I will give a short, one-time darkroom course for a small number of people who largely have little to no film photography experience and thus don't own any negatives that can be printed during the course.

A big fun factor in seeing the darkroom at work for the first time (and all other times) is seeing your own image appearing on the paper.

I am a little hesistent having them print my own negatives, since I do sell my own darkroom prints and the course price will not and cannot cover the costs of a print of one of my photos. I'm therefore looking for a way to help engage the attendees with printing photos that will attract their attention.

I have thought of lending them my camera during a session so they have some shots of their own, but this will require additional logistics and having multiple people depending on a single camera is far from ideal.

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    Well, is it a film photography course or a darkroom course? Sounds to me like you haven’t quite nailed down your course objectives yet.
    – OnBreak.
    May 6, 2019 at 14:19
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    What I mean is, if it’s a film course, then they need to shoot film and you need to be looking for express drying solutions. Else if it’s a printing focused course, then they simply need something to print on. Have them grab a disposable ahead of time. Or provide negs. Or make transparencies. It doesn’t matter as much because the printing is the focus. So...what’s your focus for the course?
    – OnBreak.
    May 6, 2019 at 14:27
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    @Tim I think you should make this last point explicit in your question. You want to give a one-time class on darkroom printing from negatives, but the attendees will have no opportunity to expose/develop their own negative. In fact, there is no solution only to provide them with "generic" negatives. I think the class will be all the poorer for it - a taster to the darkroom must surely include both developing and printing, no?
    – osullic
    May 6, 2019 at 15:01
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    It is essential to have negatives if you want to print photos onto paper from negatives in a darkroom. If you are unwilling to supply them and unwilling to teach the class how to produce them then you need to find some elsewhere.
    – Alaska Man
    May 6, 2019 at 20:32
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    Consider how difficult (and time consuming) it can be for someone who has never loaded 35mm onto a reel in the dark to do so and multiply that by the number of students. Figure out what you want people to learn of course, but if this is a day class, your expectations shouldn't outweigh your resources (here time and maybe jobos). A student might learn more from making a pinhole camera, taking a picture on direct positive paper, and developing it. And they can easily replicate this at home, no need to invest in an enlarger, etc right away.
    – moorej
    May 7, 2019 at 5:39

8 Answers 8


Make negatives specifically for the course:

Ask yourself what you want to actually teach in your class, and come up with negatives to function as aids to those lessons.

  • If all the students are going to learn is how to mix chemistry, expose photo paper, and what order/timing to dunk the sheets in the tanks, then why on earth is anyone Paying for that when it is basically written on the labels of the stuff they would need to buy to do it themselves?

So what could useful negatives be?

  • Focus on technical and primary lesson details. Possibly some simple 'still life' image that carries a variety of textures and details to be explored. Students are there to learn to print, not to walk away with a million dollar masterpiece.
  • Light and frame the scene a few different ways, and take lots of duplicates so that everyone can have a copy at hand. [And so that you have spares already made for if a student badly scratches a negative and you decide to still put the course on again.] Bonus points to you if you can come up with a scene that shows off different competing composition options, such as one framing heavily reliant on rule of thirds, while another framing skips that and relies on leading lines instead.
  • Design your images to demonstrate "Good and bad" negatives, giving you the opportunity to highlight what makes a negative easy to print, various pitfalls that make it harder, and how basic dodging and burning can recover otherwise 'unusable' images.
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    Very neat advice, thanks a bunch
    – timvrhn
    May 6, 2019 at 16:30
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    What they're paying for in the first bullet point is someone to shore up their confidence. Should they need that? Maybe not, but ... some people are intimidated by detailed instructions, or afraid to get things wrong (oh, trial-by-error we hardly knew 'ye!), or just baffled by things they aren't familiar with. May 7, 2019 at 14:59

A big fun factor in seeing the darkroom at work for the first time (and all other times) is seeing your own image appearing on the paper

So... Let them have fun then!

There are several projects they can do without taking the source images themselves, for example, a photo collage.

Let them expose several images together. Let them make masks with cardboard, and expose different zones of the paper.

You can make some abstract art. This way the pice will be theirs.

You can prepare for example, for a workshop of 10 people some 40 negatives of landscapes and 40 of portraits. They can pick some 4 random landscapes and try to make a scene with them combining the images with 1 portrait from a pile of 4. Or they can go to a collective light table where they choose one portrait and leave the other 30ish they are not currently using.

Give them 2 -3 pieces of black paper and some scissors for them to make masks. Show them to dodge and burn with them, or leave them over the paper.

Or try to add texture to a photo of a face, or texture of a sky on a landscape.

Give them some permanent black markers and let them make blotches of lines and use them to make new masks.

You can also take one portrait of themselves or a loved one!

If you can not take the photo one day prior to the event, let them send a good quality portrait of them and take a photo to be used in the collage!

It does not matter if you need to take the photo out of your screen.

Of course, this needs some planning and testing to give specific guidelines. But I'm sure that this will be more fun than just making one photo of a random thing on the workshop building, even if they pushed the button.

I'm thinking of stuff like this.

That would be a fun darkroom workshop!

  • Good advice, thanks a lot. I like the idea of masking and exposing several shots on the same paper as it would greatly teach the workings of printing
    – timvrhn
    May 7, 2019 at 6:53

If the purpose of the course is to give your students an experience of the darkroom in one day then I would stick with cameraless photography, i.e. photograms, and not worry about making negatives with a camera. There is just no way to teach iso, aperture, shutter speed, metering, developing regimes, etc in a single day. If this class has no prerequisites then you can be sure there will be someone who has never taken a picture with anything but their phone.

