My Journey To Making Traditional Large Scale Darkroom Prints - Episode 3

February 19, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

My Journey To Making Traditional Large Scale Darkroom Prints - Episode 3

In this episode, I thought it would be good to share more details on my design criteria, ideas, and information that I have learned so far. 

Before I do that, I wanted to point out that projects like this is one of the reasons I love making physical prints in the darkroom.  For me, I enjoy every part of the process (researching new locations, exploring, scouting, taking exposures with large format view cameras, developing film, making prints in the darkroom, etc.).  We get to solve problems, make things with our hands, and I think, at least for me, I am closer to my art and I think that shows in the end.  While I appreciate the advances in modern digital technology, as I use many of them too, I think my finest work comes from a place where I have to do things versus sitting behind a computer editing digital files.  

If you want to follow along, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel for the latest videos.  The Playlist for all of the episodes can be found here


I shared in the first episode that my main driver for this project was to find a way to make large darkroom prints in a smaller space and to find a way to use my water and processing chemicals more efficiently.  After some more reflection and input from others, I am updating my vision for this project a little bit.  

I want to be able to process my prints in open daylight versus having to be forced to work under safelight conditions for the entire process.  There is no way around having to load the paper into the pipe in safelight conditions, so that won't change.  

In order to accomplish this goal, I am going to use schedule 8o PVC pipe versus the standard schedule 40.  The schedule 40 pipe is white and the schedule 8o is gray and also has a thicker side wall.  By using the schedule 80 pipe, I can work in open room light, as long as I have both ends of the pipe sealed.  I used this method for my DIY film development tubes last year, so I know it is light safe.  

Next, I need a way to seal the ends of the pipe to keep the light out.  For one end, that is easy, I just use a regular schedule 8o PVC cap and glue it into place.  For the other end, I need to be able to remove the cap to load the paper and pour in the chemicals, but also be light tight.  After some digging around, I found out that the largest test plug made is 6 inches.  A test plug is a cap that has a rubber bushing around it and a way to expand it and to seal the pipe.  I used smaller versions of these plugs for my DIY film development tubes. You can see a photo of the red test plug with the thumb screw on top in this article

In order to be able to take advantage of the test plugs, I need my pipe to be reduced down to at least 6 inches or smaller.  For my 30x40 prints, I will be using 12" pipe, and luckily they make a standard schedule 80 12 inch to 6 inch reducer that will allow me to use the test plug!  This reducer was more expensive than the pipe and the end cap put together, but it is worth it.  I am still searching for a similar solution for the larger pipe that will allow me to create the 40x50 prints.  

I have also been thinking about the process of loading the paper into the pipe, adding and removing the development chemicals too.  In my prototype, I am going to experiment with the idea of making the pipe a little longer to load the chemicals into the bottom of the pipe before loading the paper.  I got this idea from the design of BTZS film development tubes.  I would need to stand the pipe upright on the floor and pour the chemicals in so they pool on the bottom of the pipe.  Then, I would load my exposed paper into the pipe, cap it off, and then quickly place the pipe on the rollers and start the process of rotating it.  I am not sure how feasible or even necessary this is at this point, but I will explore the concept and provide updates in future episodes.  The other option is to pour the chemicals into the pipe via a funnel and tube through the hole in the reducer coupling and then cap it off. 

If I take this approach, then I would want to have a gap between the ends of my paper when it is loaded so that they chemicals are not laying on the paper for too long before I start the rotation of the pipe.  With the first approach, the gap is less critical or may not even be necessary.

More to follow in the next episode as I being testing with the smaller prototype.  I have the larger 12" pipe and supplies on order and they will arrive in about a week.  This will give me time to work through the issues with the smaller prototype and be ready to try larger prints with the bigger pipe. 

If you have any specific questions, you can always connect with me via email and I am usually fairly quick at responding.  

I enjoy getting emails from photographers from around the world.  I always learn something by sharing, so please send your ideas and share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Enjoy the video below and I look forward to your comments, thoughts, and ideas as I make progress.  The Playlist for all of the episodes can be found here

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