What is a Darkroom?

A darkroom is a specialized light-free environment designed for photographers and other artists who work in the medium. To avoid exposing the light sensitive emulsions that cover photographic paper and film before they are developed, artists must work in complete darkness when developing film and prints. Depending on the type of materials being worked with in the darkroom and the number of artists sharing it, the size and design of a darkroom can vary greatly. Artists frequently collaborate in the same darkroom to split the costs of photography.

To prevent light pollution, a darkroom is usually entered through a series of doors and curtains. In a shared darkroom, where different people may be performing different tasks with varying levels of light sensitivity, this is critical. In a darkroom, switches for overhead lights are usually made difficult to reach so that they are not accidentally turned on.

An enlarger for making prints, as well as a variety of developing chemicals in separate tubs, are usually found in a very basic darkroom. To make prints, the artist uses an enlarger to expose photo-sensitive enlarging paper to light, then dunks the photograph in a series of developing chemicals to bring out the latent image, stop the developing bath’s action, fix the photograph, and rinse the developing chemicals away. The paper is safe to expose to light once this process is completed in the darkroom, and it can be dried and used.

Photographers working in black and white can use “safe lighting” in the darkroom, which is usually orange or red lighting. Red light in the darkroom will have no effect on the finished print because black and white enlarging paper is sensitized to the blue-green end of the spectrum. Photographers can see what they’re doing in the darkroom thanks to this safe lighting.

Color photographers and film developers, on the other hand, aren’t so lucky. Because film is extremely light sensitive, it must be processed in complete darkness. Because color enlarging paper is sensitive to light across the spectrum, the photographer must work in complete darkness to avoid fogging or clouding the final print.

People who are just getting started with photography usually rent a darkroom because the costs of setting up a darkroom can be quite high. Professional photographers may work in a shared darkroom, as many newspapers that use film do, or they may have their own darkrooms. Artists prefer private darkrooms for their work because the silence allows them to concentrate.