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Darkroom Handout

Enlargers and Printing:

Making a black and white print is one of the basic skills in photography.  Realize that the darkroom is an

opportunity for creative exploration.  If you think about the darkroom as printmaking, then it will allow you

extra freedom and help you understand the potential of the enlarger, the paper, the chemistry, and of course


Enlarger:  Projects light (usually through a negative) and onto the printing paper.   For a diagram of a typical

enlarger, see p. 135 of the condensed Upton and London book. 

Enlarging timer:  is connected to the enlarger, activates the light on the enlarger, and allows you to control

the exposure of light onto the paper.

Paper:  is coated with light sensitive emulsion onto which the image is exposed.

Proofer / Printer:  Holds negatives or materials tightly to the paper

Easel:  Holds printing paper flat on the enlarger’s baseboard for exposure and enlargements.


Test Strips:  Strip of paper that helps you determine correct exposure.  Use 3 second increments.  

RC Paper Dryer:  Dries your prints for you.  Only use this after a final wash.

Parts of the Enlarger

1.  Enlarger head:

• Holds the film carrier.

• Focuses the image

• Contains the light source and lens

• Contains contrast filters

2.  Neck:  Raises and Lowers the Enlarger Head.  Don’t over tighten the

     adjustment knob!

3.  Look at the Timer Unit.  This controls exposure time. 

4.  Base:  This is where the easel or contact printer goes during printing.

5.  Lens:  Just like a camera lens.  “Open it up wide” when focusing.  Then close the

     enlarger two stops down when you are ready to print.  Use this setting as a starting

     point.  Adjust the setting as needed.

Operating the Enlarger

1. Turn on the black box towards the back of the enlarger station.  This is the power

regulator box.  Flip the switch up.

2. Turn on the Timer unit.  The power switch in on the backside in the upper right on

most units.  

3. In the upper left corner of the Timer unit is a Display with numbers.  Make sure it is set

to seconds.  

4. Look in the upper right of the display.  There are 3 buttons that allow you to turn the

display off, dim, or leave the display at the normal setting.  You should leave the

display on the normal setting (allows you to see the numbers).

5. The Dials allow you to set the exposure time on the enlarger light.  Left dial is for

increments of 10 seconds.  Right dial is for increments of 1 second.

6. Turn off the buzzer/beeper in the lower left.  (unless you need the sound).

7. Look at the Focus/Time buttons.  Focus turns on the enlarger light.  This is good for

focusing the image.  Time is used for actual Printing.  Make sure the timer is set to

Focus before putting Photo Paper on the easel or contact printer.

Making A Test Strip For A Negative or Contact Sheet

1.  Make sure your negatives are loaded and the enlarger is set properly.  (see above).

2.  If making a print, make sure the image is already focused.

3.  Pull out a test strip from your box of paper.  Test Strips should be no less than 2”x 8”


4.  Set your timer for 3 seconds.  DO NOT use longer exposure times on the initial test


5.  Press the big button on the timer.  That was your first interval of 3 seconds.  Using

the piece of white cardboard at your enlarger station, cover up most of the image except

for about an inch in width.  Make your second interval of 3 seconds.  Move the cardboard

an inch (exposing more paper), and make a third interval.  Count out your seconds each

time.  Make sure you have at least 6 intervals on a test strip!


      <1 inch >

Make a note of your starting time (3 sec) and your ending time (24 sec).  As you can see,

the image on the paper will get darker with each exposure.

6.  Pick the quickest time in which you see a TRUE BLACK.  If this time is less than 10

     seconds, then close down your aperture one stop to double the exposure time.  

Making A Contact Sheet

1.  Check out a Contact Printer (glass holder) from the storage room.

2.  Take your negatives, and the contact printer into the darkroom to an enlarger station. 

     You can leave your negatives in the negative sleeve.

3.  Make sure the Film Carrier is secure, and check to see that the film carrier release lever

     is positioned down (actually pointing straight out at you).

4.  Turn on the power supply to the Enlarger.  

5.  Turn on the Timer Unit to the Enlarger.  The ON/OFF switch is in the back.  

6.  Place your contact printer under the enlarger.  Set the aperture on the enlarger to f-8

     as a starting point.

7.  Press focus on the Timer unit.  Make sure the Contact Printer in engulfed in light from

     the enlarger.  

8.  Make a Test Strip (see below).  Place the paper underneath the negatives.  Close the

     glass on top of the negatives.

9.  Develop test strip, check time, make a print.  Adjust exposure time if necessary and

     print again.

Making An 8”x10” Print  

1.  Raise the lever on the left side of the enlarger head.  This will release the film carrier.

2.  Take out the film carrier, load your film, dust off the film, and replace the film carrier in

     the enlarger head.

3.  Make sure to push the release lever down.  This creates a light tight seal around the

     film carrier.  Otherwise, you will leak light into the darkroom and ruin people’s photo


4.  Focus your image using a grain focuser.  It helps to have the aperture set all the way


5.  Reset the aperture.  Now make a test strip.

6.  Develop the test strip and pick the best exposure time.

7.  Make the 8”x10” print.

1.  Developer  - 2 minutes (agitate)

2.  Stop  - 30 seconds (agitate)

3.  First Fix  - 2 minute (agitate)

4.  Second Fix  - 2 minutes (agitate)

5.  Holding Bath -  use until you have enough prints for a final wash

6.  Final Wash  - 10 minutes  (at least)





• Always start with a test strip

• Set the aperture on the lens for f-8 as a general rule

• Remember, the more light that hits the paper, the blacker or darker the tone ends up on the

paper.  The less light that hits the paper, the whiter or lighter the tone that is left on the


Printable HandoutDarkroom_Basics_files/Darkroom_Procedures_2009.pdf

Related Topics & Materials

SWC Photo & Digital - Technical Information

Black & White Darkroom Information

Southwestern College Websitehttp://www.swccd.edu