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 2

Following on from Part 1 of my Dark Room blog, I had my second lesson on Thursday.

For my homework last week I was asked to take some pictures using my SLR camera and black and white film.

I decided to use my Pentax K1000 camera and Kodak 400TX black and white film for this assignment.

Once I had taken 36 pictures, I unloaded the film from my camera ready for my next lesson.

In this lesson we were taught how to take the film out of its outer case and transfer it onto a plastic reel which winds the film into a circle which is then put in a container which is locked so light cannot get into it. I am telling it in basic terms here (as I know there is plenty of information on various websites that gives good technical information about this).

This all has to be done inside a black light proof bag which has two arm sleeves on the bottom of the outer edges so you can put your arms inside the bag and then you ultimately have to do this process blind.

The reason for this is so that the film won’t get exposed to the daylight before it’s been developed and you won’t lose the images.

We initially had some ‘practice film’ to try on and did it in the daylight without the bag to see what we were doing. Once we felt comfortable with the process, we then used the practice film in the bag before moving onto our actual film.

We were recommended to have 2 x reels in the bag just in case for some reason one of them was faulty. We also had a pair of scissors (for cutting the film from the plastic tube) and a device which is a little like a bottle opener which allows you to prise open the plastic round film case once it’s inside the bag.

I was surprised at how easily I was able to do this process, considering I couldn’t see anything.

Once our film was safely locked in the black plastic container we then had our 3 x chemical process which was timed and measured according to the film we were developing (my development time was around 3 minutes). This was slightly reduced because the developing chemical needs to be around 20 degrees in temperature but it was a warm evening so it went up to around 21-22 degrees, hence the reduction in development time which would normally have been nearly 4 minutes. There are ways to cool down the developer chemical but we didn’t have any ice to hand.

Once we had put the film through the chemical process and rinsed our film, it was time to take it out of the plastic container.

We unrolled the film from the plastic reel and removed the excess moisture by running our fingers down the film. We then hung our film up to dry using a peg at the top and also one at the bottom of the film to weigh it down.

On initial inspection I was pleased to see images had been developed on my film which was a relief. However, my tutor quickly discovered areas on certain images which seemed to be over exposed due to a light leak (shock horror!).

I knew it wasn’t a light leak from my camera since the light seals had been recently replaced and other films I had got developed from my Pentax at the local film lab came out fine.

We then discovered another woman on my course had the same problem and I instantly knew what had happened. What both me and the other lady have physically in common is that we have slender arms!

I could have kicked myself because I already knew as soon as I put my arms into the sleeves of the black bag and started to work on winding my film onto the reel that the sleeves were quite loose on me and I thought to myself at the time ‘I wonder whether light is leaking in?’ but I stupidly didn’t do anything about it or comment to my tutor and just carried on because I was so focused on getting the film wound onto the reel and correctly locked into the plastic container.

The lady also felt the same problem with her sleeves. Our tutor agreed this was most likely the cause of the light leak.

Whilst I’m frustrated at myself about this, I’m also a firm believer of learning from your mistakes and I certainly would never let this happen again!

I’m also positive in the fact that I still learnt the process of unloading the film inside a bag.

Next week we’ll be making a contact sheet / test shots and looking at developing our most strongest shots.

I’m really hoping that not all the images got damaged by the light leak but if they did, perhaps there may be some that might look effective/arty with the light leak (I can but hope!).

This is what I do love about film photography. It’s all about trial and error and I still think it’s great fun. I learnt a long time ago in film photography (pre-digital when I used to shoot film) not to get too precious about my photos (which I know can be hard to do) as there were times years ago where my camera may have not quite wound a film back (if there was a fault with the auto winder of a 90s camera I had and I lost pictures for instance).

There was also an occasion back in the 90s where my family and I had recently returned from a holiday and my mother had left the camera in the car as she was going to get the film developed when next in town but before she was able to do this, her car was broken into and the camera was stolen along with all our precious family photos on the film still in the camera! We were all more disappointed at the time about losing the photos than the actual camera and the car stereo which had also been stolen. Again, it taught me a lesson that I just have to move on and not dwell on it. Besides, it gave us an excuse to book another holiday and take more photos (and not leave the camera in the car)!

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: