Film is Forever – Lessons Learned in the Darkroom

film canon

This semester I am taking a Black & White Film Photography class – we are learning all about shooting in film, how to process black & white film, and how to make prints in the darkroom. I am living out my dream!! It’s kind of amazing and yet it is REALLY hard! I am re-learning how to get proper exposures – something I thought I understood, but now am realizing that I relied quite heavily on looking at the image right away and making adjustments – but in film there is no delete button and there are no redos. It has been really challenging! I have been trying to spend as much time in the darkroom as I can – which is another challenge in itself because my work schedule is quite heavy at the moment…thus my absence this past month!

One thing that I’ve learned a lot throughout this course is that it is GOOD to make mistakes! I know it’s cliche and we’ve all heard it a million times – but I never realized how true that statement is. You learn from them way more than you would if you got everything perfect the first time – which if you’re a perfectionist like I am it’s really hard to accept failure. But mistakes are not failures – they were attempts at something new. You tried, it didn’t work like planned but why? You figure out what went wrong, pick yourself up and try again, only differently. Honestly I’ve made more mistakes in this class that I thought was possible and yet I’ve learned from each and every one of them. You learn to develop from the negatives! SORRY – I couldn’t resist on that one!

film canon3

Here is what I’ve learned through making mistakes:

1. How to waste film – by not properly loading it in the camera. I wasted 3 ROLLS! I “loaded” the film but it never caught and so the film never actually advanced…I then proceeded to rewind the film completely back into the roll and develop 3 blank rolls. Since learning this heartbreaking lesson I have learned how to PAY attention to my camera and how to load him properly! Louie needs a bit of coaxing. I have not developed any blank rolls again!

2. How to ruin film by exposing it to light! I didn’t rewind my film and opened the camera to take the film out…ruined! This time the film reminded me to slow down and again PAY ATTENTION to what I am doing. Film requires a lot of slowing down and focusing. It is like deep breathing in yoga – it feels awkward at first and seems so slow until suddenly it feels completely normal and so much more satisfying than normal breathing.

3. How to make horrible negatives.  Surprisingly this is easily done! Just simply don’t pay attention to the light and forget to set your exposure properly. Underexposing your photo is probably the biggest culprit for horrible negatives – under exposure does not allow enough light in your camera to capture your image onto the film causing your negative to come out very thin with almost nothing on them. Of course over exposure can reek it’s own kind of havoc, it allows for work to be done in the dark room. Again I am reminded to STOP and pay attention – meter, find good light and remember that it is better to over expose than to under expose! I definitely am thinking more about light when I take photos – and now that it’s darker faster I use my flash :).

4. How to NOT put your negatives in the enlarger. I put them in upside down for the first week…literally. I was pretty confused why things were coming out backwards…and then it was embarrassing. But I now know how to do it properly and am no longer intimidated by this large machine!

5. How to make the most crooked borders on my prints. If you want mismatched borders and crooked prints than apparently I’m your girl! It is a learned art form that takes a LOT of practice! The easel is my friend…or is supposed to be. I’m not there yet – but I am better than I was and that is all you can ask for in life – growth!

6. How to create “cool” lines on your print while burning/dodging your image. The art of burning and dodging your print is one that takes a LOT of practice! Burning is adding more light to certain areas of your print and darkening them, while Dodging is keeping light off certain areas of your print and lightening them. Your first attempt will be awful and that is okay. You have to have constant motion when your adding/removing extra light to portions of your image OR you get weird lines…that don’t look cool.

7. How to ruin your photo paper…like film photo paper is extremely light sensitive! It cannot be exposed to light until it has been developed. I have wasted quite a bit of paper by forgetting to turn off my focusing light and putting the paper out too soon – then having it come out almost black when it is developed. Again I learn to STOP and pay attention. It is kind of a recurring theme in this exploration of film. It takes a lot of time and focus, but it is worth the effort.

8. How to lose all sense of time. Go into a dark room and make prints – I dare you to know what time of day it is or how long you’ve been in there. I guarantee that it is always longer than you intended! I have lost entire days in there – and honestly I don’t mind one bit. There is a quiet peace that comes over me when I am in the dark room that I don’t find anywhere else. I get a thrill out of working a print until it’s perfect!

I will share some of my photos from my assignments once I get the negatives scanned so stay tuned :).

Thanks for stopping by and hearing about my darkroom lessons! Hope it inspires you to go out there and try something new – it is okay to make mistakes!




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