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Black and White Photography Darkroom Basics - How To Develop prints at home

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The home darkroom

It would be great to have the resources and room to have a dedicated area for a darkroom to develop your black and white photographs. But that isn't always possible. But not to worry. You can have a makeshift darkroom with very little effort. I have used my kitchen, bathroom and laundry room at various times during my career as a photographer. The only thing you need to have in your makeshift darkroom is running water, a waterproof surface and the ability to become lightproof. Also since some of the chemicals you need to develop your black and white photographs may have a disagreeable odor, the fans in kitchens or bathrooms are helpful at keeping the air fresh. Currently I use my spare bathroom/laundry room as it has everything I need to develop my black and white prints. If you can make the room dark by covering windows and cracks under the door, then it will work as darkroom.

Once you have mastered the art of developing black and white photographs in your own darkroom you can experiment with soloraization, handcoloring, and toning to add your own unique touches to your black and white prints.

Developing prints

Darkroom Basics - Trays with developing chemicals. Developer, Stop Bath, Fixer

Darkroom Basics - Trays with developing chemicals. Developer, Stop Bath, Fixer

Tools for developing film at home

An enlarger is of course necessary to develop your black and white photographs at home. I use a Berkey Omega Modular System XL which can be used to develop color prints as well. With the popularity and ease of digital photography, finding darkroom equipment is becoming increasingly harder. But the good news is that if you can find good used equipment, you can purchase it for a very reasonable price. I bought everything I needed for my darkroom, including paper and some chemicals for $100.00. They even threw in a Pentax SLR camera for an extra $25.00. This was a real find.

Berkey Omega Modular System XL

Darkroom Basics - Enlarger with negatives in negative holder, timer, and contact sheet.

Darkroom Basics - Enlarger with negatives in negative holder, timer, and contact sheet.

Film and paper

Develop Prints at Home - Rolls of black and white film,   8 X 10 and 5 X 7 photographic paper.

Develop Prints at Home - Rolls of black and white film, 8 X 10 and 5 X 7 photographic paper.

Film, paper, and darkroom chemicals

Like darkroom equipment, film, paper and Chemicals can be hard to find also. Some photography/camera stores still carry supplies. Especially if they are located near a college or university with a photography department. Since the students need to purchase their own supplies, nearby stores tend to carry the basics.

Black and white Photography supplies can also be purchased online on sites such as Ebay. Just make sure you know what you are buying and that the dates on the products are current. Film, and paper are both dated products. B&H Photo is also a good source for new supplies. They have a large selection and very prompt shipping. The basic supplies needed are film, photo paper, and the chemicals needed to develop them. Kodak and Ilford are two of the most popular companies that sell photo development supplies.

Even though developing photographs is a fun and rewarding hobby, it can be an expensive one.

T-Max 400 film for black and white prints runs from $4.00 to $7.00 per roll of 24 prints.

Kodak or Ilford paper for printing black and white prints runs around $24.00 for a package of 25 sheets. Ilford often runs special deals where they include a roll of film or an extra 15 sheets of paper.

Four main chemicals are needed for processing your negatives and prints. Each costs approximately $8.00 to $10.00 for a concentrated bottle or a powdered form. When diluted the solution makes a gallon or two and depending on how you store it, can last up to 6 months.

Chemicals used for developing

Black and White Photography - Developer, Stop Bath and Fixer.

Black and White Photography - Developer, Stop Bath and Fixer.

Making prints

Darkroom Basics - 5 X 7 print in Fixer.

Darkroom Basics - 5 X 7 print in Fixer.

The process of developing film at home

Since time and space doesn't allow me to give complete step-by-step instructions on developing your black and white prints, I will give you an abbreviated version, just so you get a sense of what is involved.

Developing the film is the first step. The most important thing to remember for this step is that you need total darkness to remove the film from the camera. No lights, not even safe lights can be used. If you don't have a room that is completely free from light than you can use a changing bag. This is a light proof bag that you slip your hands into, allowing you to remove the film from the camera and load it onto a reel. The reel then goes inside a light proof canister with a special light trap cover. This is where your film is processed into negatives.

The next step is to add the film developer to the tank. The developer is the primary processing chemical. It makes the image visible. There are many developers available and each one has its own directions for use. In general, developing time for film runs between 6 to 9 minutes. During this time, the canister is agitated at a rate of 30 seconds of agitation and 30 seconds of rest. At the end of the developing time, the developer is emptied out of the canister.

Following the developer is the stop bath solution. As its name implies, the stop bath nutrilizes the develper. During this stage the canister is agitated for 15 to 30 seconds. The chemical is then emptied out of the canister.

