The Darkroom Cookbook
Today everybody seems to be a genius, but nobody can draw a hand anymore.
Why invest the time and money necessary to develop and print your own photographs?
Historically there have been many photographers, especially in the fi eld of photojournalism
and commercial photography, who have never printed their own images; one of the most
famous would be Henri Cartier-Bresson, proponent of capturing the “decisive moment.”
But consider that the camera only records what we see. Tripping the shutter only freezes
a moment in time. The moments recorded by Cartier-Bresson have become images only after
they have been developed and printed in a way they can be presented and shared with oth-
ers in magazines or through books and exhibits. The fulfi llment of the photographer’s inner
vision is not realized until the fi lm has been processed and reproduced.
If your interest in photography does not go beyond recording moments in time, there
is no reason to practice darkroom techniques. The question to ask yourself is, do you wish
to become a creator of images? If you do, then you must learn to develop and print your
Brett Weston, one of the greatest practitioners of the West Coast School of Photography,
pioneered by his father, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, and Imogen
Cunningham, destroyed almost seventy years’ worth of negatives on his eightieth birthday
because he refused to allow anyone else to print his work. Why? To paraphrase Brett, there
may be someone who could print his work better, but then it wouldn’t be his.
Wynn Bullock was fond of saying that photography was 20 percent in the camera and
80 percent in the darkroom. Ansel was heard to say he wasn’t as much a photographer as
he was a printer, while Imogen said that printing was the hardest thing one could do in pho-
tography, but she refused to allow anyone else to do it for her. When Edward was no longer
able to print his own negatives because of Parkinson’s disease he spent ten years training his
sons Brett and then Cole to print his work exactly as he would, including watching over their
shoulders for each negative and preparing copious notes for them to follow so there could be
no deviation after he was gone.
There was a time when photographers each had their own version of a particular for-
mula and knew several others that enabled them to achieve specifi c results. In the fi eld, the
photographer could concentrate on composing images and achieving the best possible expo-
sure, aware that anything was possible in the dark. Many of these skills have been overlooked
by contemporary darkroom workers.
Through The Darkroom Cookbook you will learn methods to alter and improve pub-
lished formulas. Through the use of chemicals and additives you can fi ne-tune over-the-counter
or published formulas to increase or decrease contrast and enhance tonality. If you take the
title of this book literally, you can think of yourself as either a cook or a chef. A cook follows
a formula; a chef creates formulas by adding or subtracting ingredients according to taste.
Some of the greatest practitioners have been cooks. Edward Weston learned the sim-
ple formulas he used throughout his long and prolifi c career in photography school. Paul
Caponigro still mixes and matches formulas to suit his taste. Edward could be considered a
cook, Paul a chef.
Cook or chef? It is not important which, only that you are able to obtain the results you
desire. To what end? To give to your work a life and expression that is not always possible
and, at the very least, is seriously curtailed by dependency on packaged formulas.
But even packaged formulas can be used by a chef to great advantage. Mixing soft-
working, warm-toned Ilford Warmtone® with varying amounts of cold-toned Ilford Coldtone®
paper developer will open entire new worlds in print color and tonal scale. The manufactur-
ers do not suggest this in their literature, but then the manufacturers are not artists. They’re
probably not even photographers.
The formulas and techniques in this book, while not exhaustive, have been chosen to
aid the photographer attempting to express a personal vision. It begins with the choice of
fi lm developer to emphasize speed, graininess, or acutance. Some photographers may be sur-
prised to learn there are so many. I assure you this only scratches the surface. Why are so
many developing formulas necessary? After all, if you get to know one or two formulas what
else do you need, right? In the early stages of learning the craft this is a good idea. But notice
the headings for each set of developers: high-defi nition, low-contrast, fi ne-grain, high-energy,
tropical. There is a developing formula to create almost any effect you can imagine; sharp,
clean edges or superfi ne grain; low-contrast, long tonal scales; or high-contrast and short tonal
scales. There are developers that will allow you to process fi lm in the Brazilian rain forest,
at temperatures near 100oF, and some that permit you to develop in Antarctica at below 0o!
Complete knowledge of one or two developers is important, but knowing what else is avail-
able and how to make use of it to create the image you want is vital.
Paper developers also abound in The Darkroom Cookbook. While printing techniques
such as dodging and burning affect the emotional impact of a print, the choice of devel-
oper can enhance, or detract, from the image’s main message. Each developer formula varies
slightly in its rendition of blacks. It is a good idea to select one warm-tone paper and one
cold-tone paper and, over a period of time, test each of the other print developers. Keep a
book of the resulting prints, which can be referred to when a given tonality is desired.
When you decide which developer/paper combinations are applicable to your style, try
several, or all, of the toning formulas. Keep a book of these also. These reference sources will
greatly enhance your ability to communicate through your images.
Under Miscellaneous Formulas you will fi nd a number of useful items. Kodak S-6 stain
remover, for example, which will help remove both oxidation and developer stains from fi lm.
I hope you will never need to use it, but I have included it just in case!
Under Printing-Out Paper Formulas you will fi nd a formula for sensitizing paper. There
are many others, but this one is a start. If it should ever come to pass that silver papers are no
longer available, this may be one way to continue hand-making prints. Or you may fi nd that
coating your own paper may be worth experimenting with for the special results that can be
Intensifi cation and reduction techniques are of special value to photographers. Even
Ansel Adams required the technique of local negative intensifi cation to save his most famous
photograph Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico c. 1941. The negative was exposed for the
moon’s luminance, at 250 c/ft 2 . As a result the foreground was badly underexposed and dif-
fi cult to print. Ansel intensifi ed the foreground of the 8 10 inch negative while carefully
holding the buildings, sky, and moon out of the solution. A simple procedure. But without the
necessary darkroom skills the image might not have survived.
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