There’s a certain kind of magic about taking your own photographs and then processing the film to see the image recreated onto a piece of paper – an experience that we don’t get by snapping some pictures on a smartphone. Of course, all kinds of photo processes have their merits, but the traditional art of photographing and developing your own photos has seen a bit of a boost recently as people have had more time on their hands and are looking to embrace their artistic sides.
In addition to learning the skills that are necessary to take and develop high-quality pictures, another challenge can be creating and equipping a dark room. Some people manage to use their bathroom or a spare room in their house but generally speaking it is more useful to have a dedicated dark room that can be left set up. This can prevent damage to equipment as well as mix-ups of chemicals and a lot of time in setting up (and down).
One solution is to convert a shipping container into a dark room. It can be placed in your garden, be fitted with electrical systems to run all of the equipment, and can include plumbing. Shipping containers are an eco-friendly alternative to a bricks and mortar construction and can also be cost-effective.
Building a Dark Room
The most important aspect of designing a dark room is that it needs to be, well, dark. Light can drastically affect the photograph, so the ideal solution is a space with no windows – or as few as possible.
A shipping container is an ideal option if you are looking for a dark space to build your dark room. A shipping container is essentially a metal box that carries cargo around the world. It has no windows and secure walls, ceilings, and floors that are weather-proof to protect its contents. This means that there is little chance of unwanted light getting in.
When you are looking to design and equip a dark room at home, it needs to be done properly to ensure that it is a safe environment that can produce good quality pictures.
To set up a dark room, there are several aspects that you need to consider:
The best way to check for light leaks is to close yourself inside the room during the day and look for any spots of light that are leaking in.
Equipment Outlet and Ventilation
There are various chemicals and pieces of equipment in a dark room that can potentially cause harm to people. It is important, therefore, that there is an equipment outlet and adequate ventilation installed to ensure that these are not harmful – even if you are planning on wearing a mask.
Some people choose to install a fan, but they are not as effective as proper ventilation.
Proper ventilation systems can be fitted to a shipping container during the conversion process.
Water, Electricity, and Lighting
Water and electricity are important for the photograph development process. Although it is not absolutely necessary, having a water supply is very useful in a dark room. Electricity is vital to enable you to power your equipment and to ensure that you have proper lighting. Whilst you may wish to install a ‘regular’ light so that you can see when you are not doing light-sensitive work, it is important to also have a safelight installed. A safelight is a light that is used in dark rooms that enables you to see well enough to work, whilst not interfering with the development process.
Wet Side and Dry Side
It is recommended that a dark room is set up to have a wet side and a dry side. This can protect your photographs from mistakes and can help to ensure that equipment isn’t damaged. By keeping these two sides separate, you can ensure that everything is kept away from danger.
The wet side should include any running water, funnels, tongs, trays, graduated cylinder, film clips, and chemicals.
The dry side should be closest to the outlet and include any electronic equipment that you have, the safelight, reels and film tank, grain magnifier, easel, timer, and paper cutter.
Other equipment that you need to think about having include:
- An enlarger – the most important piece of equipment needed in a dark room
- Printing kit – can be bought as an entire kit, or you can buy the parts separately
- Chemicals – the three kinds of chemicals that are needed to develop photographs should be marked clearly to avoid confusion.
Racking can be installed into the converted shipping container to make storage easier, and you should also consider having a table or desk there as an area to work at.
You can also add an insulating lining to keep the temperature inside more stable and secure locking systems to keep your photos and equipment safe.