Many people are unlikely to have the opportunity to experiment in a darkroom. The excitement of seeing an image form in the developer will be memorable, particularly if it's fun and they are not bogged down by technique at the get go. Have a variety of items to work with, contact print drawings on mylar, flowers, negatives, etc. Everyone gets a pane of glass with the edges ground down (otherwise there will be bleeding).

Be prepared for at least some of the following, particularly if multiple enlargers are used and students are allowed to work without total supervision:

  • Someone will contaminate the developer by putting their print in the fixer first then moving it to the developer
  • Someone will fog everyone's work by removing the filter drawer with white light pouring out
  • People will bump into each other causing x to happen

Have fun! Get people excited about working in a darkroom. For most, this will be a one off experience.

  • Why the down vote with no reason? I have actually taught photography at Uni.
    – moorej
    May 7, 2019 at 1:21
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    Thanks for mentioning contact prints because I reckon it will be a good teaching method for showing how printing on photographic paper actually works. What gets blocked stays white, what doesn't becomes dark. Easy!
    – timvrhn
    May 7, 2019 at 6:48
  • @TimStack yes, I think you could easily do a day where people learn to make contact prints and that's the class. Everyone gets to go home with a print or two or three. And, the accomplishment you give to students might get them to follow up for more workshops if that's something you are interested in.
    – moorej
    May 7, 2019 at 21:44

In old-school darkroom classes, contact prints straight from silhouette-giving objects were not an uncommon exercise (exposing them with an un-loaded enlarger).

One possibility might be renting, acquiring, or improvising a digital enlarger (that can project a digital image onto photo paper). Such devices exist, but for experimental results, it might be well possible to jury-rig an ordinary projector.


Do you have a large format camera?

If so, set up a studio portrait area, pre-lit etc but let them click the shutter to photograph each other, or whatever else they might like on orthochromatic film.

Then you can develop the negs in trays under a safelight, just like you were planning to do for paper, and make contact prints with them after lunch.

If you use the enlarger for your light source, you can still show them how to use VC papers, and quite a bit of dodging/burning is still possible with contact printing.

So best of all worlds (given the constraint of one day and nobody has any cameras yet) -- no dark-dark room is needed, they get to develop by film by inspection, with all the magic that entails -- and also make some lovely little contact portraits of themselves to take home.

  • Wish I had one. Thanks for the thoughts though
    – timvrhn
    May 7, 2019 at 6:50
  • Maybe going straight to ilfochrome might be an option? May 7, 2019 at 16:16
  • @rackandboneman That would be pretty advanced for an introductory darkroom course! Plus I think availability is a problem these days. Ortho film is nice because you can work with a safelight, but if 35mm is the only option he could still set up a studio and have the students take portraits first thing, then soup the negs in a tank over lunch, with printing in the afternoon. Rollei has Ortho 25 as well, so one could order some of that and do dip&dunk on the negs for a more hands-on darkroom experience if desired.
    – jkf
    May 8, 2019 at 17:30

Make with them a few pinhole cameras (cans or boxes) to shoot on photosensitive paper. It’s great fun and you’ll teach them how to take and develop their own BW pictures with little equipment at home.

  1. Let them take some long exposure pictures.
  2. Teach them how to develop the photosensitive resin paper under safe light to get a negative of the image.
  3. Teach them how to obtain a positive of their images using contact printing by placing under a relative heavy safety glass a their negative facing down and on top of a new photosensitive resin paper facing up and exposing it to a strong light source.
  4. Let them develop their positives with the knowledge attained in step 2.

If you are interested in pinhole photography you should check “Pinhole Photography – History, Images, Cameras, Formulas” by Jon Grepstad


How much lead time do you have for the course?

If there is enough time the students can ask their parents or other relatives for negatives from the participants childhood.

Of course not everyone keeps their negatives, so a backup solution may still be needed.


You assemble a plethora of already processed black & white negatives and likewise prints. Treat all with Farmers 'Reducer or with C-41 bleach (not the combined bleach & fix). This reducing (bleaching) step will render the images clear or nearly so, ig will almost disappear. Now demonstrate the chemical steps of the developing of the photo process. Use a photo paper developer in a tray in the light. The images will re-appear and you will be a hero!.

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    @ Tim Stack -- Darkroom technique 101 is just and overview. After you have captured your audience's attention, you then branch out. By that time you will have weeded out those who could care less. Now you turn off the lights and do the in-depth teaching. I know a thing or two about this -- 55 + years - most of it teaching. May 6, 2019 at 14:33
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    Thanks @AlanMarcus, I'll keep that in mind. I would still say it doesn't fit my idea of the class as I want the attendees to make some actual prints themselves (with all the possible mishaps they can and will make!)
    – timvrhn
    May 6, 2019 at 14:40
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    So, basically, you're saying "We're not actually developing a film but, if we were, it would look something like this"? I really don't see the point of that. May 6, 2019 at 19:08
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    @DavidRicherby isn't it just like a cookery TV show, where the presenter announces "And here's one I made earlier"?
    – osullic
    May 6, 2019 at 19:47
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    @TimStack I meant that the scheme suggested in this answer is deceptive. I should have said "printing" rather than "developing" but I wasn't paying enough attention. Printing from pre-developed negatives isn't deceptive at all, especially the way you're proposing to do it. May 7, 2019 at 10:54

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