A fixing solution follows the stop bath. Fixer protects the negatives from further development when they are exposed to the light. Most fixers include a hardening agent which toughens the emulsion on the film and makes it more scratch resistant. During this stage the canister is agitated for 2 to 4 minutes, then poured out.

The final stage of film development is the washing of the film. It is best to keep a flow of constantly changing water running into the canister for 10 to 15 minutes.

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Your negatives are now ready to be air dried, preferably in a dust free environment. Once they are dried, they can be cut into sections of 4 to 5 images and slipped into archival negative sheets, which protect your negatives from damage such as scratches and dust.

The contact sheet

Thumbnail sized prints on contact sheet and negatives in archival holder.

Thumbnail sized prints on contact sheet and negatives in archival holder.

Into the darkroom

Now that you have your negatives, it's time to print a contact sheet. This will give you a page of thumbprint sized images to look at. From the contact sheet you can decide which prints you would like to develop. The prints above are from a 35mm camera. Medium and large format cameras give you bigger negatives which result in clearer pictures.

The process for developing prints is much like that for developing your negatives. The developer is specific for paper, but the stop bath and the fixer can be used for both processes.

The following will sound fairly simple, but there is a lot of technique involved in turning out a perfect print.

In the darkroom, the chemicals are set up in trays, developer, stop bath and fixer. The negatives are laid out onto a sheet of photographic paper and exposed to the light of the enlarger. Once developed this sheet will become the contact sheet.

The exposed photo paper is then placed into the tray of developer. Developing time for RC (resin coated) paper is 1 minute. Fiber based paper takes 2 minutes in the tray.

Next step is to stop the developing process with the stop bath. The paper stays in this tray for 30 seconds and then goes into the fixer tray. RC paper stays in the fixer for 2 minutes, 4 minutes for fiber based paper.

The final step is to wash the print in running water for 5 to 10 minutes.

The contact sheet is now read to be hung to dry.

Test strips

Test strips used to determine how long to expose the photo paper.

Test strips used to determine how long to expose the photo paper.

Developing the print

Choose the negative you would like to enlarge and slip it into the negative carrier. The carrier is then inserted into a slot below the light source on the enlarger. When the light is turned on, the image is reflected onto a frame called an easel. The easel will hold your paper once you have determined the size, right amount of light, and the exposure time. All of these are a matter of trial and error using a test strip. The test strip is a strip of photo paper that you expose to the light for increasing amounts of time to find the right exposure for your print. The test strip is developed using the same process used to develop the contact sheet. It is then used as a guide for your final print.

Once the exposure time is determined, a piece of photo paper is inserted into the easel. The enlarger light is turned on via a timer, and exposes the paper. The exposed paper is then developed following the same steps used to develop the contact sheet and the test strip.

You may not always get the print you want on the first try. As stated above, developing prints is a trail and error process. But with a little hard work and determination, you will end up with photographs you can be proud of.

8X10 and 5X7 prints

Develop Black and White Prints at home - Finished prints.

Develop Black and White Prints at home - Finished prints.

Photographic Effects


Toner is a solution that can change the tone of the print. There are many to chose from such as red, blue, brown and sepia tone.

Color toners are applied in the darkroom after the final rinse. The toning bath is placed in a separate tray, and the wet print is submerged into the solution.

Sepia tone is a two-step process. The first step bleaches out the print making the image almost invisible. The second step brings the image back in a sepia tone, giving it the appearance of an old photograph.

For an artistic touch, rubber cement can be used to paint specific areas of the print. These areas will not be effected by the bleach or the toner. When the print is dry the rubber cement is rubbed away leaving the original black and white tones in the covered areas.

Sepia Toned Print

Rubber cement was used around the windows.

Rubber cement was used around the windows.

Handcoloring Prints

A fun way to add a unique and artistic feel to your black and white prints is with handcoloring.

Color is added with oils or pencils. Marshall's makes sets containing tubes of oil paints, or colored pencils. Handcoloring can be used to add subtle color or to color the whole print, opening the door to a wide variety of possibilities.

Handcoloring does require a bit of technique, but with a little practice can result in creative black and white photographs.

Starting with a black and white print, color was added to the foreground.

Starting with a black and white print, color was added to the foreground.

Solorizing Prints

Solorizing or the Sabattier effectis the process of re-exposing a partially developed print to light. This leaves the print with silvery image that contain light lines that separate the shadowed areas. Solorization is another technique that requires a bit of trial and error to get the desired effects.

