The Printing Process

Making photographs is something I very much enjoy doing. It pleases me that I'm able to share my artistic vision with those around the world, whether that's capturing slivers of time that intrigue human curiosity or simply taking a photograph of something optically enjoyable. I want to say thank you for those who support my work by sharing online or purchasing a print for their own pleasure (or gifting it to a loved one.)

Creating a picture from scratch is no easy task. It takes a lot of time, tools, materials and patience to create each photograph you see on this site. I'd like to share with you my process so you can better understand what it means to print in the darkroom. It has taken me two years to get comfortable working in the darkroom. Within this time, I have completed a Black & White Photography course at the International Center of Photography that taught me darkroom printing, as well as spent countless hours shooting film, developing negatives, practicing printing, experimenting with various materials and chemicals, and so much more.

I hope you enjoy learning about my process and don't forget to check out prints that are currently available for purchase!


Process Outline

  1. Artistic Vision
  2. Taking the Photograph
  3. Developing the Negative
  4. Selecting the Working Negative
  5. Preparing the Darkroom
  6. Printing a Picture
  7. Mounting the Final Print

 

1. Artistic Vision

A photograph can be a snapshot of spur of the moment events, or it can be a premeditated and precisely planned action. Artist vision is one of those things that so subjective and what makes fine art, fine art. A lot of my photography is explorations of the energy in the streets of various cities. My mood dictates a lot of what I capture, whether that's an abstract picture of a plant or telling the story of a forgotten building, crumbling in time.

2. Taking the Photograph

When I'm ready to take a photograph, I generally have an idea in my head of what I want to reproduce. I choose the appropriate tools for the job, whether that's a digital or film camera and the correct lens. Sometimes I might take only one photograph, and other times I'll take a few. However, I am very tactful in capturing my subject and never shoot an absurd amount hoping to capture one good picture.

Measuring the available light that is at my disposal is how I'm able to take photographs that are correctly exposed. For street photography, I prefer to zone focus so that way I'm only focused on framing and pressing the shutter release button. This doesn't always end up producing the perfect negative on film, but film can be forgiving in the darkroom. The most important thing in photography is taking the picture, because once that moment passes, it is forever gone.

3. Developing the Negative

For film photography, I shoot Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 and generally push a stop. I develop all my film at home using Adox Rodinal, Kodak and Photographers Formulary product. After developing the film, I dry them for 13 minutes in my Arkay film drier before scanning them into my computer. I also cut the negatives into strips of 5 or 6 and place them in my archival binders.

For digital photography, I dump the images on my laptop, then import them into Lightroom. This is where I then go through them to flag the ones I think are worth working on. I make simple adjustments such as color correction, white balance and adjust for lens distortion. 

4. Selecting the working negative

Choosing the picture I want to work on is an intimate process. The chosen picture is the one I feel confidant in sharing with the world and also the one I will spend countless hours on perfecting to my vision. For negatives, I inspect them on my lightbox to check for subject matter, framing, sharpness and flaws. I will also make a contact sheet, which allows me to see the positive image and check for the same things. Using my grease pencils, I'll outline the images I want to explore in the darkroom.

5. Preparing the Darkroom

The first hour or so of my darkroom work is wiping it down with a damp cloth to remove any dust. This includes the enlarger, the easel, any surfaces, my GraLab clock... everything. I then clean all my trays, tongs and buckets in the sink to rid them of any dust and debris. Next I set up my trays on a table, mix all new chemicals for the days printing session and pour them in their respective trays. At the end of a printing session, I discard the chemicals safely, wash out trays and tongs and wipe up any messes.

6. Printing a Picture

This is where the magic happens and creativity is allowed to flow freely for hours. I adjust my easel for the appropriate paper size and desired borders. I load the negative in its carrier and slip it into the enlarger. I turn off the lights in the darkroom except the red glowing bulbs, then I flip the focus switch on my enlarger timer which projects the negative on my easel. I adjust the enlarger's height to fit the easel before I use my grain focuser to focus my negative so it's sharp. 

