Many people shy away from darkroom work because they assume a darkroom must be an elaborate affair. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A darkroom can be very complex, but it doesn't need to be. If all you plan to do is develop film, you need very little space. If you want to do enlargements, you'll need a bit more space depending on the largest size of print you plan to make. A bare-bones darkroom requires only two things (in addition to the photographic hardware): a large, sturdy work surface and total light blockage. So, most basements, kitchens and closets can be easily converted into darkroom space. It's nice if you also have electricity, running water and ventilation, but these are not absolutely mandatory for everyone. The main problem with temporary darkrooms is that it takes a fair amount of time to setup and breakdown each time you use it. Ideally, you should dedicate one room (or space) to darkroom use.
You'll need to decide what equipment you need in your darkroom and where to put it. There are many good books on these subjects, but current and out-of print. So check your library and/or book stores. Putting thought into these items up front will save you a LOT of headaches later on.
Temporary darkroom are always bare bones. These are most often the kitchen, a closet, a bathroom or a bedroom. All you'll need are light blockers, and a flat space for the enlarger, etc. The kitchen or bath has the added advantage of running water and electricity.
With a permanent darkroom, no matter how small or simple, you can be a little more elaborate. You can plan for water, electricity and ventilation -- three things that will make your darkroom life much more enjoyable and safer.
1. Flat surfaces. Sounds simple, but put some thought into it. Make sure it is waist high, like a counter. But make sure it's not too high or you won't get your enlarger to fit. Make sure there is plenty of it -- you'll need it.
2. Light-blockers. When designing a darkroom, be sure to block all light sources completely. For a permanent darkroom, this is relatively easy, using duct tape and black felt (from a fabric store) or heavy-gauge aluminum foil on the windows. With the temporary darkroom, you'll have to be more creative. Doors are a bigger problem, but black tape around the edges might solve any light leaks.
3. Ventilation in the darkroom is important. An air vent that lets out air but does not let in light is a good idea because the darkroom chemicals do give off fumes that are not especially healthy. Some can be deadly. Unless you're very handy, it's best to buy one already made up -- you'll still need to be handy to install it.
4. Since there are normally lots of electrical devices in the darkroom (enlarger, timer, safe lights, regular lights, dryers, vent, stereo, etc), you'll want to have ample electrical outlets and enough current to handle the load. You can easily determine the total electrical need. Add up the wattage of all the devices you'll have in the darkroom (for example, 2390 watts). Divide this by the voltage of the incoming line (in the US this is usually 120). The results will be in amps (in this example, 20 amps). You'll need a fuse and electrical wire that can handle this amount of amps. Do not overload existing outlets or run a million extension cords into the darkroom. At best, you'll end up with a blown fuse in the middle of a critical processing step. At worse, you'll end up with a fire. Either move your darkroom, or call an electrician. And make sure all of your outlets are ground-fault-protected. With all the water and other liquids in the darkroom, this feature will protect you from becoming a live-wire!
5. Water is used in many processing steps. If you are thinking about making a darkroom without water, think again. Without water pipes, a sink, and drainage, you will spend a tremendous amount of time toting water in and out of the darkroom, eventually getting water all over the place. A water system doesn't need to be elaborate; you might be able to set one up without a plumber. Darkroom sinks can be built by the handy or bought from various manufacturers.
6. The actual darkroom processing equipment that you need varies with what you plan to do in the darkroom, as mentioned. These are covered in the following sections.
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