Darkroom Experiments & Techniques

HUA 239 Alternative Photography—Darkroom Experiments with Professor Jaimie Lyle Gordon

Students—I will demo these techniques-please familiarize yourself with them and pick several to produce some final images with for your presentations.

You will find further technical info and instructions including images examples on the class blogsite under “posts”


Man Ray


—we got to play around with this a bit but I would like for you to take it a bit further. Some important considerations too—if using solarol (not sure if lab has it or not) it allows for your solarized print to yield rich blacks and bright whites because print develops fully (full development time) before it’s reexposed to light—guaranteeing solarization and amazing mackie lines that develop between the light and dark areas of the print. High contrast prints exaggerate this best. Pick a neg with good contrast—you can add a #5 filter and rc paper actually yields greater solarization.

You can even use solarol on film too. It’s best to use weak dektol—so this time we will use a diluted solution—and instead of the flashlight tests we did last time—it’s better to use a 75 watt reg incandes bulb for re-exposure over dev tray. When doing solarization because we’re using white light make sure prints are done one at a time and fellow students prints are safe in fixer before beginning a re-exposure with white light.

It’s best to cut off about 10% exposure time for solarized prints –and the shorter the initial exposure under enlarger the more negative looking the solarized print will appear when you re expose it. Opposite is true—the longer the exposure under enlarger the more positive looking the solarized print will appear when you re expose it. The longer you let print come up in developer the more pronounced mackie lines will be when you reexpose it to light and the shorter you leave it in developer before reexposure to light the less pronounced mackie lines will be. You can also contact print your solarized images using them as a paper negative.  Here is easy handout you can print out http://blogs.ccsd.edu/south-art-dept/files/2013/01/Solarization-1lx7set.pdf

Basic Directions:

-make initial exposure in enlarger with negative or photogram–do it at about 10% less than you should

-put it into developer (make sure dev is no more than 70 degrees) when it comes up about 1/3 of the way (20 sec rc-40 sec fiber) take it out and put it into tray of water or squeegee the dev off of it you’re trying to stop the dev process without fixing it-you could use very diluted stop bath but water or squeegee is fine–some people blot print dry to avoid streaks–some like streaks–by making printing more dry before 2nd exposure and getting rid of standing or running water you have more control–for example at this point you could do combo chemgram by selectively painting on fixer or using a penlight with more detailed solarizing details.

-put it under enlarger and reexpose it with either 40 watt bulb 2 ft away or use enlarger light at f 11 do it no more than couple seconds–you could also walk out into white light as well–less control though=

-bring it back over to sink and put it back into developer (some people use diluted developer–or use solarol for whole dev process so they get true blacks)–After the secondary exposure has been completed, the print should normally be slid very gently back beneath the surface of the developer, and development should be completed without agitation (as it destroys the formation of the Mackie lines) until the desired state is reached, usually a little less than half the total time for a straight print. Watch it carefully pull it before it goes to far–Processing can then continue as normal.

Man Ray


CLICHE VERRE: I really like the smoked glass method that involves tracing and wiping away—as I showed you example in class I made–but we can’t do that in school obviously no open flame—but the block ink method can be interesting too where you can etch some drawings or use combination of ink to opaque out what you don’t want –—want you to try tracing an image through the glass you can use dry erase markers—I’ll bring some—or you can paint with brushes too—just remember if using dry erase markers keep the right side up—you would use contact printing for this but you could also project an image down and contact over it too—perhaps you want to etch something over a projected image. We will do this again—think too about the link I sent you with Morrell’s cliché verre’s of botanicals set into the ink and built up with layer…lots of possiblities to combine drawing, etching with photography.

Painting a Print With a penlight: An interesting and fun technique is to project an image onto easel and expose it and then insert red filter and use penlight that has an opaque paper wrapped around it to direct the light like an aperture (the coast company has some really good penlight choices) you can trace what you want our of the image—it’s like you’re drawing or outlining on top of image. You can also do a combination of solarization too which adds another dimension—with either full solarization of following it during development rather than in the enlarger with red filter…

Multiple Exposure in the Darkroom: Lots of ways to do this—from sandwiched negs to composite prints-to making an exposure onto paper at 50% taking out neg putting another neg in using red filter!! and then re exposing. Doing multiple test strips on a print in all different directions! Printing portions of negatives and changing the enlarger focus! Projection images in combination with photograms objects put directly in contact with print—or negatives contacted and projected at same time! Sandwiching the negative in a glass carrier with other negative or other materials that are on transparent or even using stencils in combination with negatives..hmmmm…lots and lots of patience and forethought as to your combinations. Also very important to have some tracing paper and pencil on hand.

Directions for composite printing on multiple enlargers: (Jerry used MANY enlargers all at the same time!) He has each neg set up in a different enlarger with a different mask ready. It could be done with one enlarger, you’d just have to swap out the negs each time and replace your masks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsVDXjthsaU WATCH THIS!

http://www.pdngallery.com/legends/uelsmann/ this link gives step by step description on how he did these images—process and perception was the name of one of his books and he exemplifies this !

  1. Look for 2 images to combine—once you’re adept you can try to combine more. Look for images with clear horizontal or vertical dividing line. It simplifies blending process.
  2. Place each image in a different enlarger.
  3. Size and focus images allowing them to overlap slightly.
  4. Put a piece of plain white paper in the first easel. Use a marker to indicate placement of major objects in photo and where blending line will be.
  5. Move this paper to the second easel and line up the second image and blending line with the indicated marks.
  6. Make a test strip to determine the correct exposure for each enlarger.
  7. Place your light sensitive photo paper in the first enlarger and make the exposure using an opaque board to block the exposure around the blending line. Keep the board moving and allow some of the exposure to cross the blending line so there is no visible joining line.
  8. Transfer the light sensitive paper to the second easel. Don’t turn the paper around or get confused about the orientation—insert it into this 2nd easel and expose the 2nd negative using the opaque board in the same manner of step 7 to block the first exposure.
  9. Expect to carry out this procedure many times until you master moving the board to get a seamless blend-patience and craftsmanship are necessary to create this illusion.

