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Saturday, 19 June 2010


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Floor, use epoxy to get a better seal.

Dear Mike,

Sorry, but those great photographers, Mick and Keith had it right--

"I see a darkroom and I want it painted black

"No white walls anymore I want them to turn black..."

pax / Rolling Ctein

Admittedly, I've been a bit out touch (you know why...futball), but if you are going back to film, darn it so am I. Watch for the D700 on eBay. ;~D

One of my photo teachers always wore a black apron to cut down on reflected light. He also always wore a white shirt and a necktie under it.

If you are setting up a color darkroom, you really want black paint on the walls and ceiling rear the enlarger or you will go crazy - no never mind , if you are setting up a color darkroom, you are already crazy.

Ah, safelights. I did all my printing in colour and could never afford the appropriate safelights, so my darkroom was genuinely dark. Loading the Jobo used to be fun (remember the little plastic clips?), and all my exposures were timed using a tape recorder with a recording of a metronome. Those were the days. Kids today, etc. etc.


Dear Mike,

For cleaning darkroom floors, I'm still in love with this:


pax / Ctein

My understanding is that naked unfixed paper should only ever be in reflected safelight, never direct. Or is that being overcautious?

I try to wear dark clothing around enlargers, too. Why not?

Perhaps it should be said that some of these precautions are precautions--overkill for the ten-second contact sheet, but desirable when the paper is out a long time (whether from extended enlarger work, developer tricks, absent-mindedness or sloppiness, etc.).

I'm a heretic - I painted my first darkroom Kodak Film Box Yellow. I was doing only B&W work at the time, and under safe lights, it was just as bright as if it had been white. A bright light hanging over the sink worked well for the first wet inspection, selective bleaching, and toning, but I always brought my prints outside the room for the final look.

Painting a concrete floor is an absolute necessity - concrete becomes abraded from foot traffic, and it gives off an enormous amount of dust.

Rustoleum sells this very nifty dark gray colored magnetic latex primer which is pretty cool to use on a wall. Say from about waist high to something just about your standing sight line. Then purchase some inexpesive magnets and the wall becomes an easily to use place to post notes and intial proofs of work.

Maunder on... I'm interested.

Just to get something different in, The close up headshots I am seeing on TV during the world cup are really impressive. These people have some fine equipment, and know how to use it.

When I built my over-engineered darkroom I tiled the floor. It was a relatively small area and I got some chemical resistant 12 X 12 black tiles; a somewhat elegant way to seal a concrete floor. I'm not advocating that you tile, but do suggest that you get some type of cushioned floor mat to cover the walking area, after you have sealed it. Concrete (or tile) floors are pretty hard on the feet/legs/back and I found these mats to be at least a partial solution (couldn't take off 20 or 30 years of age and wear & tear on the body, which was the real solution).


another good reason to paint a concrete floor is to reduce dust. A bare concrete floor never stops being dusty, no matter how many times you sweep it.

I have never heard of wearing a black shirt to print in, but if you've made black the area behind the enlarger it makes sense.

I once read that a piece of black card should be put under the printing paper to stop light that passes through the paper bouncing back off the white easel and degrading detail. Never tried it meself.....

The biggest darkroom myth-- darkrooms must be DARK. I've seen a modern B&W print darkroom at a local art center...but only when the white lights were on. In normal printing mode, it was an inkwell, whose dank depths were barely revealed by a feeble 40-watt bulb behind a Kodak filter. This was a big facility, built to serve eight enlarger stations. Where students were using their enlarger bulbs to find their way around the machines. Hadn't they heard of the Thomas Duplex safelight? Has anyone ever heard of the Thomas Duplex safelight?

I used to have one that traveled between various darkrooms I worked in. It had a large, specialized bulb, probably sodium vapor, which put out a narrow range of yellow/orange wavelengths invisible to photo paper. On top of its boxy tub, two hinged barn doors moved to choke down the light aimed up at the ceiling. Even half open, one Thomas Duplex kept it bright enough to read newspaper headlines, if not the small print.

Not just a mere accessory, these lights were indispensable, back in the day. They were costly, about $150, but always a wise investment. Have their kind vanished from the Earth?

Whoops, make that the Thomas Duplex Safelight. Watson was the name of my bulk loader.

Black clothes in the darkroom ... that actually makes sense.

I can see how enlarger light reflected from the paper could be reflected back to the paper from a nearby white shirt and dull the highlights.

That's similar to the rule that photo studio staff should always wear black or neutral colors because a colorful shirt can throw the color of the lighting way off if an assistant happens to be standing in the wrong place, for example. At least that's usually the rule in the studios I sometimes find myself in.

