Daniel Pietzsch

My sporadic and minimalist darkroom

I enjoy making silver gelatin prints from my negatives. To be able do this, I needed a light tight room (to prevent the light-sensitive paper to be exposed uncontrollably), water (to mix the chemicals and to wash to finished prints), and power (for the enlarger). Our little bathroom fitted the bill nicely.

Since this is not a permanent arrangement, the room needs to be converted into a darkroom only sporadically. This post is about how I do it and what I use.

A photo of a bathtub, largely covered by two shelf boards. On top: a photographic enlarger, a timer, three trays with chemicals.
The workspace consisting of two shelf boards on top of the bathtub. On the left half is the enlarger and the timer. On the right, the individual trays with developing chemicals. The colourful little thing is the remote for the lightbulb. Not pictured is a larger tray with water down in the tub, which is used to wash the finished prints.

Preventing Lightleaks

The bathroom doesn’t have windows – yet, is ventilated – so I didn’t have to worry much about (day)light coming in. However, I do cover most of the door cracks with towels.

The Safelight

A safelight makes it possible to work with light sensitive paper, because its red light does not expose the paper. I made sure to get a lamp for the bathroom, which simply takes standard E27 lightbulbs. To have both regular white light and red light from the same source, I then bought a RGBW LED lightbulb with a remote. With this, I can conveniently switch between “red” and “white” while working.

At first I had a bulb from Osram. But the remote stopped working reliably. So, I now have one from iLC. Fingers crossed that remote will last longer.

A photo of the same bathtub and setup as above, but with the red safelight turned on (making everything look red).
The darkroom with the safelight on.

The Workspace

The bathtub serves as the workspace. It’s covered by two shelfs I bought at the hardware store. I had both 60cm wide shelfs cut to the correct length/depth. I kept the remaining bits and screwed one them to a shelf at a 90-degree angle to create a border, preventing the piece from falling into the tub.

I use a folding chair to be able to work sitting down while producing prints.

Two shelf boards leaning against the side of a bathtub
My DIY bathtub covers from below. I put some felt pads on the bottom to protect the tub and be less noisy to work with.
Detail-shot of one of the shelf boards, highlighting another smaller piece of shelf board screwed to its bottom at a 90-degree angle.
To prevent the middle piece from falling into the tub, I screwed the remains of the board in a 90-degree angle. The other board does not need this, because it additionally rests on its right side and can't move left because of the other shelf.

The Photo Gear

The enlarger I use is a Kaiser VP-6000, which can produce prints from both my 35mm and 6x6 medium format negatives. The right half of the workspace fits three developing trays for prints up to 24x30cm in size. I already bought trays for 30x40cm prints, but haven’t produced any yet. So I still need to see how comfortable the setup is to produce larger prints.

Not on the pictures is a larger fourth tray inside the bathtub, which I use to wash the finished prints.

And I use a little shelf at the right wall to keep all the paper, scissors and exposure filters handy.

Setup Time

Before starting an actual print, all of this needs to be set up. I think it takes me around 30 minutes to do so. What you see on the photos is actually arranged in less than half of that. But the negative needs to be found, de-dusted, and carefully be put into the negative holder. The enlarger needs to be set to the correct height, and might need have its lens changed. The easel needs to be adjusted. The chemicals have to be mixed. This all takes time.

Gear Storage

When not in use, all of these tools and gear is stored in various place around the apartment: in the wardrobe, a little storage room, or under the bed.

A collection of black and white prints on paper in varying sizes.
A few prints that have been made with this setup.