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Film Photography is Alive: Converting Garage Into Darkroom

Aug 15, 2021
Remember those long negatives that sit in your living room alongside the printed photos in your photo albums? Don’t you just miss flipping through the albums and remember your childhood memories flashback right in front of you? Remember clicking the shutter button of your camera and half-wondering if you got the shot right? Or maybe your finger half-covered the whole frame? Admit it, you have a bunch of pictures like that! Oh, and remember the anxious feeling of waiting for the films to be developed because unlike in today’s camera technology, you would have to wait for hours to see the images that have been taken. Well, you don’t have to miss the nostalgic feeling. Analog photography is making a comeback. And the millennials and the Gen Z are taking interest--a lot--in film photography. From hunting film cameras and rolls to taking photo walks and even to developing your own film rolls! This also calls for a shared hobby with your kids. Complete the fun and experience of analog photography by having your films developed at home! The darkroom need not be a studio-like setup. Just follow these easy steps and tips. And voila, you have your own darkroom in your garage.

The Space

First to consider is the presence of light that passes through the room. As the name suggests, the space needs to filter out the light. The film negatives are light sensitive so any possible light leaks that can penetrate through the room may cause damage. Therefore, the garage should have no windows. If it is not possible, install blackout curtains. To check if there is still ambient light in the room, switch off the light in the garage. If it becomes completely dark, then you are good to go. If not, locate the light source and block it. Then repeat the process until there are no more light leaks present in the room. Next is to partition the garage into two: the wet side and the dry side. The wet side is for all the chemical mixing, chemical processing, film developing, paper processing. All that needs to use “wet” materials are placed on the wet side. Thus, this side should be placed near a sink or water source in the garage. The sink should be made of fibre glass or stainless steel so that it can withstand the harshness of the chemical solutions. And where the Fleximounts garage hooks are installed to hang the wet film papers, which is usually called the drying rack. This should also be placed by the sink or washing area so that the excess liquid drippings will go straight to the sink. The dry side is for dry negatives handling, note writing, paper cropping, setting exposures and setting up enlargements. This side should be close to power outlets as the equipment used needs electrical power.

The Equipment

You need a table for each side to place all the tools and equipment necessary for the film processing. Fleximounts workbench is a perfect fit for both sides as you would be needing a spacious and sturdy table to work on your projects. We will list down the tools that you need for each side. First off for the wet side, you will need trays, pairs of tongs, film clips, funnel, graduated cylinder and necessary chemicals. The darkroom trays should be at least three in quantity, one each to serve a different purpose, which are to hold the developer, stop and fix when printing. And another will be used as a wash bath. The developing paper will be moved from one tray to another throughout the developing process. And this will allow the chemicals to process evenly in the print. Same as the darkroom trays, you will also need at least three developing tongs. They are used to transfer the developing paper from one tray to another without making a mark or blemishing your prints, which is common in using wet chemicals. The use of different tongs will also reduce the contamination of different chemicals in the different trays. Buy a set that is larger than the paper you are using so as not to scratch the paper. The chemicals you would be needing depend greatly on the kind of film developer and paper developer you are using. A certain chemical will only work for a certain type of film or paper. Although for the stop bath and fixer, most times you can use them on both film and paper. For the dry side, the most basic you would be needing are safelight, film tank and reels, enlarger, focus finder, timer and easel. The safelight will be your main source of light. It is red-lit because all darkroom papers are partially blind to red light. Therefore, it cannot ruin and expose your film negatives and paper. The enlarger is used to project the negative as it transfers your image onto the paper. If possible, place the enlarger in a high-ceiling area of the room for proper ventilation and more head space that you can easily swivel it around. A focus finder can help in maintaining focus or sharpness in the image. This is the same concept when viewing the focus finder in your camera, which will help you determine the sharpness of blurriness of the image.

Space Organization

Always keep your space organized. Make sure that the wet and dry equipment are carefully stored to avoid unnecessary spillage or leakage. Store the chemicals, mixing devices under the wet bench and inside storage containers. And keep your film negatives neat and easy to file and find by placing a contact sheet with each page of negatives.

Final Thoughts

Not only do you enjoy taking film photographs, it is now doubled the fun and excitement as you develop and print your film photos firsthand. Nothing beats the joy and fulfillment in using your own hands in creating masterpieces and pieces of memorabilia your family will treasure forever. And it’s nostalgic, don’t you think?