How to Build a Darkroom on a Budget

Since digital photography has taken a hold, most people you’ll meet have moved over completely to digital pictures. The number of photo labs has decreased, and having to drive to one and then wait to get the call that your pictures are ready to pick up.

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While many people still choose film photography, there’s no denying that the art can be a little inconvenient. Even if there’s a photo lab near you, sometimes it can take days or weeks for them to develop your pictures.

So what’s a poor film photographer to do?

As it turns out, developing your photos at home isn’t as difficult a task as it might seem. As long as you have the right tools, and the willingness to practice and make mistakes, you can easily learn to develop your pictures and on your own schedule and in the comfort of your own home.

Here’s how you can build your own darkroom at home.

The first thing you’ll need to do is find a space in your home for your darkroom. You can use your kitchen or your bathroom, although this really isn’t recommended. You’re using potentially hazardous chemicals in your darkroom, so it’s best to set up in a less-often used part of your home. If you have a large closet or a second bathroom that you don’t use frequently, then those are perfect spaces!

The important thing is that your darkroom is exactly that—a dark room. You want to make sure no light is able to get in. If the room you’ve chosen has any windows, make sure to cover them up with blackout sheeting. And, if you have a second bathroom, that’s preferred since a little ventilation will be best for your darkroom. If you’re using a closed, you can set up a fan. Darkroom work can take hours, and standing in a small room with chemical fumes can be dangerous.

You’ll also want to split your dark room up into a wet area and a dry area. On one side you’ll keep your enlarger, your paper, and all your tools. On the other side you’ll have your developing trays, your tank, chemicals, and water. Also, remember to keep a sink or tray separate where you can wash your hands.

The most difficult part of building your DIY darkroom is going to be finding an enlarger. Most companies don’t manufacture enlargers anymore, but the enlarger is also one of the most important parts of your darkroom.

Luckily, you should be able to find one second hand off a website like Ebay. And—what’s better news—is that because they’re second hand, you’ll probably have to spent far less money than what the owner had to spend when they brought it brand new. Still, expect to shell out at least $100.00 for your enlarger.

The other equipment you’ll need for your darkroom is a 35mm developing tank, some film reels, three developing trays for your developer, fixer, and water, measuring cylinders to make sure you have the right amount of each chemical, film clips and tongs, and a thermometer to measure the temperature of your chemistry, and a timer or stopwatch. Plus you’ll need the chemicals themselves.

Most of these things, except the chemicals of course, you might be able to find second hand. Or, if you prefer, you can find kits that include everything you’ll need, usually except for the chemicals. Luckily, most of the equipment will be a one-time purchase that you’ll be able to use over and over again. The chemicals you’ll have to buy again once you run out, but you can usually purchase large quantities which keeps you from having to re-purchase too frequently.

Now that you’ve got all your equipment, and you’ve separated them in your darkroom with a wet area and a dry area, the last thing you’ll need to do is get some protective equipment. Working with potentially harmful chemicals means that gloves are a must.

If you’re a hobbyist photographer, then building your own darkroom might seem difficult and maybe even unnecessary. After all, you can drop your cannister off at a photo lab.

But in today’s digital age, photo labs are becoming increasingly more difficult to find. And, as it turns out, it’s not terribly difficult to build your own darkroom. The most important thing is finding a room that won’t allow any light in, and making sure that you have ventilation since the fumes from the chemicals you’ll be using can be harmful. Most of the equipment you’ll need will be a one-time purchase, and you’ll be able to find the majority of it second hand.

Once you’ve set up your personal darkroom, you can start developing your film. Now instead of having to pay a photo lab to develop it for you, you can do the whole thing from start to finish in your own home!

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