My Journey To Making Traditional Large Scale Darkroom Prints - Episode 1

February 16, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

This is the first article and movie about my journey to making large scale silver gelatin darkroom prints.  If you want to follow along, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel for the latest videos.  

You may or may not be familiar with large format photographer Clyde Butcher, but this is the scale of prints that I ultimately want to make.   

I have been previously making 40"x50" darkroom prints using a tray method, but I needed a new solution in my new and much smaller darkroom. I am totally off the grid, so I need a solution that was eco-friendly, didn't require much power (if any), and was very efficient with the use of water and darkroom chemicals.  

There are two main components in the journey to making large scale darkroom prints. The first is the enlargement portion and the second is the processing of the prints. I have previously built a custom setup on the enlargement side, so I only need to find a new solution on the wet processing side.    

I posted a message to my Facebook friends and I received several really good ideas.  I ended up liking Ken Osborne's idea the best.  Ken shared his innovate idea of using large PVC pipe on a roller system versus using the trays. Ken developed an elaborate automated system with a motor to rotate the pipe and process the prints.  I knew this was the right approach for me. 

Last year, I shared several articles about how I made DIY development tubes using PVC pipe, so you may want to check that out as well. You can read my subsequent updates to the original article here, and here, and here

I should have thought about using PVC pipe for developing my large scale darkroom prints, but thankfully Ken came to the rescue and shared his method.  Using the large PVC pipe for developing the prints is more or less a large scale manual Jobo processor. It is very efficient with chemical use and I also like that it minimizes the physical handling of the fiber paper to avoid damage during the development process.  

In this first video, I talk about the project and discuss my approach for my prototype for developing smaller 16x20 prints.  After I get the prototype working and the process down, I plan to scale it and make the bigger system for the large prints.  

As a side note, if you are wondering how to calculate the size of pipe you will need for your print size, just multiply the diameter of your PVC pipe by the value of pi (3.14).  So, for example, my prototype needs to accommodate 16x20 prints.  I will use the 16" short side of the print to curl inside the pipe (circumference), and the length of the pipe will need to be a little longer than the long side of the print (20").  In this case, I went with a 6 inch pipe that was 24 inches long.  

The six inch pipe will hold a print a little over 18 inches (6 x 3.14 = 18.84), so this will work out well for the 16x20 prints.  

I was talking to another one of my large format photography friends, Jon Paul, and he had a really good idea.  He mentioned that I should oversize the pipe to allow for a gap between the ends of the paper as a way to allow the chemicals to pool on the bottom of the pipe and not be laying on the fiber paper.  I though that was an excellent idea and so that will be factored into my plans.  I think I could mark the pipe in a way so that I would know when that section of the pipe was on the bottom where I would want it. 

Enjoy the video and I look forward to your comments, thoughts, and ideas as I make progress.  

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