Contrast Filters – Black and White Dark Room Photography

Last week I had the chance to try out a contrast filter for developing a photo during  my black and white dark room photography lesson.

I’m already aware of contrast filters being used on cameras on the lens.

Contrast can be high and low (depending on whether you want your picture be dramatic and bold or if you’re after a more subtle and soft photo).

I learnt that in the darkroom, you can use contrast filters to alter the tonal contrast of your prints (providing you use multigrade or multi-contrast paper).

Contrast filters are built into some enlargers but if the enlarger you’re using doesn’t have this, then a contrast filter can be added to the enlarger (usually fitted into a slot below or above the negative holder).

A contrast filter on the enlarger will allow some light through and alter the way the the tones look on the enlargement.

Contrast filters for the enlarger are numbered and go up in half increments as follows

00 0 1/2 1 1 1/2 2 2 1/2 3 3 1/2 4  4 1/2 5

The lower the number (e.g. 00), the lower the contrast.

The higher the number (e.g. 5), the higher the contrast.

One final thing to note is that when a contrast filter is used on the enlarger, the exposure time will be affected, so I would always need to do a new test strip with the filter in order to work out the new correct exposure time needed.

The title image in this blog is a photo taken during my recent trip to Singapore on my Pentax K1000 camera using Kentmere 100 black and white film. I used a 3.5 contrast filter in the enlarger to make the hotel building more darker and at the same time, make the sky almost white.

Dark Room Photography Part 4

Yesterday was my fourth lesson in learning about dark room black and white photography.

I was quite excited because I knew this lesson would involve making an enlargement of one of my negatives.

I had already decided on the negative I wanted to initially try which was a picture I had taken of one of my cats who is a Silver Tabby using my circular fisheye lens which was attached to a 28mm lens on my Pentax K1000.

I liked the fact this picture had my shadow in it and the white walls and patterned tiles in my garden also made the picture more interesting.

First of all I had to make a sample sheet once I had decided on the size of the enlargement.

In this lesson I unfortunately picked an enlarger with a temperamental digital timer so if pressed slightly wrong, the image wouldn’t expose for the full second which was annoying.

I set my first sample sheet using F/11 as per last week although I was informed by my tutor that the times wouldn’t necessarily be the same as before because I was doing the photo at a different size and distance to my contact sheet, hence why we do a sample first. Here is my first sample sheet:

I decided I liked the area that had exposure of around 4 seconds but because my timer was temperamental, I wasn’t sure if this was entirely accurate. Here is the result

I decided it was a bit dark so tried again at 3 seconds:

I preferred this contrast to the previous one but I discovered a little lighter circle in the left corner where I must have accidentally splashed some chemical before developing (that will teach me to wash and dry my hands before using a new piece of photographic paper!).

I wasn’t quite happy with the alignment of the images on the photographic paper as shown below:

I therefore decided to do another enlargement making the image larger on the paper. This meant I had to do a sample sheet again due to changing the focus:

On this sample I again used an aperture of F/11 and decided on an exposure of 4 seconds. Yet again the timer had not worked correctly so I wasn’t 100% sure if this would be accurate and here was the result:

I was really happy with the border but the image was too light. I was nearing the end of my lesson with 5 minutes to spare so my tutor suggested I quickly do it again with an 8 second exposure and here is the result:

I was really happy with this image and exposure plus the border.

For a first attempt I’m definitely pleased with the end result. In next weeks lesson I shall be developing more photos but perhaps I’ll use a different enlarger with a timer that works properly.

Dark Room Photography Part 1

When I was a teenager, I was fortunate enough to have a friend who’s parents had a dark room in the basement of their house.

The enlarger was from around the 1960s and was all chrome and dome shaped which looked really cool.

The dryer was a rack with a cream canvas which was discoloured due to it’s age and the chemicals it had been covered with.

I have fond memories of spending hours down there with my friend developing black and white photographs we had taken. Her parents had shown her how it all worked and in turn, she taught me the developing process which I found great fun at the time.

Now I’m rediscovering film photography again, I really wanted to get back into a dark room to see how much I could remember of what I’d learnt many years ago and also if I still enjoyed the developing process.

I found an adult education course in black and white photography at Varndean College in Brighton which is for a 5 week period on a Thursday evening from 7pm – 9pm.

I attended my first lesson yesterday evening and absolutely loved it!

I was given the basic introduction to the dark room and aside from the enlarger and timer being a lot more modern version to the one I had previously used, I was surprised at how much I still remember from those days. The timer I would be using on this course was digital whereas I’d previously used a manual timer.

There was a massive clock on the wall so I was able to count the minutes for the developing process.

The dryer was also completely different as it was a roller version in which the photo was slotted in one end wet and came out the other end of the machine dry. The tutor informed me that they had to order the drying machine all the way from Japan as they were unable to get hold of one in the UK.

In this initial lesson it was assumed we hadn’t yet shot a 35mm black and white film (although I’ve actually shot several over the past few months) so we therefore created camera-less photograms using objects around us to get a feel of how the enlarger works and how we transfer the image onto paper which we then develop.

I had never done a camera-less photogram before so this was all very new and exciting to me. We also had an introduction to basic camera technique so I only managed to do two photos but I was extremely happy with the results which are shown below: