New Variable Contrast Printing Solution for Contact Printing at my Off the Grid Darkroom

December 05, 2015  •  8 Comments

As I continue to continue to build my off the grid cabin and darkroom, I am thinking through things that I need for my work.  The first challenge that I decided to solve was to create a lighting source to make large format contact prints.

I thought about how I wanted to do it last night, and I went to the local art supply store this afternoon and picked up some white art board.  Then I stopped at my local hardware store and got a utility lamp that had a clamp on it and I got some extra strong duct tape.  That is all that I needed!

For my large format traditional contact prints I wanted the option to use variable contrast printing filters. I will use the Ilfrod 6" x 6" printing filters.  I frequently use split-grade techniques to help reduce or eliminate the need for dodging and burning and many times, and improved contrast.  So, I quickly designed a filter draw under the base of the lamp and within 30 minutes I have a working solution for less than $10 USD.  

​I am in the process of testing the solution in my current darkroom at my home and then I will move it to the remote darkroom.  I have three different wattage incandescent light bulbs (7.5W, 15W, 25W) that I will use for different papers.  For example, my fiber papers are typically a lot slower than my RC papers, so I will use a brighter bulb for those times when the printing times are too long for my taste.  When I do AZO printing, I use a 40W bulb for that because the paper is considerably slower.   

I have included some snapshots from my iPhone as I built the solution for a closer look.  

I look forward to your comments and thoughts.

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Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Alan, funny you should ask... the real challenge is not whether the bulb is incandescent, LED, CFL or so on. It is light output and the ability to control it. For regular darkroom papers the 15W bulb is perfect at about 4 feet above the work surface. For AZO contact printing papers I need to use a 40W bulb because the paper is much slower and for my hand made emulsions they are pretty slow requiring more light output to make contact prints. So, to keep it very simple, one could use different bulbs, or you can get a dimmer switch!! It just so happens that I just wrote an article about using an LED light vs. an incandescent. You can read that here ->
Alan Jarvis(non-registered)
Does it need to be an incandescent bulb? These are getting quite hard to find now, most shops just have CFl bulbs, halogen and LED
Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Stephen, thanks for the comment. It works great!! You can check it out in action in this video at
Stephen Peralta(non-registered)
Hi Tim,
I like your lo-tech approach to a filter drawer/holder!
I'm interested to see your results. As I was thinking about the approach, I would be curious to know if you get any fall off toward the edges of your print without out any diffusion or collimation of the light source (The reflector of the lamp probably acts as a pretty good diffuser of bulb). I suppose that since your contact printing the Callier effect is really a non issue and it appears that your light source is a pretty far distance from where your negative will be. Just kinda thinking out loud! Ha!
Good luck with the project!
Tim Layton Fine Art
The video that I am making today will be posted on YouTube by this evening at the latest.

I am looking into a sub-terrain solution for a storm shelter and also for storage of darkroom supplies and long term food storage too that I will be growing in my garden. I am trying to find a steel structure that is often used in the construction or hauling industries. I have found a few, just trying to locate something less expensive now.

I am in the process of making some new emulsions for my printing ranging from classic silver gelatin to collodion-chloride. More on that in the future.
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