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Darkroom Creation

Using photographic paper in a pinhole camera ideally requires a darkroom. Not a pricey vast space full of fancy enlargers, but a room you can black out with room for a table and a couple of people to watch the images appear.A darkroom will enable you to process the results soon after taking the photo (then re take it when it messes up!)

To create a darkroom you will need:

A dark room (!) This will be required for both loading the photographic paper into the camera as well as developing the exposed image. Card or 'rubble sacks' are cheap blackout materials.
Developer, Stop bath and Fixer (Mixed with water to the correct proportions).
A red 'safelight' although a rear red bike light will do.
3 trays for the chemicals
Access to water for washing the prints after the developing process
5 x 7 photographic paper (DO NOT OPEN unless in red light).
A sign in big scary letters saying KEEP OUT! (To prevent nosy people coming in and fogging the photographic paper)

Darkroom construction

Place the three trays down in a row on a flat surface. From left to right you will have: Developer - Stop bath - Fixer. It is also good to have a 'dry' area away from the chemicals where you can put the camera and the photographic paper.(I almost wrote the words 'best practice' then, aaaaah!)
An extra red light can be useful to increase the illumination.
If there is no sink in your darkroom a tray or bowl with some water in is useful to place fixed photographs before being taken to a sink for full washing.


Mix the chemicals with water to the proportions shown on the bottles and pour them into their respective trays. The chemicals should ideally be at room temperature 20 C (ish) but don't worry too much about this. Put the tongs over the edge of the dev tray (They always fall in, but its all part of the fun).

Removing the photographic paper from the camera and developing the image.
Switch off the white light and switch on the red. (It may be worth waiting for a few seconds for your eyes become accustomed to the dark).
Take the lid off the camera and twist the photographic paper out of the can.
Put the can down and slide the photo paper under the surface of the developer.
Keep the chemical moving over the surface by gently rocking the dish every few seconds. The image should start to appear.


Woooooooooooooooooooooow! Innit Fab!!!!! Who needs pixels!

DON'T PANIC the print needs to stay in the developer for a whole minute (well to tell you the truth 2 minutes but impatience usually wins the day!).
After the image has appeared, use the print tongs to pick up the print.
Drain off excess developer and transfer the print into the stop bath.
Rock the dish for 30 seconds, keeping fresh chemical covering the print.
Drain again and place into the fixer where the print should be completely fixed in 3 minutes in rocking solution.

After 3 minutes you can turn on the white light (making sure before that you have packed away the photo paper!

If the photograph comes out too dark, it needs less exposure time; if too light it needs more.

Place the fixed print into a sink with running water for 4 minutes. This will wash the chemicals off the print. The print can then be stood up to dry.

Troubleshooting and adjusting your exposure.
If the photograph is too dark you need to give the photograph less exposure. If it is too light you need to give more. If you can see some detail, you are close to the correct exposure and you could initially try 50% more or less exposure. (Paper has very small exposure latitude compared to film, so you have to be more accurate with the exposure) The best weather conditions are when it is bright but overcast.


Re-loading the camera.
In the red light, load the camera with photographic paper for the next shot and replace the lid, (as well as re sealing the photo paper packet!


Dry hands.
As well as avoiding contact with chemicals, having dry hands will also avoid getting fingerprints on your photographs. Always try and use the print tongs for moving prints from one chemical to the next. Rubber gloves could also be useful here (although someone has just told me that people can be allergic to rubber gloves! Tsk, tsk, where will it end?)


Saving and reusing the chemicals.
All the chemicals should last for at least 25 sheets of paper before they start getting peeky. (You can tell when this happens as the stop bath impressively turns from yellow to blue!). The developer can go off a bit quicker as it reacts with oxygen. If it goes a murky dark brown or the consistency of porridge it is probably worth replacing.


Buying chemicals and photographic paper.
The chemicals and paper are available from the internet and possibly some good photographic shops, but check before you go. In our digital age it's getting trickier to find on the high street but all the materials are easily available on the web.


I thought I had better put one of these in to stop you from suing the pants off: my wife, my son, my daughter and me!

The chemicals are fairly inert although its best to avoid swimming in the stuff.
Developer is an alkaline and can react with peoples skin (although no more so than some washing up liquids). Stop bath is acetic acid; similar to the vinegar you put on your chips, (and to save you the bother, I can assure you it doesn't taste as good, something I discovered through a fairly dumb experiment early on in my photographic career!)
Fixer is a weak acid, which can stain your clothes if you decide to splash it all over yourself, (unnecessary in all but the most extreme 'performance art' approaches of pinhole photography). Old fixer (especially film fixer) contains soluble silver and you should avoid drinking the stuff!
Avoid contact with eyes. If this happens wash out immediately with ample running water.
After pouring the used chemical into (larger) bottles for re-use, label them and put them in a cupboard away from all those people who might be tempted to drink horrid smelling liquid that looks like wee.

How to Make paper negatives into positives

Easy methods:

  1. Get your mobile phone out and set the camera on 'negative' setting. Take a photograph of your negative print and Email the positive photo to your computer. When copying paper negatives in this way, ensure you avoid light reflections off the photographic paper.

  2. Scan the paper negative onto a flat bed scanner. It may be worth placing a book on the paper negative to ensure it lies flat on the scanner. Use photo-imaging software 'to taste'.

Awkward methods:

  1. Find a darkroom with an enlarger, sandwich the paper negative under a sheet of glass and on top of an unexposed sheet of photographic paper. Do test exposures and process to obtain a positive image.

  2. Photograph the negative with a Drink can camera to get a positive image in a negative world. (Trickier than it seems this one!)

Stupid method:
Pin your paper negative onto a wall and stare at it for 20 minutes without blinking. Then close your eyes and for a second you will see the image in positive!

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