Darkroom lessons from March 15

A glossy paper print of a black and white image of Delirium Café and other old buildings on King Street in Leesburg, Virgina

In Wednesday night’s darkroom class, I was at my regular Station A, using the Beseler 23C-II enlarger. I walked out with only two finished prints and one test strip when I was done. The decent one of Delirium Café in Leesburg (above, taken with the Leica M2 and Voigtlander 35mm Ultron f/2, and the photo of the print taken in RAW mode on the iPhone) was exposed for 7 seconds with an Ilford multigrade #2 filter, and the aperture stopped all the way down (I forgot to record whatever that aperture is). It’s still a little flat, and also too dark by a bit, so when I go back next week I’m gonna raise the contrast and try again, exposing it for maybe 5 seconds. I like how the sky came out, but the sky isn’t the subject, so I’m going to need to burn that in a little.

After repeated (expensive) failures and mis-prints, I’ve learned that the electro-mechanical timers beside our enlargers get less precise as you use them toward the short end of their range. And worse, their exposure time tends to drift in the long direction after you set them. So I can set it for 4 seconds, and after doing a print and running it through all of its chemistry to see what I have, if I don’t reset the timer and re-check it, 4 seconds can easily turn into 5 or 6 or more. Maddening when you’re trying to print according to what looked good on a test strip 20 minutes ago.

I’ve resorted to squinting at the stopwatch on the Casio G-Shock because I can’t rely on the old timer or myself counting 1-one thousand…”

But even with all this hassle, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a class.

The test strip (not shown) for FireWorks Pizza in Leesburg was taken with a #3 filter and exposed at 2, 4, 6, and 8 seconds and the aperture stopped all the way down again. Those strips were measured with the timer pulled all the way down to its minimum, which measures out to just about 2 seconds with the Casio stopwatch. Next week I’ll try printing at 8 seconds, and then 6 if 8 is too dark.

March 17, 2023