Why Are Photography Darkrooms Red

Photography has evolved a lot since the 1880s when plastic film first arrived on the scene. Darkroom technology has helped to shape how photos have been developed.

Why Are Photography Darkrooms Red? Does It Impact Photos?

Using red lights in photography darkrooms helps keep the paper used for producing prints from getting overexposed.

Red lights are most common with a black and white film, although amber lights are also possible.

The reason for using red or amber is because these lights lack the wavelength that affects the paper used. These lights increase the chances of a better-quality image.

What Type of Photography Uses a Darkroom?

The foundations of modern-day photography date back to the 1880s, when George Eastman invented celluloid.

This material was very similar to plastic, featuring a silver halide crystal coating.

Photographers who shoot black and white photos with film often use darkrooms to develop films instead of using commercial labs.

This experience is not only hands-on but allows for greater control over the resulting image quality.

Hobby or professional photographers who shoot using black and white film are the most likely to use a darkroom.

Although some photographers use darkrooms for color photos, there is a different process involved.

How Much Do Darkrooms Cost?

Costs for building a darkroom may vary, with whether you opt to buy new or used equipment being a significant factor in the cost.

Darkroom equipment ranges between $360 and $1,500, with $840 as the average price.

Darkrooms need to have distinct work areas that include a wet space with a sink where you may store your chemicals.

Your enlarger, paper safe, and tools should be in your darkroom’s dry area.

Because you are working with harsh chemicals and will not be able to open a window without ruining the film, your darkroom needs excellent ventilation.

Regardless of whether you are using an existing room or building an addition, a ventilation system needs to be part of your planning.

The wet area will need large enough containers to hold the chemicals that go into the developing trays or tanks.

A paper safe helps keep your paper secure before use. Easy opening and closing are essential if you want to make sure your safe fulfills its purpose.

Pricing some of the most crucial features first will help you figure out your costs. Costs will vary depending on market conditions, but here are some of the average costs:

  • Beakers or measuring cups – $25-$30
  • Black and white photo paper – $30 – $40
  • Chemical containers – $30-$40
  • Chemicals -$55-$60
  • Darkroom enlarger – $300-$1,000 and up
  • Darkroom safelight – $50-$100
  • Darkroom timer – $100- $150
  • Developing tanks – $35-$40
  • Funnels – $5-$10
  • Paper safe bags or boxes – $20-$30 for bags or $60 – $70 for boxes
  • Processing trays – $10-$45
  • Thermometer – $5-$10
  • Tongs – $5-$10

Photographers often look for ways to stay within a budget, especially if doing photography as a business.

Using the more economical options that are available will help save money without negatively impacting your photo quality.

One of the most important considerations is whether to lower your expectations or buy used when appropriate.

For example, you might opt for a cheaper brand, an irregular product with cosmetic damage, or a used or refurbished product.

Money Saving Tips

Here are some tips to help you save money:

  • Shop online for product and price comparison, including reading reviews
  • Check consignment, thrift, and resale stores to see what they have
  • See what camera shops that sell used products have
  • Consider online sources like Craigslist, eBay, or Facebook Marketplace
  • Use DIY options, like glass baking trays instead of developing trays
  • In many cases, an existing space in your house may work best as a darkroom. Building an additional space works best for those with solid building skills or access to a qualified contractor.
  • One of the most important considerations when using an existing area is whether there is a sink or if the space would allow extra plumbing installation. You will also want to consider the quality of the room’s ventilation and how you could improve this feature if necessary.
  • You will also want to think about whether the same room will accommodate wet and dry spaces. Another important consideration is the amount of counter or workbench space.
  • A final consideration about existing space is the availability of electrical outlets, which are crucial for using a safelight. If you require additional outlets, you’ll want to think about how easy a job the installation will be.

What is Not Allowed in the Darkroom?

Light, aside from the safelight, should never be present.

Your darkroom should have a door and no windows with films in lightproof containers whenever the door opens, or you have lights other than your safelight turned on.

Although photography chemicals contain toxins, you can use the least toxic options available. Cyanide, heavy metals, and pyrocatechol or pyrogallol are ingredients to avoid.

Dust and needless clutter are best avoided. Dust can contaminate chemicals or impact image quality, while clutter can create tripping hazards that lead to chemical spills.

Beverages and food should always be kept out of darkrooms, regardless of the kind, because crumbs and liquids could damage your images.

Nobody should smoke in a darkroom, either, because of the flammable chemicals that are involved in the process.

