A LARGER Darkroom

By Howard Bond Back to


A 10×15-foot darkroom and an adjacent 14×15-foot room for print finishing were part of the plan when our house was built 37 years ago. Since then, minor additions and changes have been made, but the overall design has proved quite satisfactory. The design benefited from my familiarty with many darkrooms over the previous 27 years, including those of Ansel Adams and the studio where I worked during high school and college. I would have made the darkroom larger if I had known I would soon begin teaching workshops in it, but its size is generous for one person.

Figure 1 shows that the walls and ceiling are black in the enlarger corner in order to prevent light that reflects from the paper to the wall from reflecting back to the paper. In most of the room, the walls are light and the ceiling is white.

Enlarger, lens, and lights

For many years, the 4×5 Omega D2-V enlarger with 90mm Apo Rodagon lens has been used only for printing students’ roll-film negatives. The 4×5 Beseler 45V-XL enlarger is used for 4×5 through 8×10 sheet-film negatives, by means of a home-made wooden adapter. Its lenses are 180mm and 240mm El-Nikkors and the light source is an Aristo 1212 containing a V-54 tube. Both enlargers are wall mounted and the voids in the cement blocks of this part of the wall have been filled with concrete.

The coiled hose at the left is attached to a Sears air compressor. (Their compressors start at around $100.) Because I blow the dust off my negatives and the glass of the negative carrier, white spots on my prints seldom come from these sources.

In the upper right corners of Figures 1 and 2, you can see the two ends of the string that allows me to turn on one of the white lights over the sink while standing at the enlargers. Another string, not shown, controls a light at the other end of the room. Imagine the time and steps I have saved in the last 37 years by not having to walk to wall switches.

Pull-chain fixtures and bare bulbs provide another extremely important benefit. Light colored or white walls and ceiling act as reflectors, resulting in rather uniform illumination that makes it easy to evaluate wet prints on the sheet of plastic shown at the back of the sink in Figure 2. The 55- watt bulb I use for this purpose gives a reading of 1/2 second at ƒ/4 (Pentax meter 51/3) at ISO 80 from an 18% reflectance gray card held at the center of the white plastic, three feet from the light. This illumination makes a freshly fixed print look slightly dark, similar to how it will look under a brighter light when it is finished, after drydown has darkened the light tones and the dark tones have been made darker by selenium toner. When someone shows me prints that are too dark, questioning usually reveals that their light for judging wet, untoned prints is too bright.

Among the other things that can be seen in Figure 2 are the sinks. The waist-high sink (261/ inches×8 feet) 2 and the lower one (3×4 feet) have f loors of 3/ -inch plywood and side 4 walls of 2×6-inch lumber. They were sprayed with fiberglass by a local manufacturer of camper bodies. The lower sink is used for a holding tray when printing and also contains 16×20- and 20×24-inch Kostiner archival washers (no longer made). A Formica shelf at the back of the higher sink holds bottles of solutions and slopes toward the sink in case they are wet. Two higher shelves hold dry things.

Filters in the hot and cold water lines can be seen above the lower sink and still higher, the temperature gauge for the Leedal thermostatically controlled mixing valve. Hot and cold faucets are in the lower sink; all others provide tempered water.

The four-inch dryer hose visible in Figure 2 extends to the ceiling from a noisy blower that is no longer used as an exhaust fan. Instead, the box-like structure between the two light bulbs and the wall contains two little fans meant for cooling electronic equipment. The box acts as a noise- reducing shroud. Except when a group of people is in the room, I seldom need to use any exhaust fan because there is no door on the entrance from the adjacent room.


In 1971, I didn’t know if I would move some day, so I placed some of the electrical and plumbing facilities on a 1×8-foot board next to the ceiling. A cord from the board plugs into a wall outlet, and you can see the water line coming from the mixing valve. Attached to this board are the following:

1. Two safelights no longer used. (There is a Thomas Duplex safelight to the left of the enlargers and a window shade attached to the ceiling so I can shield the easel area from its bright light.)

2. Two lever-style faucets with hoses coming down almost to the floor of the upper sink. These are among the most convenient features of this darkroom.

Ordinarily each hose has a magnet that can hold it against the dry shelf, but the magnet was being replaced when this photograph was made.

3. Two pull-chain receptacles, one controlled by a string leading to the enlarger area.

4. Wooden clothespins with holes for stringing on wires. These are used for drying film and RC paper.

5. Three electrical outlets.The Thomas safelight is plugged into one and another is used for a hair dryer when something needs to be dried quickly.

6. A rack with pegs for storing funnels, graduates, etc.

Figure 2. Part of the sink area.

Among the things not shown in either of the figures are some that were made for me by photographer Pete Lindberg:

1. A light-intensity stabilizer for 8×10 cold lights designed and patented by Pete.

2. A temperature controller for a water bath surrounding a developer tray.

3. Enlarging timer modified to accept two foot switches, one for timing overall exposures and one for burning.

4. A digital clock modified so that it resets to 00:00 when a string is pulled.

5. An electric thermometer with its temperature probe on a long cord.

On the same side of the room as the enlargers, there is a very useful 21/2×8-foot Formica work surface with storage cabinets above and below. The darkroom also contains two good speakers and the means to listen to radio or CDs, but they are only useful during tasks that don’t require concentration. When printing, they distract me, causing paper to be wasted.

Using this darkroom for all of these years has shown me the wisdom of making a darkroom as convenient to use as possible—you never know how long you will use it. I also like the axiom ‘The sink can be too small but it can’t be too large.” Actually, one should decide on the largest print size that will ever be made and make a sink that can hold at least four trays that size.

About the Author

Howard Bond
Howard Bond is a fine art photographer who teaches printing, unsharp masking, D/B masking, Zone System, and view camera workshops. His photographs are in the collections of more than 30 museums in the United States and Europe. He has had over 60 one-man and 40 group exhibitions. The recipient of a Michigan Council for the Arts Creative Artist Grant, he has published 2 books and 23 limited edition portfolios of prints. His educational activities include 24 years of writing for Photo Techniques magazine and 34 years of teaching workshops that have been attended by over 2000 photographers from 5 continents.