Solorized Print


Photography - How to Handcolor Your Black and White Prints

How to Take Classic Hollywood Portraits

How to Solorize Black and White Photographs - The Sabitter Effect

Ansel Adams - Black and White Photographer and Conservationist

Photography supplies


DommaLeigh on March 04, 2013:

Very nice, I have been a camera bug all my life but have never done any darkroom work. This page has given me food for thought. Digital prints all seem to fade and I miss the look and feel of a real photo.

Ron on June 07, 2012:

Great hub, looking forward to come back and fascinted by your posts. Thank you.

Ron from Fitness

lafenty (author) from California on March 29, 2012:

Yes, there is something magical about the whole process.

dappledesigns from In Limbo between New England and the Midwest on March 27, 2012:

I definitely miss the hours spent in the darkroom - the smell of the chemicals and watching the photo appear on the paper in the bath. Sigh. Great hub!

Amira1 on March 12, 2012:

Hi Mandee, I am not sure if you are still looking for darkroom equipment, but I have all you need to start one , have an 11x14 enlarger with Omega B-365 lens with most accessories needed. Some used but others are brand new, never been used. And I am asking for $500,The equipment are valued at over a $1000.00 but maybe able to do better if you are interested.check it out on Kijiji..The ad # 346809115. Thanks.

joe on January 22, 2012:

wow i loved it too

lafenty (author) from California on January 19, 2012:

Yes, sounds like your paper is old. There should be a date on the package somewhere.

David Anthony Procter on January 13, 2012:

Just set up my own darkroom and am very excited about it. One question: I picked up some ilford multigrade paper and after doing test strips have found it takes 5minutes exposure at f8 to get near a print: tis can't be right can it? The other paper I use takes 50secs with the same set up. Could the paper be old?

photobackdrop from Michigan on November 24, 2011:

One very informative hub! I always love black and white photography.

TheMonk from Brazil on July 01, 2011:

This is nice. I have never done it before and was a little curious on the process. Tank you for the info!

naseem khan pakistan on November 25, 2010:

thanks mr author,showing me my past back,which i had forgotton almost though i have moved to digital,your sight look nice, thanks your revision

lafenty (author) from California on May 15, 2010:

I hope you do, SilverGenes. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

SilverGenes on May 14, 2010:

You've inspired me to get out the film again... great blog. Thank you.

Rismayanti from Tropical Island on April 28, 2010:

Wonderfull.. refreshing memorie and give an information, thank you

blue parrot from Madrid, Spain on April 07, 2010:

I am not a photographer, but came here to see how you inserted your photos, because I am new here. And I looked at the "See all 11" series, but I think towards the end, before the coloured photo of the kid on the bench, there was something missing or came in white or incomplete.

I think black and white photos are more easily remembered, and I wonder why that is. In general photos seem to me terribly forgettable.

lafenty (author) from California on March 10, 2010:

Thanks tim-tim for you comments. It's nice that they still offer photography at the college and university level. Hopefully it will keep traditional photography alive.

Priscilla Chan from Normal, Illinois on March 10, 2010:

Love the black & white photos! They are classic! I love the solarized print you have in this hub! Believe it or not, we still have an enlarger. It was such a nice hobby! What happen now with the younger generation is that they are so caught up with technoly. Instead of getting pleasure from simple things, they got to have the video games. Thanks for the great hub!

lafenty (author) from California on March 09, 2010:

rick, that is the fun part! With the exception of the scratched negatives.

rick on March 09, 2010:

Interesting post...brought back plenty of memories. I have 3 enlargers that haven't been touched in years..what a shame..not to mention the trays, film reels, etc.

Since moving to digital, I really haven't missed dealing with curled fiber prints, water and dust spots, scratched negatives, and spending endless nights under the cover of safelights!

Peter from Australia on March 04, 2010:

Oh you do bring back some memories for me, but like Yard of nature I have packed my stuff away and moved totally to Digital :-)

lafenty (author) from California on January 24, 2010:

Maybe this will inspire you to unpack and get back into it.

Yard of nature from Michigan on January 23, 2010:

My darkroom is in boxes, never rebuilt after a move. There's a magic to the craft and as cool as digital is, there's nothing quite like watching a good print come to life. Glad to see some are still at it.

nikki1 on October 28, 2009:

wow, love'd it.

lafenty (author) from California on September 15, 2009:

mandee, I got my enlarger at a yard sale. But you might check on Ebay. They usually have quite a bit of darkroom equipment at reasonable prices.

mandee on September 15, 2009:

i was wondering if you could let me know where you found your Omega... i have been searching and searching for an enlarger and can't seem to find anything with a good deal of information on what i am buying or what it comes with...

Lgali on April 02, 2009:

this is good info about our history

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