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Safety In The Dark Room

Lesson 10 from: Introduction to Black & White Film Photography

Daniel Gregory

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Lesson Info

10. Safety In The Dark Room

Lesson Info

Safety In The Dark Room

Real excited about this part. It's gonna go awesome. I've never done this before, it'll be the first time, no I'm just kidding. So the, like I said earlier last segment, the cool part about black and white is we can develop it pretty much anywhere so as long as you've got a sink and some running water it's super easy to develop the film. There's a couple little pieces that kind of people hang up on but it's a practice thing. And it's a really cool, cool experience. There is not much, I think, from a being proud of yourself moment than developing a roll of film. And when you take it out and there's actually something there it's just a really, really cool experience. I'll say it's a really cool experience sometimes when you develop it and you pull it out and there's nothing there is also a cool experience but for a completely different reason of having to learn what actually happened. So we've got a number of different pieces that we're gonna take a look at, but one of the things I want ...

to talk about first was just reiterating, we expose for the shadows and develop for the highlight. So everything we talked about in metering, everything we talked about before was all about getting that shadow detail. The developer is all about the highlights. All about controlling the highlights, the manipulation of the highlights. If we need to compress because we have too much dynamic range in the scene, we can minus the development by giving it less time. We can extend the development by giving it more time. So there's a lot of control we have here and then the developers themselves give us some control. So we're gonna talk about developers here in a little bit. But we get a lot of control around that. Before we get started though, I want to talk a little bit about safety in the darkroom. For a long time film photographers and our knowledge of chemistry had them less than safe by today's standards. For the most part there's a, the chemicals we're gonna use today, the chemicals you'd normally use at home, they're not super toxic but people do have an allergic reaction to them from, sometimes from being on their skin, sometimes there's a respiration issue, so it's sometimes you will run across that problem. And there's ways to work around it using a lab. There's some safety equipment you can use but, so I don't wanna say everybody have that problem but it's just something to be aware of that you want to be sensitive to your own body as you're starting to develop chemistry. The other thing that happens with a lot of chemistry is your exposure tolerance will build up over time. So one of the key components in a developer is a chemical called Metal. It's the actual primary chemical in a lot of developers. Over time a lot of photographers developed an intolerance to that because they actually had their hands in the developer. We didn't know better, so they just actually worked and that's the way the process was. So there's some things we can do to mitigate that so sometimes over time things can happen. But some things you really wanna consider, one, you wanna wear safety gloves. I use nitro gloves. Latex can build up an intolerance. People have an intolerance towards latex. Latex also is, the nitro gloves are a little bit less permeable than even latex or some of the smaller chemical components that can come in, so these are highly chemical resistant. And some of the thicker ones can be used more than once as long as you don't get them flipped inside out they can work. They come in a variety of colors, they also come in a variety of sizes which is kinda nice so you're not having to cram your hand into too big or too small a glove. You want something that fits relatively snug because you're gonna be doing some stuff where you want the agility of your fingers without having some big floppy glove. I wear safety glasses when I'm working with a darkroom. As a photographer I kinda consider my eyesight to be one of my critical assets. And chemical splash in the eye, not good. So like in my own darkroom I have a little jug, you can eyewash with. There's certain chemicals we don't have today but like with some of the historical processes you're using a chemical called silver nitrate. It's what we actually coated wet plate with. It's the original silver that was embedded into some of the earlier emulsions. Silver nitrate at high concentration like 9% will blind you. So you always wanna make sure you have some kind of glasses on. I'm also inherently messy so I have my apron. The other reason I like an apron is just sometimes things get spilled, you've got chemicals on your hands and you just kind of do this. Certain chemicals in the darkroom will actually stain clothes. And I don't care, see silver nitrate, nasty stuff, stains so I like to use that. So I usually always have my safety glasses. And I like the kind that wrap around the side a little bit just so something doesn't accidentally splash up from the side, but I just bought, like, six of them. They were like a dollar each, so when they get scratched, whatever, they disappear. Label all chemistry. So if we look at some of these like I've got this labeled film fixer. If I don't label this, I have no idea what's in there, and you don't wanna be smelling stuff and some of it doesn't even have a smell, and you certainly don't want to taste it. It tastes like chicken. As everything does. So you want to make sure everything's properly labeled. You want to keep your work area really clean. One of the biggest things that happens that causes film development to go sideways is cross-contamination of the chemistry. We're gonna talk about all the different chemicals but a fixer's job is to stop the film from any more development, any more latent image development. So a fixer goes on first, there's no development. And vice versa so you want everything to be clean, everything gets washed with hot water when it's all said and done. Food and drink. So you have a bunch of chemicals that were not designed to be ingested and you're like chomp, chomp, chomp. Put your apple down. Pick it back up. Now I'm sure there's probably worse things you've eaten than a tiny little bit of photo chemistry but no food or drink. Also if you're drinking and you reach down just out of habit and you grab the wrong cup. Who knows? Wipe up spills immediately. This is not like spill, I'll get it later. So you wanna get stuff wiped up right away. Most of the stuff's benign. A lot of this is water, it's super diluted so it's not gonna eat through your floor or anything like that but you just don't want chemistry floating around, you don't want to make a mess. And then store your chemicals in a place that kids, pets, anybody that shouldn't have access for any reason to the chemicals is really good. Like I said there's a lot of them. When you read the manufacturers' safety data sheets you can learn what the chemicals are. They all sound horrific when you read them. But just some common sense will be really good at keeping all that stuff going. The other piece that people ask about is well what do I do with my chemistry? So. And you need to check your local ordinances. So the county you live in, the city you live in, the municipality you live in, the unincorporated areas you live in will have some set of rules. In most cases in the areas I've ever lived, a home-based photographer can put certain chemicals down the drains but not other chemicals and then when you get to a certain volume you have to haul everything off to the hazmat location. So for example we're in King County, Washington here in the US, their ordinances are developers and stop baths can go down the drain but fixer and other chemicals can't. So those would have to be hauled away. So you just want to check the local ordinance, and we'll explain why some of those can go down the drain and other ones can't later. But you just want to make sure you check for those kind of things.

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Ratings and Reviews


I am really fond of Daniel Gregory as a teacher. He does a great job. To me, his enthousiasm, his passion for and his dedication to film photography are infectuous. It's great that CreativeLive makes place for film photography and for such a pro teaching it. It can never do so enough for me. Thanks. I am a fan.

Texas Beauty Photography

Great class!! It's jam packed with usable information for anyone wanting to shoot, process, and print black and white images. There is so much detail presented in this class, I can practically guarantee you'll come back to it again and again. I successfully used this class to capture b/w photographs, process the negatives, capture them digitally, and finally, produce beautiful prints that I'm proud to show my friends and clients. This may well be one of the best classes on all of CreativeLive. Highly recommended!


This is an excellent course and Daniel is a great teacher! I'm coming back to shooting film and darkroom work after 20 years away. I have some wonderful film cameras sitting in my cabinet and I decided I wanted to use them--so I have decided to shoot BW with film, and shoot color with my digital cameras. I will develop the BW film myself and scan and print digitally. This class is perfect for me!

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