Some people seem to like to set up a black-lined "niche" around their enlargers, or simply stick some black paper to the wall behind it. But white is definitely the color for darkroom walls that are not immediately adjacent to the enlarger, for the reasons Mike mentioned.

And if you use a black t-shirt, don't use one with phosphorescent ink on it. It happened to me once.

well, I just envy you Mike, having the oppurtunity to build a dedicated darkroom!
I would paint the walls red. As Paul Butzi said, reflected light off white walls just might affect highlights. But not if reflected off red walls. I actually read this somewhere, maybe in that Camera and Darkroom Magazine I loved so much.....!
I always printed in my bathroom; planks-over-the-bath school of printing, projecting onto the cramped floor at times,printing 10 to 24-hours at a time..using a miniature flashlight filtered with tissue to selectively darken certain areas....I told the local galleries this, they didn't believe me and I sold archival silver prints successfully back in the day. I once tried printing a 16 x 20" print; of course no room in the bathroom for separate trays, so I developed the print as we would develop film! One large tray on planks over the bath; 4 large jugs of the respective chemicals; pour them in, pour them out, wash for a considerable length of time...and then my selenium diluted 1:9...creating magic! 10 years later the print is hanging on my wall, looking just fine...(I have gone digital now...snif...)

In the Army I worked in darkrooms with glossy black walls. You get used to it but they were depressing and I agree that a white or at least light colored wall makes for a brighter and more pleasant work environment. My converted bathroom>darkroom has beige walls. I didn't bother to repaint it. The wall behind the enlarger is black courtesy of black plastic blocking out a window. I can't sat that I ever paid any attention to what color shirt I wore while working and don't recall any problems with degraded highlights. Back in the day my eyes were so sensitive that after about 5 minutes in a totally darkened room I could spot even the smallest pinhole light leak. Alas, my eyes are no longer what they were.

If you ever use a classic copy stand, wear the black shirts. Light reflecting off of the original will light your shirt if you stand close enough to fire the camera without using a very long release. That light can reflect back down. I've see copies that had a red tint on one edge; the copy stand operator in the mini-lab in my old camera store wore a red shirt that day. We got him a black smock and a longer cable release after that.

Also, the white wall paint should be semi-gloss and not matte. Semi-gloss is much easier to wipe down with a damp cloth or mop to reduce dust.

Our community facility in Hayward, CA. I think it's just what you're talking about.



Ah Mark beat me to it. I painted my floor with grey epoxy. Another advantage of painting the floor is that it greatly reduces dust.

Over the years I learned to wear a black apron when I print for the same reasons as Paul Butzi. Also doubles as protection from splashes getting on my clothes.

I must admit I have painted my walls flat black as well. I have two enlargers in my darkroom and if I'm doing production work they are both going. On the rare occasion I have a buddy or my wife printing on the second enlarger. You'd be surprised at how much light is reflected off a glossy sheet of paper. I have toyed with hanging a think black curtain between the enlargers for further isolation.

Maybe some would say I'm being a bit over the top but I have noticed an improvement in my highlights.

Mike like you Afga was my favourite paper and am still working on a stash I bought up just prior to it's demise. I tested a sample pack of the new stuff and it seems ok but there was not enough in the pack to really give it a good going over.

Wow, that's nice.


If you're going with the black t-shirt, don't forget the commando paint on the face too.

I painted mine dark navy. It's as black as can be in the dark or under red safe lights, yet not so weird as black when the lights are on.

I recently built a new darkroom after a move, and the new one has these rubber interlocking tiles on the floor. Much easier on the feet, and not so precious that I worry about spills.

The old darkroom had a concrete floor... and yes, we had an incident involving my then three year old son and a 5 gallon bucket (with about 3 gallons in it) of spent fix that was bound for "hazardous waste day" that we simply refer to as the "chemical spill incident."

What a mess... all over his clothes, and the floor. Everything went straight for the wash and the shower, I had a mop that became a dedicated "fix mop". Anyway, I managed to get most of it picked up, and back into a bucket, and the floor began to dry out... but the smell lingered. I don't mind the smell of fix in the darkroom, but we could smell it upstairs. Anyway, I finally gave that floor a good mopping with perma wash and that did the trick!!

Now I keep those buckets of spent fix in the garage, as I think these rubber tiles would be harder to mop up and clean with perma wash! Glad I have the tiles, the darkroom is new enough that I've only had about four or five printing sessions in there, but my feet are far happier for it!! And the kids KNOW better now about those buckets 'o fix!