Using Opaque Printing Masks: Uelsmann exposes parts of one photo onto the final print while he masks other areas,  ...

Selective Development; Selectively paint developer with brush on certain areas—perhaps do some fixer staining on the print..this is more like Chemigrams which can be quite interesting.

Photograms: Objects directly on paper—raised off of paper—set up in front of paper tape paper to wall illuminate them from other light source—do combination projected image and photogram together..put objects on glass if you want to repeat—do combination solarization and photograms too…try some text on transparency—use materials—I’ll bring in some of my interesting junk to use! Don’t forget moving objects across paper—water–stencils–translucent and mixing of textures—try to work bigger—think of symbolism of the objects you are using.

Diptiks and triptiks—select pair of images you think would work that are next to each other on neg strip and then pick a triplet section—we will project this grouping of negs on 4×5 enlarger and 80mm lens should work ok for 35mm negs longer for med format negs. We will need to block off areas on neg carrier with some pieces of cardboard and tape. Creating sequences in this way is important to understanding your work outside of the primary image alone.

Wall GRID WORK: Think about creating some images that will work well as large wall grid—I want you to try and look at some of your 8×10 and 11×14 or bigger prints you have and bring them in when we work on collage and montage—but perhaps you might come up with something abstract with some of the processes above and want to use them all together.

RETICULATION TO A NEGATIVE: can be a happy accident when you do it purposely! Find some negatives you don’t care about ruining or taking the chance of enhancing to try this out.

Here’s a fool proof way of reticulating the emulsion!

Process the film normally. Fix using a non-hardening fixer (important). Wash as usual.
Mix some Sodium Carbonate (arm and hammer washing soda), up to 1 ounce per liter.
Water must be somewhere between 100-160°F.

Soak the desired negative in the solution. Once desired effect is obtained, wash in cold water and dry. If  crystals are present on the dried negative, wipe dry crystals off and re-wash negatives. 
Higher concentrations give a more wrinkled effect. Higher temperatures accelerate the reaction. 
Low concentration at low temperature gives a leopard skin look. High concentrations at high temperature will  peel the emulsion off.  When the emulsion is soft, it is possible to manipulate it with solid objects or imprint textures in it like  Time-Zero films.  Drying of the negatives takes longer than average, rolling a clean tennis ball across the film gives an interesting texture

what else can you do to “destroy” or “distress’ your negatives and give them a re-birth—scratch them-burn them-put alcohol ink on them-Use the tiniest scratching tool possiblefor 35mm negatives, because with enlargement, the scratches will be huge and dominate your image. A quilting “between” needle embedded in a pencil eraser might do the trick. They are smaller, stubbier, needles and thus are less bendable. Watch your scratching process so you make smooth, fine marks, or the lines will appear jagged and distracting. When you scratch on the top/non-emulsion side of the negative, refraction will produce white lines on your print. When you scratch on the bottom/emulsion side of the negative, the scratches will remove emulsion and produce black lines in the print. If you are using a color negative, the scratches will produce black and whitish lines and also different colors. These are general rules of thumb, anyway.

Scratch words into the top of the negative. Write with a pencil on top of the image, and the graphite will act as density and print lighter. Scratch an empty space in one negative and sandwich another negative with it when printing, so the second negative will print through the cleared area. Scratch and burn at the same time, manipulating the plastic while it is warm.

http://penumbrafoundation.tumblr.com/post/33908494890/from-our-community   great article

check out this artist’s work:


http://www.lloydgodman.net/tech/tech/Photograms/photograms8.html   let’s look at this link!






See these directions below from lomography.com


Another starting point of the photography course I teach is getting students to understand the difference between positive and negative images and a basic introduction to chemicals, and to do this we create chemigrams. This is a way of capturing positive or negative images straight onto light sensitive paper by using various objects.

What you need:

  • Light sensitive paper
  • Three trays
  • Developer, Stop and Fixer chemicals.
  • No darkroom needed
  • Paper towels / kitchen towels would be handy.

Setting up
As you’re not making an actual replica of a picture it doesn’t matter if your paper gets exposed to light, just be sure not to exposure the whole box. You will need three trays, one for each chemical. Set them up as recommended by the brand for paper development, not film. For ease of reference, label each tray. Okay, you’re ready to go!

How to create positive images
Select your chosen object; usually more absorbent objects work best such as flowers, leaves and plants. You can also create hand prints if you’re sure to wash your hand extremely well straight after. Dip your object into the developer. This is just a dip, shake off any excess liquid. Carefully place onto your light sensitive paper cover with a paper towel. Evenly press down and hold for 40-60 seconds.

Remove, and magic! A black detailed print of your chosen object! Now to keep it there place the paper into the stop for 30 seconds then remove and place into the fixer for 5-10 minutes with regular agitation. Wash off in another clean water tray of a sink for 5 minutes to rid it of any chemicals. Complete!

How to create negative images
The process is the same as above only the order of the chemicals changes. This time you want to fix your chosen object so it remains white. Dip your object into the fixer first and repeat as above. Place into the developer to give you the black background. This takes roughly 2 minutes or until you are happy with the darkness. Continue to stop and fix then wash as above! Compete!

Once you have mastered this and you’re ready to move onto the next level, Google chemigrams and check out the chemigram paintings. By using different dilutions it is possibly to actually paint an image. This is a great way to get some fantastic prints for beginners and experts alike.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s