Are you into film photography and wish you had a darkroom? What if we told you that all you need is a bathroom (or any room with a sink) to build a DIY darkroom?
In this article, we’ll show you how to convert your space with a few simple steps.
[Note: ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here.]
What Equipment Do you Need for a DIY Darkroom?
The most crucial element in creating your darkroom is not the location but the equipment. There are tons of tools you can buy for developing and printing film. But the ones below are what you’ll need to get started.
Developing tank is a leak-proof container is where you place your roll of film for developing.
Film changing bag allows you to transfer the film from the canister into the developing tank without exposing it.
Film developing chemicals consists of the chemicals you need for developing your film. The most popular ones are HC-110 for black and white and C-41 for color.
Developing trays contain the chemicals you need for printing your images. You will typically need four for your developer, fixer, stop bath, and water for washing the chemicals off the print.
Safelights are the red light bulbs used in darkrooms. They’re called such because they’re safe around photo paper which is typically sensitive to light.
Film enlarger projects the image onto your printing paper to expose it.
Darkroom timer lets you time your developing process accurately.
Of course, there are a whole lot more you can add to this list. But the ones above are the bare essentials for film developing and printing. You can buy an enlarger off eBay, or even your local thrift shop. All the other pieces of equipment we mentioned are available on Amazon or photography websites like Adorama or B&H.
Look for a Good Location
Your darkroom needs to have running water, and it has to be light-proof. In most instances, the only place in your house that meets those requirements is a bathroom. But of course, you can also use the kitchen or even the laundry room as long as you have the means to light-proof those areas.
Another crucial requirement for your DIY darkroom is a ventilator (which most bathrooms have). Chemical fumes can sometimes be overwhelming, and having air circulation will reduce the smell.
Light Proof Your Room
Film is extremely sensitive to light. Even a second of exposure to light could ruin your film. That’s why it’s essential to make sure the room you choose is light-proof, including the small gaps between the doors and windows.
So how do you light-proof your room? The first step is to get inside and turn off the light. Stay for several minutes until your eyes adjust to the darkness. Now, look around if you see any light coming through because that’s where the work will start.
Once you figure out the areas where the light is coming through, you’ll need to seal them. You can use black duct tape to cover gaps. And for doors you can’t tape up, you can stuff them with thick towels, instead. They work well, and you can easily remove them if you need to get out of the room.
How about the windows? You can buy cheap black poster boards and duct tape them to seal the sill. The thickness of the boards should be enough to prevent light from going through. At the same time, they’re light enough to be held up with duct tape.
When you finish sealing the room, turn off the lights again and stay inside for a few minutes. If it’s pitch black, then you’ve done a great job light-proofing your DIY darkroom!
Make Sure Your Sink is Easily Accessible
Having running water is critical in developing film. You use it mostly to wash off the chemicals from the film itself or the photo paper. Sometimes, you’ll need to keep the water running for several minutes to make sure your film or paper is free of residues.
It would be best to keep your equipment close to the sink and make sure it’s free from clutter. That way, you don’t stumble into things while you’re in the process of developing film. Especially since being in a darkroom doesn’t make things easier for you when you’re moving around.
You should also make sure not to use the hot water from your faucet since it could potentially damage your film. Regular tap water has more or less the proper temperature for developing film properly. However, if you’re doubtful, you can always check it with a thermometer.
Organize your Darkroom Equipment
Since you’re working in a dimly lit room, you must know exactly where you place every single piece of equipment. Some tools such as the timer and photo enlarger need electricity, so it’s essential that you create a dry and wet area for your darkroom.
For the dry area, you can place a table away from the sink and set up the enlarger there. Doing so prevents your equipment from getting wet and also lessen your chances of getting electrocuted.
For the wet area, you can place your developing trays on the counter next to the sink. That way you can develop your photo paper quicker once you finish exposing it under the enlarger.
Install a Safelight to Protect the FIlm
Before you start processing the film, make sure to remove the regular lamp bulbs in your bathroom. Those can easily expose your unprocessed film or photo paper and erase your photos.
Install a safelight so you can still see what you’re doing in the darkroom without the worry of ruining your prints.
But you need to remember that the safelight can only be used when you’re developing photo paper. The safelight would still affect the unprocessed film. So make sure you turn it off completely when you’re loading the film into the film tank.
If you don’t want to turn off the safelight, you should use a film changing bag, instead. You can put the film canister and the developing tank inside and re-spool the unprocessed film in there. We’ll discuss more regarding changing bags in the next item.
Use a Film Changing Bag for Best Results
A film changing bag is what you use when removing the film from the canister and into the spool of the developing tank. And it is arguably the most crucial tool you’ll need for your darkroom. Since it’s lightproof, it won’t ruin your film.
So why should you use a changing bag to load the film if you have a safelight in your darkroom? The quick answer is that film is sensitive to safelight. So it’s necessary to do the film loading process in the dark- hence the changing bag. To use it, you’ll need to place your film canister and developing tank in the bag, seal it, and slide your arms into the sleeves to transfer the film into the spool.
The potential problem with using a bag is that you won’t see what you’re doing at all. Make sure you practice loading the film into the spool before you do it with the bag.
Remember that once the film is in the developing tank, you can turn on the safelight and not worry about accidental exposures. The tank is light-proof even when you open the lid to pour in the chemicals, making it safe for you to work even in regular light.
As you can see, finding a place to put up a DIY darkroom is not that difficult. In most cases, a bathroom is enough to fill your needs. The most difficult part of creating your darkroom is looking for the equipment you need to process your film.
Thankfully, you can find just about anything on the internet these days. You can get all the essentials for less than $200 if you’re patient enough to look for the right pieces of equipment. So don’t be afraid to set up your studio. It’s not as intimidating as you may think.