Paper towels and sawdust are unsafe to use in the event of chemical spills because they pose a fire hazard.

Keeping a spill kit in the darkroom will help you clean up any spills without needless risk with materials appropriate for the job.

Another thing that you will want to avoid is pouring chemicals down the sink drain, which could cause problems for your sewer or septic system.

When used, the chemicals should go into an appropriate waste container an disposed of according to local regulations.

What is Orthochromatic Film and How is It Used?

The orthochromatic film was the first type developed for modern photography needs. This film is sensitive to blue, green, violet, and yellow light, but not red.

Portrait photographers often use this film type because it helps bring out skin texture and darkens features like freckles.

These features help provide a more dramatic look that allows you to highlight your skills as a photographer.

The orthochromatic film is also popular in forensic photography because it helps blood stains stand out for more thorough analysis.

This usage helps demonstrate the film’s versatility.

Do You Need a Red Light to Develop Film?

You can use a red light when developing orthochromatic black and white film.

However, if the film is panchromatic, which is typical of many black and white films currently produced, it is red-sensitive.

If you are developing panchromatic film, a lightproof bag will protect the film while allowing you to have access to a light source.

These bags will help you get the film into the developing tank without unintended light exposure.

Is Color Film Red Light-Sensitive?

Color film is sensitive to red light, as well as all other colors. Developing color film requires a process and equipment that addresses light sensitivity.

When you load color film, you will need to use a similar process to loading panchromatic film. Providing this protection will prevent your prints from getting ruined.

Can Any Other Colors Be Used in a Darkroom?

Photographers can use several colors for developing black and white prints, even though red is the most common choice. Some of the other colors that are reasonable choices include:

  • Amber
  • Green or dark green
  • Greenish-yellow
  • Light amber

The most important consideration when choosing one of these colors is the spectrum of light necessary for proper development.

Photographic paper may be compatible with some ranges of the light spectrum but not others.

Checking with the manufacturer’s recommendations can provide information on the light spectrum compatible with the paper.

If you know the light spectrum range, you can choose the right paper with minimal difficulty.

What Color Safelight Should I Use?

The safelight color that you select will depend on the materials that you use. A safelight will only fulfill its intended purpose if it is the right option for the task at hand.

Color requires processing in complete darkness, either using a machine intended for the purpose or a tube. A safelight that uses LED lighting may safe for color.

When developing black and white photos, red is usually the safelight color of choice. However, an amber light can also perform this task as easily as a red light.

Panchromatic photography is a unique case because it creates a black and white print while being sensitive to all color wavelengths.

Depending on the paper you use for the print, amber, green, and dark green are reasonable options.

Creating a Darkroom Print with a Safelight

Black and white prints will always require a darkroom. Red light is usually the most effective for keeping unwanted light from affecting photo quality.

Before you enlarge your negative, the darkroom must be free from white light.

Examples of white light include glowing devices like cellphones, overhead lights or lamps, and camera flashes.

You should wait until the photographic paper is hidden before turning the lights on. If the paper ends up exposed, none of the prints will come out properly.

Keeping your hands out of the chemicals while working is best for your safety. Nitrile gloves or tongs are the best way to avoid contact with these materials.

Another reason to keep your skin from coming into contact with the chemicals is to avoid unintentional transfer to the photographic paper.

The effects might not be known until after development.

The steps that you will need to take in a darkroom include:

  • Placing the negative into the enlarger
  • Focusing the negative
  • Timing the appropriate light exposure amount
  • Place one sheet of paper on the bottom of the enlarger, shiny side up
  • Expose the paper to the correct light amount
  • Put your paper through your development chemicals

You may turn on your safelight if you need to see what you are doing a little better. The paper will need to sit in the chemicals according to manufacturer directions.

Once the prints have been in the chemicals for the required time, they will require rinsing for five to ten seconds. Once the prints have dried off, they will be ready for display.

Is Safelight Fog Something I Need to Worry About?

Safelight fog occurs when the safelight is less than four feet from the enlarger or work area.

The image may appear unevenly across some or all of the paper, giving the appearance of fog.

When this fogging occurs, it commonly happens during the transfer process. If your safelight is the wrong color or too bright, you may also deal with fog.

Processing the photos is the only way to know if safelight fog is an issue.

If your photos have areas with little detail and low contrast, fogging is certainly an issue that you will wish to prevent in the future.

Final Thoughts

Darkrooms are essential for photo development in many cases, and limiting light exposure impacts how well the pictures develop. Red lights often play a vital role in this process.

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