Black and White Printing

This tutorial aims to leave you able to happily make a black and white print in the PhotoSoc darkroom – what you will be doing is exposing photographic paper under an enlarger, making the image appear with the developer and making the picture permanent with the fixer. The preliminaries (mixing the chemicals) may seem long-winded, but you only have to do it once per session.

Step 1

Begin by measuring out and mixing up the chemicals (from the concentrate bottles on the shelf by the sink).

You will need plenty of water at the correct temperature – 20 degrees celsius.

Decide the maximum size of print you will make in this session, and use the trays that are the next size up (e.g. if you will make only 10×8 prints, use the 10×12 trays, etc.) Then measure out and mix the quantities of chemicals and water given in the table below. These quantities are worked out (in millilitres) to give concentrations of “1:9” – one part chemical to nine parts water.

10×8 12×10 16×12
developer 60 80 120
fixer 60 80 120
water 540 720 1080
to make 600 800 1200

The stop bath is ready prepared – simply pour the required amount into the tray. The stop bath should be yellow in colour: if you find that it is purple, pour it away and mix up some more from the comcentrate. The concentration needed is 1:19: measure out 100ml of the concentrate and add water to make up 2 litres in one of the large jugs. Use the quantity you require and pour the rest back into the large storage bottle.

The trays come in sets of three – use the red one for the developer, the white for the stop bath and the grey for the fixer. Put some tongs in each tray for handling your prints – the chemicals, while not highly irritant, can cause reactions in some people, especially after repeated exposure.

Once all the chemicals are ready, you can move on to the more interesting bit!

Step 2

Put the negative in the enlarger. As a beginner you will probably be printing from 35mm negatives, so the Leica V35 enlarger is the best one to use. Take the negative carrier out of the enlarger, then use the anti static brush to give your chosen negative and the carrier a good clean. Check for dust using the lupe by the lightbox.

Put the negative in the carrier – shiny side up but back to front, so the picture seems upside down to you – then put the carrier back in the enlarger.

Step 3

Turn on the safelights and turn the main lights off.

Step 4

Focus the image on the easel.

Hit the black button on the enlarger timer to turn on the enlarger. Open up to the widest aperture (f2.8 on the Leica) and adjust the focus until you can see the image clearly. Then use a focus finder – move the finder around until you can see a part of the image (i.e. an area of light ) and adjust the focus until the grain is sharp. Now stop the lens down to the working (optimum) aperture – between f5.6 and f11 inclusive on the Leica – being careful not to disturb the focus. When you have done this, check the focus again with the finder and adjust if necessary. If you are using variable contrast paper (you probably will be) make sure the enlarger is set to ‘multigrade’, and set the grade to 2 or 2.5, unless the negative is very flat or very contrasty.

Set the easel to give your chosen size of border on the size of paper you are using, and you can adjust the composition if you like by cropping (i.e. setting the easel to only allow part of the image to fall on the paper).

Now for a very important step:

Step 5: The Test Strip

There are several ways of making a test strip – I will outline two of them here.

  1. The lazy way: Under safelight, cut a strip of photographic paper about 3cm wide. Place this on the easel over an important area of the picture. Set the timer for an exposure of about 2 seconds, and hold a piece of card over the strip of paper so only an area about 2cm long shows. Make the 2 second exposure. Move the card 2cm down the strip, expose again and so on. Continue until the whole strip has been exposed, then give the whole strip a ‘base exposure’ of 5 seconds. Develop the test strip as follows:Slide the test strip face up into the tray of developer (making sure the surface is entirely covered), and start timing an interval of one minute (2 minutes for FB paper). Agitate the tray by gently rocking it back and forth and/or side to side. When the one minute interval is coming to an end, lift the strip up with a pair of tongs (but do not put the tongs on the image area – they could scratch it) and allow it to drain for a few seconds before placing it in the stop bath.Agitate the strip in the stop bath for about 30 seconds – the timing of this is not too critical. Lift (wih a fresh pair of tongs), drain again, and place it into the fixer – the strip will stay in here for one minute (2 minutes for FB paper), agitated as before. When this is over, put the strip in the wash tank and turn on the lights.After a brief wash, squeegee the water off the strip and look at it carefully. Hopefully, one of the sections on the strip will have just the right density. Count along the sections from the palest end, multiply by two and add five. This is the length of the exposure you should give your print.

    Lazy strip

    If the whole strip is too light or dark, try increasing or decreasing the base exposure. If this doesn’t work, you could also try shortening or lengthening the intervals of the test exposures, or changing the aperture on the enlarger.

  2. The accurate way: Choose the section of your picture which is the most important, and mark where it falls on a spare piece of blank paper (non-photographic, or the back of an old print) on top of the easel. Under safelight, take a sheet of photographic paper and place it on the easel with the end over the mark on the paper underneath – cover up the rest of the paper. Expose this for 4 seconds (say). Now move the test strip until a fresh section of paper is over the mark – cover the rest of the sheet and expose this part for 8 seconds. Continue moving and exposing the test strip until the whole sheet has been exposed, then develop it as before. Notice that you have to work out the exposure sequence and remember it – the sequence needs to give a good range of times. One such sequence would be 4s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 12s, 16s, 20s – with experience, you’ll work out the sequence that best suits your negatives.

    Accurate strip

    This test strip technique can be done by hand, covering the unwanted sections with pieces of card, or more neatly with a test strip printer. There is a small one of these in the darkroom, or you can make your own to fit a larger sheet of paper.

Now it’s time for the moment you’ve been waiting for –

Step 6: The Print

After all the preparation, this should be a simple matter. Set the time given by the test strip on the enlarger timer, and unless the test strip was very flat or very contrasty (if it’s flat, try grade 3.5: contrasty, try grade 1.5), no other changes need to be made. Under safelight, take a fresh sheet of photographic paper from the box (remembering to close the box afterwards – better safe than sorry) and place it in the easel. Hit the red button on the timer to expose the paper, then develop it as for the test strip – et voila! Watching your first full print (hopefully perfectly exposed, focused and composed) appear in the developer is a moment that should be recorded for posterity – remember that feeling…

After the fix, leave the print in the wash tank for 2-15 minutes (for an RC print – beginners are advised to start with resin coated paper) or for more than an hour for an FB print.

Final image

And there you have it – your first print.

Apart from fine adjustments of the contrast and exposure, there isn’t much more you can do to this print – if it still doesn’t look quite right, it’s time to try dodging and burning.

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