Monday, 25 April 2016

Darkroom Birmingham & My Darkroom Plans

Over the weekend I attended a film photography workshop at The Darkroom at the Old Print Works in Balsall Heath, run by Dan Burwood of Some Cities. It was a hands-on workshop where we were taught the whole process from shooting to processing film and making black and white prints in a darkroom. It was all very thorough, and I have gone from being completely clueless, to getting my head around the basics and feeling like, with a few books and the help of Youtube, I could probably do it again by myself.

On Saturday we went off on our own to shoot a roll of 35mm film around Balsall Heath. Unfortunately, I was borrowing a camera and the lens started to play up a bit so I didn't manage to finish the film, but I still got enough nice shots to test out the whole process so it didn't really matter.

After lunch, we got stuck into developing the negatives. Again, there was a slight mishap with mine because I hadn't placed the spiral correctly into the developing tank which meant that my photos ended up not being totally all developed because the negatives didn't get fully immersed in the chemicals. But, you learn from these mistakes, right? 

The next day we got to the really exciting part, first making the contact sheet. Here is mine. I managed to place some of them upside-down (don't ask me how, haha!). 

Here it is the other way around...

You can see there is a line through the bottom third of many of the photos due to them not getting developed fully. I'm sure it's a mistake I will never make again!

Then, it was time to get printing! We didn't have time to print many. The first one I printed was this shot of one of the other guys on the course, Fleck, photographing some blossom trees. 
I'm pretty happy with how this came out. Sadly, the focus on the lens was playing up a bit when I took this so I wasn't able to get Fleck in focus as much as I'd have liked, but I guess the softness is a nice effect anyway.

The next one I printed was this one I took of my feet on top of a pretty mosaic in a local park.

This one hasn't scanned terribly well. You can see my Docs a bit better on the actual print. As you can see I printed this one a bit lop-sided because I forgot to check the easel was in the right place. Again, you learn from these things! How awesome is this mosaic, by the way? :D

Next I printed this more abstract one of peeling paint on the wall below the ceiling.

This is my favourite of the bunch! Peeling paint on walls always seems to make for interesting photos.

All those were printed on resin coated paper. We then tested out some multi-grade paper so I printed the same shot twice using different graded filters. You can't tell a huge amount of difference though, and I can't remember which is which now (probably should have written on the back of them, never mind!).

So, that was my first darkroom experience! I would definitely recommend that everyone tries this at least once in their life. It is fascinating and magical to watch the images appear on paper before your eyes. If you're in Birmingham there are more workshop dates over the coming months.

The main reason I wanted to do the workshop was because I am planning to start making my own prints at home. I've never mentioned this here before, but we actually have a darkroom in our house, although it has not been used as a darkroom for many, many years. Perhaps, even 50 years or more. I think that it would be extremely cool to turn it into a proper darkroom again. Now I've done this workshop, I'm feeling much more confident that I can do it!

The door to my future darkroom! (shot on Poundland film)

It is a very small room on the first floor of the house, right at the top of the stairs. I remember when we first went to look round the house back in 1996 the owners at the time told us that the previous owners had turned it into a darkroom by filling in the window. It also has a large basin, which will make things easier. (I will take some photos of the interior of the room at some point soon). It does have a sloped ceiling on the one side of the room, so there isn't a huge amount of space to move around, but given that I'm such a small person, I think I will manage to work in there by myself fairly comfortably. I might have to cover the wooden beam along the sloped ceiling with some foam padding though, just in case I walk into it when the light's off!

You might be wondering why I hadn't thought about using it as a darkroom until now when I have lived in this house on and off for 20 years. Well, the room was pretty much entirely my dad's room to store his things. When he was still with us, it simply wasn't a possibility to use the space as anything else, so it never occurred to me. I also was under the false impression that processing negatives and making prints was way more complicated than it actually is. I thought it would cost a lot more money too, but it does seem to be something you can do on a budget if you're careful.

The first step in this "darkroom project" of mine will be to clear out the majority of the stuff in the room, and that is going to be a huge job! Once the room has been cleared it will need a thorough clean too because I don't think it's been hoovered....ever! I also need to test the taps in there are working OK as they've not been used for ages either. Then, it's a case of browsing eBay and buying everything I need. I'm planning to gradually buy everything over the next few months, and hopefully, by sometime in the autumn (at the latest, I hope), I will be all set. I'm aiming to be making my own prints in there regularly by the end of the year. That is my goal! I'll be so happy if I can do it.

I will definitely be blogging frequently about my darkroom as it progresses, so watch this space :) 


  1. Really nice post Deborah! I can't wait to read about the dark room renovation and see the process of it getting ready :-)

    When I did the workshop I also had a problem with the roll, it wasn't properly inserted. I was borrowing a camera as well, so when I started shooting with it for the first time I didn't notice something was wrong... I was so disappointed at the workshop after we developed the film, to hear the instructor say mine had nothing on it. I had to take new photos and come back to the lab another day. If you're curious to see the results I blogged about it back then (2013) -

    1. Thanks, Ines! I think I will be ready to share an update on it sooner than I anticipated :)

      Ah how annoying. Good that you were able to go back to the lab though. I enjoyed reading your post on it too. You got some lovely shots! :D


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