As some of you know, I've been installing a darkroom in my basement this summer, working at an appropriately leisurely pace. The goal is a fine print portfolio from all the 35mm shooting I did between 1980 and 2000. For earlier installments in this series, please click on "Mike's Darkroom" under the "Categories" header in the right-hand sidebar.
In this update: power and lighting. As usual you can click on any of the images to open larger versions.
This first picture shows two things. First, the wet-side power strip. It's overkill: I don't need 16 outlets, and I don't need them spaced so close together. This will be to power GraLab timers and whatever else I might need on the wet side. It's just plugged into an outlet behind the wet-side wall. The electrical load on this will be very light, despite the plethora of outlets.
This picture also shows the switches for the lighting. The switch plate is placed high, above the shelf, to keep it well away from the wet. The switch on the left is for the viewing lights and the one on the right for the safelights.
The power strip for the dry side. Again, to have all these outlets is overkill, but I happened to be able to get these two power strips cheaply. The electrical load on this side will be very light, too, basically just an enlarger and a timer. At least I don't have to worry about having an outlet just where I want it.
One of the most important features of a darkroom, in my opinion: the print viewing lights. Two large cans on a 4-foot track. This is for looking at and evaluating wet prints just out of the fixer. The final tray in the lineup will hold plain water, with a heavy sheet of 1/4" glass angled against the wall. Newly made prints are slapped on the glass and squeegeed to get the excess water off, then studied to see what the next step will be. (Another important feature of this area is a comfortable bar stool.) The two viewing lights are set up just like a copystand, equidistant from where the prints will be and at 45-degree angles to it.
The only wild card here is the distance. I guessed. This is designed for two 60-watt incandescent bulbs, and that might turn out to be a tad too bright. If that's the case, I'll install a dimmer switch for the viewing lights. Having the proper illumination level in the darkroom for evaluating prints is crucial; absolutely crucial. Too bright and your prints will be consistently too dark, with blocked shadows (they'll look good under airplane landing lights, at least, or 500-watt spots), and too dim and your prints will be consistently too light, with a maximum black that is really only a dark gray (although maybe this will be necessary in the future, given the crappy low-level illumination currently fashionable in museums).
Note that in the above picture you can see one of the safelight cans at the far left.
Here are the safelights, shown turned on. The fixture is just a short 2-foot track with two cans. I've rigged the right-hand can with an extender inside it so that bulb protrudes somewhat. The idea is to give a mix of direct and reflected safelight. The safelights are red Festival LEDs.
Another view of the safelights. (You remember the incompletely masked window, which I did while puttering around late one night as I waited for the paint on the floor to dry; I haven't masked the windows or done the "light-tighting" yet.)
The purpose of the can on the left is to reflect off the far wall—more for ambience than useful illumination. I learned this trick from a darkroom I saw once that was a long, skinny room. The darkroom was at one end and the other end was a carpeted exhibition area, with framed prints on the wall. That end of the room was of course lit with white lights for viewing the pictures, but it also was flooded with very bright safelighting for when the darkroom end was in operation. The light level at the darkroom end was actually very low, but the presence of the "bright" half of the room was soothing and pleasant, and made it seem less like you were stuck in the dark. The safelight bounced against the far wall is my attempt to recreate that effect.
A final view of the safelight fixture, with the lights turned off. The other thing I had the electrician do was to relocate the main white light socket (bottom left in this view) to put it farther out into the room, so that it wouldn't interfere with the viewing lights. All these fixtures are quite close together. Incidentally, the only reason there's a chain coming from the left hand safelight can is that that's the kind of extender I happened to have on hand when I was mucking about trying to get the safelights right.
Final bill for all this, about $260 for the electrician and a total of about $190 for all the fixtures, including the two LED safelights, which were quite expensive but can be expected to last effectively forever.
This is the last refinement that's been added since the last update. You recall I used half of a $69 wire shelving unit to hold up the enlarger table (as seen in the second picture of this post). That left me with the other half, which fortunately just barely fit under the wet side counter (didn't plan that, because I didn't think of it before the wet side construction was done). So I got some dividers ($9 each) for tray storage.
Coming next: plumbing. (Got to remember to call the plumber today....)
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Roger Bradbury: "Well, once an electrician always an electrician, so I've been waiting for this bit. Looks good.
"I have to agree that you can't have too many sockets. I do like the idea of a viewing station. Doesn't the ideal light level there partly depend on the overall level under safelights, so that you don't squint too much? I suspect that the dimmer switch is the way to go.
"I presume that the lights and power are all dobbed into the local circuits in the basement. My first darkroom was in a shed with power and lighting fed from the household lighting circuit. (This was before I became an electrician) It wasn't too bad until I turned on the second 1000 Watt bar of the electric fire, trying to get the shed up to 20 Celcius. There was a bang as the lights and safelight went off, and suddenly everyone in the house was shouting my name...."