hints and tips

These are in no order; we just write them down as they occur to us. They are numbered from the bottom up, so new ones are added at the top. If you have any good ones of your own, contact us and we will acknowledge the source.

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32  Even if you use a drying cabinet for colour films (and we do), black and white films tend to dry cleaner if they are left to dry naturally without any heat or forced air. Why? We don't know -- but we and others have noticed this often enough that there seems to be something in it.

31  Paterson chemical mixing paddles are superb for mixing chemicals but they are also ideal for agitating mixed solutions when you are alternately adding hot and cold water to get to the right temperature: obviously, unless the warm and cool water are thoroughly mixed, your thermometer will give different readings at different levels in the graduate.

30   If you are building a darkroom with running water, consider having two cold taps and one hot. That way you can leave the print washer connected while using the other tap.

29   Paterson water filters, which have a fine stainless steel mesh, can trap a surprising amount of crud (Corrosion Residue and Undetermined Detritus) amd push easilt onto garden hose connectors (see below).

28   Fit click-on garden hose connectors on your darkroom taps and any hoses you connect to them; it makes it a lot quicker to switch from (say) the print washer to a hose to fill a water-bath.

27   Before scanning your prints, wipe them with a Swiffer or similar cleaning cloth. It's amazing how much dust a print can collect.

26   Deckle-edge guillotines can sometimes be found at camera shows. They're usually very small (ours have about an 8-inch, 20cm) cut but then again they're most useful for small pics. They really transform small sepia prints and (above all) A6 ink-jet prints.

25   Many (all?) kinds of Fiskars scissors can be used right- or left- handed, comfortably; we heartily recommend them. They also come with a lifetime guarantee, which we have tested and it works. Click here for a link to the Fiskars web-site.

24   Don't look for more precision than exists. Trying to determine film development times to the nearest 5 seconds, for example, is meaningless. Even the nearest 15 seconds is more precision than you need with developing times over about 6 minutes, at least for black and white: half a minute is plenty, so if you want more contrast than you get at 6'30" go to 7 minutes, not 6'45". With colour processing at very high temperatures, it's another matter, but even then, 15 seconds is likely to be the smallest meaningful step.

23   More air space means better agitation when inverting small tanks. Use the minimum amount of developer needed to cover the film -- check with no film loaded, and plain water -- and you'll save developer and get better agitation. If you doubt it's better agitation, just take a full jar of orange juice; invert; watch. Now pour a glass; re-seal; invert and watch again...

22   Most graduates are scaled for both metric and ounce measures. Use whichever is easier. For example, mixing Ilford DDX developer 1+4 for our 425ml Kinderman tanks for 2x35mm means measuring 85 ml of developer. Treat it as 15 fluid ounces instead and it's 3 fl.oz of developer: a lot easier to measure. But for the 485 ml Jobo tanks for 120, we round 485 ml to 500 and measure 100 ml of developer, because otherwise it would be 3.4 fl. oz. to give 17 fl. oz.

21  When sleeving negatives -- we recommend Print File sleeves -- clipping a tiny bit off the corners will enable the strips of film to slide in more easily.

20  Coffee filters are good for filtering chemicals. Keep a filter funnel specifically for this and label it clearly.

19  Buy brown glass bottles from chemists'/pharmacies/drugstores to store developer and other photographic chemicals.  Label then clearly! And add the date).

18  Working at higher temperatures speeds paper development and saves time. Most developers work perfectly well at 24 degrees C, 75 degrees F or even warmer -- but they will oxidize faster.

17  A small torch (flashlight) with either a red LED or a red filter (we use Mag-Lite filters, orange and red together) is invaluable for finding things in the darkroom.

16  Old camera lenses make excellent loupes (magnifiers). You can often find old 50mm lenses at a fraction of the price of a new loupe.

15  Film can tolerate much higher fixer silver levels than paper. This is why, even if you fix your paper in film-strength fixer (to save time -- it's much faster) the capacity of the fixer remains unchanged: you can't safely put any more paper through it than you could through the weaker stuff.

14  If you want to leave developer in a tray overnight, put high-quality food-grade cling film over it, floating it on the dev with the edges hanging outside the tray. All but stops oxidation.

13  Q-tips and similar swabs are a good way to clean cameras.

12  A large artists' paintbrush is ideal for cleaning dust out of the rebates on cut-film holders.

11  Before loading a cut-film holder, tap it smartly a couple of times on the table/workbench to dislodge dust.

10  Swiffers and similar 'dust-capture' cloths are are ideal for preparing cut-film holders for loading.

9  Breaking the plastic or metal seals on the tops of bottles of liquid chemicals can be tiresome: all metals (including stainless steel) soon corrode, wood can absorb the chemicals, and so forth. Good-quality plastic picnic knives are ideal, as they are easy to wash and you can even keep separate ones for opening different chemicals: mark them with a write-on-anything pen.

8  If you label bottles, etc., with a Chinagraph or similar wax/grease pencil, remember that it will take better if the surface is warm. A small, cheap hand-held hair-dryer will warm and dry the surface simultaneously, but don't use it in the darkroom unless it is a new one reserved for the darkroom. Ones that have been used for drying hair normally spew dust.

7  The water from a dehumidifier is mineral-free and a useful substitute for distilled water, but keep it in the dark or there is a (small) risk of algae growing in it. Periodically drain it and leave it empty in the sun for the UV to kill off algae spores -- or use a UV lamp (below).

6  Tanning lamps are ideal UV sources for 'alternative' processes: reliable, repeatable and (usually) they are even fitted with adequately accurate timers. We have two Philips lamps, one bought new, the other found cheap at a car boot sale.

5  A common or garden 'church key' bottle-opener is the easiest way to open a film cassette.

4  Always keep at least two thermometers, a master for calibration only and one or more slaves. If you get a new thermometer (usually because you have broken the old one), calibrate the slave to the master, i.e. if the master reads 20 degrees and the slave reads 20.2, you know that in future you will need 20.2 on the slave to equate to 20 degrees 'standard'. We would recommend checking calibration at 20-24-38 degrees C, 68-75-100 degrees F.

3  If a clockwork stop-clock (darkroom timer) stops, it takes a moment to re-wind it. If a battery-powered one stops, you have to remove the old battery, find a new one, and fit it. This is why we prefer clockwork clocks.

2  Small bags of chamois leather are ideal for carrying lenses: dust-free, scratch-free and affording a surprising degree of protection. This is an old trick from decades ago. You can even make your own out of wash-leather. Frances does.

Dry films diagonally. The water runs down to the rebate, so the films dry faster and without drying marks. We used to dry films across a door-frame in Bristol; at La Buttiere we made up a removable frame to go across the bath. The angle is not critical. Pin one end, then fix the other with a paper-clip or similar hook (or film-clip) and elastic band. Films shrink slightly as they dry and the elastic band accommodates this.

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last updated: 10 Oct 2005

© 2005 Roger W. Hicks