As it happens, I am in the process of setting up my first darkroom, so this series of articles is very useful and relevant.

White walls are the ticket. I had a darkroom with black walls and it was a very depressing space to spend time in.

Behind my enlarger though I have a sheet black plastic, fashioned from a trash bag, tacked to the wall behind. I like the black shirt idea; I think I'll make that a part of my printing workwear.

I'm looking forward to following your cool project.

Mike - Red darkroom walls that turn the light bounced off of them to a safelight color are great for the prints, but not the printer. Bright red darkrooms tend to produce crazy people. A warm yellow or beige (check the color of your OC safelight) will do almost as much to discourage fog in both the enlarging paper and the printer.

Dave is right ctein is wrong, something like Kodak box yellow is the correct color for a B&W darkroom, and it works well for color as well. Think it through.
I have worked in black darkrooms and it's not very pleasant. With yellow the reflections are safe, so what's the problem?

It seems to me that that if darkroom walls are painted a color as close as practical to "safe" light we will have all the advantages of "white" walls and no reflected light that can harm the paper.
My darkroom walls are yellow, and I have a Thomas Duplex at one end and an Osram Duka at the other. Testing has shown me that there is no difference between "lights on" and "lights off" on color or B&W paper. Plus I can wander off to the corner of the room to find those spare spool ends or other needed gadgets and not worry about paper fogging or bumping into walls.
Both my Durst 1840 with Chromega head and my contact printer leak some light, but once it is brought down below the threshold of the paper's sensitivity it has no effect on the paper.
I do dress in dark clothing when printing on the 1840, 1,000 watts makes a whole lot of light and a four foot long print bounces a lot back onto me.

Dear Mike,

You might also consider a middle-light grey. People underestimate how dark middle grey really is. It reflects only 1/4 as much light as off-white does and it provides less glare when trying to evaluate prints. Even a pale grey is a full stop darker than off-white, suppressing your stray light problems by a factor of 2.

(FWIW, nobody who ever worked in my darkroom found the all-black walls to be oppressive... but I had THREE red fireball safelights and 700 watts of incandescent lighting in there to keep them happy.)

pax / Ctein

P.S. As a reference point, your new silver sedan looks very bright to the eye, but it absorbs about HALF the light hitting it.

Check its diffuse reflectance with a light meter against a sheet of white paper and see if I'm wrong.

pax / Ctein

My darkroom IS painted RED, in the hope that any accidental light spills should be reflected as reasonably "safe light". Something I deduced from the red dev tray as supplied in the red,grey,white three packs, processing trays used to be supplied in. I also use a red apron to protect myself from spills.

The floor is made of pale grey stone effect floor tiles over hardboard.

Just wanted to throw my two cents in because I sell paint. I would go to Menards and buy the Zinsser Perma-White paint in the Eggshell finish. You might not want to paint the walls, but this paint is gauranteed for 5 years not to mold or mildew. Anytime you will be in a basement with water and low light, you might have to deal with mold. Two coats and the walls will look good for years. Plus they clean easily and give you some peace of mind.

Other than that, your parlay into a dark room had me pulling out my old film cameras. I spent the weekend shooting my three year old's birthday party with my Canon Canonet QL17. Great camera, lots of fun. But I remember taking better pictures with it in my pre-digital days. Plus I kept catching myself chimping after the shots.


Back when I was in high school, the common wisdom was that a the darkroom should be painted light yellow, the same color as the yellow safelights, so that the whole room would appear to be white. Don't know that this ever made sense, but when I set up my own home darkroom some 25 years ago, I picked my own light yellow semi-gloss for the walls.

Funny how the things you are taught as gospel when you are first learning stay with you for quite a while. At the time (late 'sixties) we used plus-x and tri-x and developed everything in acufine. Shadow detail, and the importance thereof, wasn't something I figured out for the first five years I was taking pictures.

Wearing a dark shirt is fine, but what about your bright pink hands? Here's a link that may be helpful:


I thought about buying some for tray development in pyro, but regular nitrile gloves are cheaper. Perhaps if I developed by inspection...

Take care,

In a B&W darkroom, safelight-colored walls help keep it bright (and conserve safelight power) while still keeping reflections from being a problem. In that sense, they're a good idea, and they were indeed popular when I paid much attention to darkroom building, the 70s and 80s.

Since inspection lights are generally bright and straight onto the viewing spot (fixer tray and/or nearby generally), there isn't too much color tinge picked up from the walls -- plus it's B&W. For color work, I'd have to think about the wall color rather more.

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