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Quitters never win
But only losers never win and never quit!
More lessons from the Guerilla Darkroom

Well, more than a year later with a new darkroom, and I haven't succumbed to the vinegar smell of stop bath. Not yet, at least. Here are some supplemental tips.

1. Photo-Flo 200

The last step in any film developing is using Photo-Flo 200 to sheet water off your negatives. Not only must you remember to get the concentration right, you must also remember to wash every trace of it off of your reels and tank. In your zeal to look at your latest negs, you will forget this. In its most benign form, residue of Photo-Flo 200 will cause bubbles at the top of your tank. In its most sinister, it will cause dark bubbles on the film. Vinegar or stop bath will generally do the job in getting residual Photo-Flo out.

2. Plastic film reels

Three tips here. First, the single greatest destructive force for your negatives -- especially 120/220 negs -- is having them buckle when you are putting them on plastic reels. Make sure the reels are bone-dry. A good place to dry them is on top of your floor air vent (provided, of course, that the vent is aluminum or some other non-corroding material).

Second, be very, very careful about washing film (this goes for any reel). Do not allow water to hit the film from the top -- you can easily buckle the film that way and get various degrees of bends (see Saving Your Bent Negatives for some solace).

Finally, plastic reels have a finite life. Eventually they will not hold a 120/220 without your holding the two ends tightly. Retire them to 35mm use at that point. Using hot water to rinse the reels will accelerate this.

3. Stains

Paper developer stains porcelain and enameled metal when it oxidizes. Be sure to clean it up spilled paper developer ASAP. This is much more of an acute problem when the concentrate has been oxidizing in the bottle, too. If you miss it, see below for how to remove it.

4. Single-displacement reactions

If you have chrome fixtures where you are working, be aware that your fixer carries silver salts. If you sequentially pour stop bath and then fixer down the drain, you are in fact preparing any exposed brass on your chrome fittings (more than likely if they are old) for plating and then plating them. The silver will plate to the brass and turn black almost instantaneously. Use tray cleaner or Farmer's Reducer to eliminate this. They will also take paper-developer stains off porcelain and enameled metal.

5. Enlarger Work Surface Height

Thirty-three inches (~0.8m) is about the minumum working height you will want for the baseboard of an enlarger. Forty inches (~1m) is better, but all of this depends on whether or not your enlarger column is going to hit the ceiling. A pair of wire shelving units from Target ($15/each) will make a more than adequate stand for larger enlarger baseboards (Durst AC800 M805 etc.). Remember, it's your back.

6. Humidity

One reason you need a darkroom with at least normal humidity (especially in the winter) is that the more violently film curls during drying, the more likely it will end up touching another film drying nearby. You might run the shower in a bathroom, turn it off, and then move your dress hanger/film clips to that shower curtain rod. That will make things a little less violent.

7. Test Strips

One of the most frustrating things you can do is get wet fingers in the darkroom, especially when doing test prints. One way to alleviate this is to cut 2x10" test strips and when you are printing 8x10s, put the 10" dimension across the printing mask. This leaves about an inch and a half unexposed. Grab this part and use it as a handle to hold and agitate the test strip first in developer, then stop, then fix. Also, consider making the third stop for test strips water instead of fixer. A test strip is not going to fade in the 5 minutes you need it.

8. Rules of Thumb

A print in a white developer tray under a red safelight that looks like it has OK contrast and exposure will need 1/2 to 1 grade more contrast and between 50 and 100% more exposure. Safelights are extremely deceptive in contrast rendition, especially when combined with a light background. Try to use grey trays for developer. The more commonly-sold grey trays are about an 18% grey, so they make a better frame of reference.

9. Cheap Negative Cutter

Find one of the Polaroid instant slide-mounting devices. It has a sprocket wheel that pulls the film along and a little guillotine blade. This will cut nice, plane-parallel strips of negatives without excessive film handling. There is also a lighted model, but it is probably overkill. $10 used at a camera store near you.

10. Cheap Print Trimmer

One excellent and cheap paper trimmer is the Carl Manufacturing 12"/A4 Personal Rotary Trimmer (Office Depot, $10). It comes with two blades (cut and perforate) and latches shut magnetically. It will not let you trim bigger prints to size, since it is only 4" wide, but it will let you slice the edges off of prints to make them borderless, to make test strips, or to crop.