Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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This is a question for you oldskool B&W photographers, I'm hoping there's some of you out there ;)

I am just getting round to sorting out my darkroom and thought I'd give it a test run now the power was in. The first thing I wanted to test was that the old paper I was given still worked, if only for testing even if not final prints. Freshly opened I developed an unexposed piece and all was well. I then made a few test contact sheets and although overexposed because I didn't eyt know the speed of the paper, all developed well.

I then made a couple of test prints, which looked fine in the darkroom but having removed them and seeing them in normal light, the edges of the paper had brown discolouration. The test contacts I had made previously were perfectly fine.

Now I know the paper is old so there's a possibility it is this, but given that the top sheets of paper, which are the most likely to have reacted with the packaging were fine, this seems less likely than I first thought. There's also the chance of the fixer getting exhausted, and I'll have to check this at a later date.

The main difference between the test contact sheets and the prints I made was that because I knew I was throwing the contacts away I didn't leave them in the fixer very long. Being an amateur who has only had a few evening classes in the darkroom I was under the assumption that fixer is harmless, and the longer you leave the prints in the fix the better, so that is what I did for the prints. Given that it is Ilford Rapid Fixer I have they were in there for long over the recommended time, which I had assumed was a minimum for safe fixing.

So my question, could the excessive time I leave a print in the fixer have negative effects on the print to cause this brown staining around the edge?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

The answer is yes, although you must have left the prints in the fixer for quite a while to see the staining immediately. It's usually something that creeps in over time. It may be the case that your paper has oxidized from the edges inward before you used it, but you can check that by simply wasting a sheet and processing it "by the clock" (without exposing it, so you can eliminate as many variables as possible).

The length of time in the fixer isn't super-critical or anything. It's only the developer that you've got to get bang on; the stop bath and the fixer are (as you surmised) more or less a meet-the-minimum sort of thing. But the fixer is reactive, and for prints that are meant to last more than a very short time, it's something you want to get rid of. Otherwise you'll get that loverly yellow/brown patina of age in a hurry without the bother of toning.

In a typical "intro to the darkroom" course, you'll be shown the things that are necessary to make magic happen -- straight develop/stop/fix. And if you were shooting old-tyme news photos in the Weegee style to get something to the prepress guys, that's all you'd need. But if you want prints to last for any time at all, there's still a step to go, and that's to get rid of all of the residual chemistry (mostly the hypo/fixer). Your prints need at least a wash in running water -- how long depends on whether the paper is fiber-based (long time -- typically five minutes or more) or resin (shorter, since the "paper" itself doesn't absorb much and you only need to "clear" the emulsion). A hypo-clearing rinse (compatible with your fixer, of course) before the wash can speed the process up considerably.

An "archival" print washer is fairly cheap and easy to make if you can't pick one up cheaply enough. There are several DIY solutions online -- just search for "archival print washer". Both the "cascade" and the "upflow" desgns are effective; pick whatever looks easiest to make to you.

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I suspected as much. I'm guessing it's a combination of the paper being old and oxidised a little at the edge that's making it show up so quickly when I'm leaving it in there too long. I do need to sort out my washing practices, but we've just had water meters fitted so I'll be trying to use as little running water as possible now sadly. This shouldn't be too much of a problem as I don't plan on using any fibre paper anytime soon – Dreamager Nov 13 '11 at 10:42

I know this is an old question. But IMHO the accepted answer is just wrong. So, I give it a try...

The question:

could the excessive time I leave a print in the fixer have negative effects on the print to cause this brown staining around the edge?

No, not very likely. The only effect I've seen coming from too long fixing was a bleach out of the image, best visible in the light- to mid-tones. And this only after I've accidentally left a sheet for longer than four hours in there.

The brownish color you describe is more likely to come from one of these:

  • old paper

    Well, this is obvious. In this case, the brown coloring becomes already visible during development.

  • paper that got too hot

    This is similar as too old paper. If the paper was exposed to excessive heat, it may carry a "latent exposure" without any visible signs in the darkroom light. As above, the coloring becomes visible during development.

  • not long enough fixer

    This is IMHO what has happened. If there are spots on the paper where silver-halogenides are not washed out by the fixer, they will turn brown after you switch the normal light on.

  • a mixture of developer and stop bath into the fixer

    The real reason behind this one is dirty working environment. When the stop bath gets exhausted, a mixture of developer and stop-bath in the fixer will very likely cause brownish to pink color stains. I've seen this many times especially on RC paper.

As you see in one of my previous posts, I'm not a fan of stop bath if you're able to rinse with running water. Cleanness is the key to good prints. I'd like to re-emphasize the most important points for good prints:

  • keep it clean always wash with running water after a suspected contamination
  • never let chemicals mix wash in between. The only exception is stop-bath between developer and fixer (did I say that I'm not a fan of this?)
  • always rinse after the developer and after the fixer
  • final rinse very well for durable prints
  • never contaminate finished prints with fixer

Suggested times

Regarding the times, most of the answers in this forum are either pretty vague or just refer to "the documentation". I consider the times given by manufacturers (like this) as the "technical minimum". These specifications come from a time where a "timely" processing of prints was seen as very important. However, nowadays I think most of the people still working with chemicals are more interested in quality than in speed. I therefore suggest the following times as reasonable normal average times:

  • Developer: 2 min. After about two minutes you should see (in the darkroom-light) a virtual "stop" of the development process. Calibrate your exposure times that your prints are ok after this "stop".

  • Stop bath: 30 sec RC paper; 2 min fiber paper Always check the condition of the stop bath. Fiber paper exhausts the stop bath earlier. Use 2-4 minutes running water instead if possible.

  • Fixer: 5 min. The time (1-2 min) given by Ilford is for RC paper that are used for "press prints". These only ever needed to last 6 months or so. I suggest that you increase this time to five minutes which is reasonable. Up to 30 minutes should never be a problem either. The goal is, to have the fixing process finished. (no silver-halogenides remaining in the paper)

  • final rinse: 20 min RC paper, 60 min fiber paper. The aim is to wash out every little bit of thiosulphate. If the water temperature is below 20 degrees Celsius, it's no problem to rinse significantly longer. I've often rinsed for two full hours.

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