Back to School and in the Darkroom!

Posted: 09/13/2011


Well, it's that time of year again. Schools everywhere are getting back into full swing, and droves of new students are hitting the books and loading up their film cameras. But before rifling through that first roll of film and rushing to get it processed, let's go over the basics of your school's darkroom.

This Isn't Your Darkroom

You are being privileged with the use of these facilities, so please treat them as such. If you find something in a particular way, put it back the way you found it. If you make a mess, clean it up, simple as that. A clean, organized darkroom is a safe, and super-positive darkroom for everyone!

Dress Accordingly

Try to have on at least a short sleeved shirt and some sweat pants or jeans. The less of your body you have exposed, the better; this goes for feet as well, socks and shoes, no sandals! And just like you're going to be painting, don't wear anything you wouldn't like to see get really messy. Chances are you'll come out just fine, but accidents can happen.

If you have sensitive skin or just plan on not smelling like photo chemistry, be sure to put on some gloves. Nitrile gloves are great, provide good protection while allowing your hands to work as freely are they would bare.

Don't forget to sign in!

Sign in!

Again, be a responsible student and sign in/out to let your instructor know what's going on when they can't be there in the darkroom. This may not seem like a big deal, but if something goes awry, this can help your instructor to diagnose the problem.

Be Sure to Knock

Before running right into the darkroom to load film, process, or make prints, make sure you won't be letting in unwanted light to somebody else's hard work. If you can only enter through a hinged door, knock. If you have the convenience of a revolving darkroom door, use that, but keep the in's and out's to a minimum.

Lauren entering the "Darkroom In Use".

Follow Directions & Be Precise

When measuring out chemistry, always be precise. Measure twice, pour once. If there's a certain way that your instructor wants you to develop film, follow those directions to the "T". Besides, having a good, base darkroom routine will save you hours of fumbling around when you're working in your own darkroom.

Lining up "the shot" on the baseboard, ready to enlarge.

Stay Calm

Sometimes things will not go as you've planned in the darkroom. Either somebody poured fixer back into the bottle of developer, or your prints are turning out all black and you have no idea why. Just breathe. This isn't the time to panic. If you've done everything the way you've been instructed, it's probably not your fault. You're still learning, so just relax, maybe put on the new FPP, and get a hold of your instructor. The biggest benefit to a shared darkroom is that there will always be someone nearby to help.


No matter what's going on in the darkroom, keep your chin up. Not a single one of us made a masterpiece on the first print. Just keep trying. That's all part of the beauty of the darkroom. It's about experimentation; changing one variable, and then another, and then another, until your image is just the way you want it. It's about the magic of watching an image emerge on a piece of photo paper in the developer.  The more you work at it, the more enjoyable your darkroom experiences will become. And before long, you'll start to have as much fun as these guys do in there:


If you have any questions about the darkroom, feel free to email me:

Now get in there and experience the Zen of the darkroom for yourself!

-Mat Marrash



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