Darkroom Equipment Shopping Tips

Darkroom equipment is used to develop and print photographs shot with film cameras. This form of photography is immensely popular among serious amateur and professional photographers. There are several reasons for this, including:

  • Greater dynamic range of film
  • Better definition is achievable
  • Pleasing natural grain of film
  • Ability to adjust contrast
  • Many creative opportunities

Although requiring a different set of skills than digital photography, the use of a darkroom kit is simple, and with practice, it's possible to produce outstanding results.


What Equipment Do I Need to Set Up a Darkroom?

To develop your own film, you need a set of cylindrical developing tanks, along with reels for loading undeveloped film. Some tanks accommodate a single film size while others handle several types of film.

A darkroom enlarger prints the image onto photographic paper. It has a height-adjustable enlarger head containing a lamp with the right color temperature and a film holder. An enlarger lens projects and focuses the image onto an easel that accommodates various sizes of photographic paper. Accessories for darkroom photography include focus finders to ensure prints are sharp, timers to control the length of the exposure, and multi-grade filters for adjusting contrast. For color printing, color filters are used to expose each primary color.

After the film is exposed, various chemicals in shallow trays develop your prints, and water in a rinsing tank removes all traces of the chemicals. Other useful darkroom equipment includes tongs, tweezers, gloves, and squeegees to protect your prints during developing.


Other Darkroom Supplies

Although the principles are similar, the particular darkroom chemicals for black-and-white printing are different from those for color printing. In all cases, the first chemical is a developer, the second is a stop bath solution, and the last is a fixer. Developer comes as a powder or liquid, and it reveals the image on the film. The stop bath chemical halts the development process, and the fixer solution then makes the image permanent. It's important to choose the correct developer, stop bath, and fixer solution for each type of film or paper.

Various grades of darkroom enlarging paper are available, ranging from high-gloss papers to matte finishes. Black-and-white, resin-based papers provide good results and are easy to use, while fiber-based papers offer you darker blacks and better contrast. Color photo paper is mostly resin based.


Can I Retouch Photographs?

A major advantage of darkroom photography is the availability of darkroom supplies for enhancing and retouching photos. Using products such as retouching ink and brushes, you can remove spots and unwanted objects from negatives and black-and-white prints. Other color dyes and inks are available for retouching your color negatives and prints.

Black-and-white images may be colored using oil-based paints or dyes. Alternatively, you may want to use retouching color pencil sets to enhance color prints selectively.


Rediscover the discipline of carefully composing photos, and the satisfaction of developing your own photographs. Invest in the tried-and-tested methods of darkroom photography with help from B&H Photo and Video, and extend your photographic skills.