Building A Darkroom On A Shoe String Budget

Posted on

Developing your own film and prints is one of the many fun parts of being a photographer as well as a great way to have some quiet time expanding your photographic skills. There’s something to be said about a door that literally cannot be opened and the impact of having no interruptions can have on your work. Unfortunately, few people have access to a local darkroom, so the best alternative for developing your own prints is to create a darkroom at home.

The Location Really Does Matter

Garages, sheds, basements and extra rooms are all great places to have a darkroom. Just remember before choosing a location that you’ll need access to running water and that the chemicals are hazardous and smelly. Additionally, since the room you choose will have to be completely sealed of light, it’s a good idea to choose a room with no windows that you don’t mind removing from normal life – once you make a room a darkroom it’s not going to serve as anything else. That’s why sheds or basements are common darkroom locations because they can be used just for that purpose and have running water and electricity. You can also set up a darkroom in an unused bathroom however this might be a bit cramped.

The Must-Have Darkroom Supplies

Most darkroom supplies are rather basic and won’t cost you much to get started. Excluding whatever it takes to lightproof the room you use, you can get by with the following:

* 3 Trays big enough for 8×10 paper
* 3 Sets of tongs
* Chemicals (see below)
* Enlarger and timer (see below)
* Easel
* Darkroom light

The only expensive things you need are the enlarger, which you fortunately only need to purchase once, and the chemicals, which will need to be refreshed now and again. You can buy a photo enlarger for around $200 and a basic timer for about $150 or you can search online for some used equipment.

The chemicals are a bit more complicated. You can get most chemicals in either powder or liquid form. Powders are easier to store but will require mixing and sometimes can become airborne, while liquids are a little easier to deal with but take up more space and are often more expensive.

At a minimum, you’ll need to buy some developer, fixer and some stop bath. It’s a good idea to buy small quantities, or if using a powder only mix small amounts at a time, as the chemicals will go bad over time. You’ll also want to keep the chemicals in the dark in plastic bottles as glass can easily break when you’re working in the dark. A darkroom light will help you see while working with your paper but please know that a darkroom light can still ruin undeveloped film so only develop your film in complete darkness.

How to Set Up Your Darkroom

Once you have the chemicals sorted and all of your supplies in order, you’re good to go. The best darkroom layout will have a dry side and a wet side – do your cutting and enlarging on a workbench or table, then have another bench or table with your developer, stop bath, and fixer laid out and ready to go. If you have the budget, it’s best if you can have a special darkroom sink that is “always running, always full” so you can make sure that your prints are fully clean from chemicals. You may also want to consider adding a lock to the door to prevent accidental door openings while your working. However if you lock the door, just make sure that you can easily open it from inside in case of an emergency.

Once you have all of the supplies you need, you can really set up your darkroom in any place that’s protected from light. Just find a setup that works for you and before long, you’ll be developing and printing your images and will be proud to tell your friends you did it all from the comfort of your own darkroom!