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Introduction to Black and White Photography

Darkroom Layout & Equipment for Black and White Photography

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For a darkroom to be a darkroom it obviously has to be dark, but how close to the total absence of light the dark is, is very much dependant on the type of work that is being completed in the darkroom. Black and white film, colour film and colour papers are panchromatic, i.e. responsive to virtually all light in the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Black and white Film is more sensitive to the intensity of light than paper and therefore is the most difficult to handle as all processing must be completed in total darkness. This very fact has led to the development of dark bags and daylight film processing tanks. Working in the darkroom with black and white photography papers can be done with the use of a safelight. Generally black and white photography paper is not responsive to red or orange light (known as orthochromatic) and therefore a red or orange light can be used to assist in the development. Safelights are available in a variety of designs, but by far the most popular is the Kodak beehive design.

Kodak Beehive Safelight and Patterson Safelight
Patterson Safelight and Kodak Beehive for Black and White Photography

The darkroom needs to be set out to accommodate the black and white photographic processes in the most efficient manner possible. When a custom darkroom is being designed, the designer can split the room into wet and dry areas and track the development of the picture in nice linear patterns. This is shown in the layout of Ansel Adams' darkroom (possibly the greatest black and white photographer of all time) which is pictured below:

Ansel Adams' Darkroom Layout for Black and White Photography
Ansel Adams' Darkroom Layout

Photograph of Ansel's Darkroom for Black and White Photography
Photograph of Ansel's Darkroom

However the amateur or home darkroom setup is more constrained by location of water supply and available space. The underlying message is that anybody who is interested in black and white photography and black and white development can be assured that a bathroom, kitchen or cupboard can be converted with little or no effort. My first experiences in black and white photography involved a dark cloth for a loading bag and I just waited till night time! 


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