Next I take a piece of fiber paper and cut it in half. I use half of the paper to quickly make a test strip. I generally set my variable contrast filter on the Leitz V35 to 0 and make exposures on the paper in 2 second increments. I then do the same thing with the other test test strip, except the filter is set to 5. This is because I practice what is called split grade printing. Rather than printing an image using a single setting on the contrast filter, I use 0 and 5. This allows me to exposure for the highlights and the shadows, and all the grays in between will fall into place.

Once I find the right timings on my test strips I will then make a full print. An example is printing the image using filter 0 for 14 seconds, and then again using filter 5 for 12 seconds. Each photograph goes through this developing process: Developer, Stop, Fixer, Hypo-clear, Selenium. After they are toned in selenium, I'll exam the print to make sure there is enough contrast, highlights aren't blown out, minimal/no dust spots, sharpness, etc. 

Sometimes you need to dodge and burn parts of your print to reveal or safe detail in the image. This is a tedious process that takes a lot of practice and patience to get just right. An example is my Harmony print of three peonies. The top right corner is too light and the leaves don't match the rest visually. I burn the leaves in an extra 30 seconds to make the print feel more balanced.

Once I have the final formula done to make the perfect print, I'll generally print about 10 of them. I was each print for an hour to rid the paper of any fixer which could destroy the print in time. Once washed, I hang them up to dry with clothes pins. 

7. Mounting the Final Print

Once the photographs are dried it is time to press them flat briefly in the dry mount press. This is because fiber paper curls and I need to get it straight so that I can easily mount it on the mat board. After the paper is pressed, I tack on a sheet of adhesive paper to the back center. This is what makes the photograph stick to the mat board. Some photographers use non-destructive methods of mounting their photography, like using corners and foldable overmats. I choose the more permanent method of pressing the photo to the mat board so that you can't remove it. This is just a personal preference. 

I then trim the picture to make it a more appropriate size and to rid of the excess adhesive paper. I'll then grab a mat board and position the print on it. I give even left and right borders and account for a 15% increased padding below the image. This makes the image optically centered, rather than perfectly centering the image. Once I mark where the print will reside on the board, I carefully adhere the print to the board by heating the adhesive paper under the photography. Since part of the image is attached to the board, I can then place it in my dry mount press, between two pieces of release board, to adhere the entire print to the board. I'll take the warm print out of the press and lay it on a table with a heavy weight on top for a few minutes as it cools.

Now that the photograph is beautifully stuck to the mat board, I'll make more measurements so I can properly cut an overmat for it. This overmat is essentially a second piece of mat board with a window cut out for the photograph to show through. Each overmat is cut with a new razor so that the edges of the window aren't beveled or raggedy. Once the overmat is cut, I then use adhesive tap around the edges and carefully lay it on top of the photograph. I place pressure all around the frame for the two pieces to stick together. 

Once the photograph is done, it immediately gets signed on the back (unless a client specifically asks for the front) and I slip it in a clear plastic bag for protection.

Equipment List

CAMERAS
Leica M6 Film Camera
Leitz Minolta CL
Leica M-D Digital Camera
Leica 21mm Super-Angulon Lens
Minolta 40mm M-Rokkor Lens
Leica 50mm Summicron Lens

DARKOOM 
Leitz Focomat V35 Enlarger
Schneider Lens
Bessler 11x14 easel
Bestwell Minisight 10x grain focuser
GraLab 300 timer
Ilford Fiber Paper
Patterson developing trays and tongs
Kodak D-76 Developer
Photographers Formulary TS-4 Stop Bath
Photographers Formulary TF-4 Rapid Fixer
Photographers Formulary Hypo Clearing Agent
Kodak Selenium

DRYROOM
Seal 210m Dry Mount Press
Seal Tacking Iron
Dry Lam Colortac Dry Mounting Tissue
D&K Release Board
Archival Method Cotton Museum Board
Logan 350 Mat Cutter
Dahle 554 Rolling Trimmer
Dahle Vantage Cutting Matt
Arkay CD-40 Film Dryer