroom. For that reason, Red River is positing the paper for black and white photographers, portrait photographers, and landscape photographers. To that end, Red River explains they went deep into the physical feed of the paper and to render warm, natural tones with deep blacks. Theoretically, that means you’re most likely going to be locking your white balance to daylight before you print; but of course that also depends on what kind of lighting you’re in.
More information is after the jump below. We’re going to ask Red River for some samples and get to printing.
All images by Mike Ioannidis. Used with permission.
Photographer Mike Ioannidis is a 26 year old mechanical engineer that loves bike riding, climbing and analog photography. He lives in Athens, Greece. “…photography has played a vital role in my life!” Mike tells us about the last seven years. “Although it doesn’t pay my bills, it serves a greater purpose!” For Mike, photography is a form of self expression. He gets a chance to express emotions, feelings and capture what he sees, in the unique way.
The lead image of this blog post features a beautifully scanned negative of Kodak Portra 400. Looks really nice, right? Lots of photographers who get into analog film photography will then go about scanning their images to show them off online. I mean, it’s just what we do. But here’s the truth, it’s incredibly hard to get a GOOD scan. There are scanners that scan to DNG files and TIFFs, but they’re only so good. Why?
If you’re one of the newer breed of photographers who started out in digital and only afterward picked up analog film photography, then you’re also probably a photographer that has never had an image of theirs printed. The reason: what would you do with it? Would you put it on a wall? Would you keep it in a drawer? Unfortunately for many people, they typically just end up throwing them out. However I’m most certain this is because of one specific issue: they haven’t printed the right photo.