There are a lot of excellent questions (and answers!) about the process of developing (BW) film at home. I would like to try my hand at it, too.

But it's not exactly clear how to proceed after having developed the negatives (in the second question, @whuber says: "Then you're all ready to make a contact sheet and proceed to enlarge them...but that's a topic for another day.").

One possibility could be to scan them and then proceed as if they were raw images from a dslr. But this is obviously not the classical solution. So, how do you actually go from the developed negative to a printed photo?

As an aside, considering the scanner option (which would probably be easier for a beginner): I have read that a resolution of 300 or 600 dpi is "good enough" for some definition of enough. In particular, I would like to know if it is good enough to preserve the grain of the film (otherwise, where's the point of it?)

  • PS: I have searched photo.SE and couldn't find this answered, so I figured to ask it. By all means, please point me to duplicates that I could have missed.
    – Francesco
    Mar 18, 2012 at 9:00
  • 4
    300 dpi is enough resolution for a print (at common viewing distances) not for scanning a negative. For scanning negatives, 4000 dpi was the common resolution of good scanners when they were still made (but Hasselblad still make higher-resolution scanners). A 4000 dpi scan of a 35mmm (1.5" x 1") frame gives about 6000 x 4000 pixels. At 300dpi that would produce a print of about 20" x 13". Mar 18, 2012 at 11:25
  • 1
    I've just started using my darkroom, it's tres fun :D I also have a Loreo Loupe for viewing the negatives on a lightbox, and it's tempting to get a Loireo Lens-in-a-cap as then you can attach the loupe to it and take photos of the negatives with your DSLR for proper RAW processing goodness
    – Dreamager
    Mar 18, 2012 at 13:36
  • @Dreamager: as a first step I will try to develop my first negatives, then I will remember to ask about this Loupe stuff, it seems very promising :)
    – Francesco
    Mar 20, 2012 at 23:04

4 Answers 4


Once you have the negative you use an enlarger to create your prints. An enlarger has a head containing a bulb, a negative holder and a lens. The head is on a column attached to a base. You can raise the head away from the base to make the image larger (or turn the head to project the image onto a wall for large prints)

If you want to do a contact sheet, you cut your negative into strips to match the size of your paper, and lay them on top of the photographic paper (in contact with the paper, hence "contact sheet"). You put a piece of glass over the top to keep the negatives flat and in place. You turn on the enlarger bulb to expose the paper, and then develop it with a similar mix of chemicals you used for the negatives (developer, stop bath and fixer)

Once you have your contact sheet to review, and decide to make a full sized print. You load a negative strip into the holder in the enlarger. You turn on the bulb and focus the image onto an empty easel (which holds the paper in place). Once focused, turn off the enlarger, and load the paper into the easel. Then you turn on the bulb once again to expose. Usually the enlarger is connected to a timer.

To get the correct exposure takes some trial and error. Generally you cut up strips of paper (so as not to waste entire sheets) and use these as test strips. You cover most of the strip up with your hand or a piece of cardboard. You expose for say a total of 60 seconds - every 10 seconds you uncover a bit more of the strip, so that when you are done, you have sections that have been exposed for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and the full 60 seconds. You can then develop and view the test strip in full light to judge what the correct exposure should be. Then you put in your 8x10 paper and expose for that amount of time.

  • Thanks, well deserved +1 from me! Could you comment on the difficulty (and/or economic cost) of this ? I think that this is the hard (And fun) part, while developing seems more or less a matter of pouring the right chemicals at the right time... And what about scanning, is it viable or does it give a completely different result?
    – Francesco
    Mar 18, 2012 at 10:18
  • 2
    I suppose by the way that one can make a contact sheet with any light source, not just an enlarger. You can often pick up a black-and-white enlarger for peanuts second-hand. Scanning is certainly viable, but the best film scanners are no longer made new and fetch high prices second-hand (over $1000 for the Nikon Coolscan V, $2000 for the Coolscan 5000). Black and white printing is an art in itself, every bit as much as making the initial exposure. If you're willing to put the time in it can be rewarding. But unsurprisingly, many would rather use the time with the camera instead. Mar 18, 2012 at 11:20
  • 1
    I would also recommend digging up a copy of The Darkroom Handbook by Michael Langford. It's a good, well-illustrated guide to getting around the darkroom.
    – Blrfl
    Mar 18, 2012 at 12:02
  • Thanks Blrfl. I see that there is also a "New Darkroom Handbook" by DeMaio, Worth and Curtin. Do you really refer to the 1st edition by Langford?
    – Francesco
    Mar 18, 2012 at 12:48
  • Yes, I do mean the Langford book. There are several editions, any of which will suffice. I hadn't seen the DeMaio book before; that one looks to be about construction.
    – Blrfl
    Mar 18, 2012 at 13:30

The classical solution is to use an enlarger, which projects the image from the negative on to photographic paper, which then must also be developed (same steps as film - develop, stop, fix, wash, and dry, just using different chemicals). B&W is definitely easier to handle in this regard, since you can use a safelight to see what you're doing (B&W paper isn't sensitive to red light below a certain wavelength, so working under a low-wattage red bulb won't fog the paper). For color paper you'd have to shut off all the lights while you're developing.

Doing your own prints is a helluva lot of fun, but...

  • You need quite a bit of space for the enlarger and the developing trays, with good ventilation (paper developers are pretty benign as chemicals go, but standing over open trays of them for a couple of hours at a time can leave you feeling a little woozy);
  • The enlarger needs to be on a steady base that's resistant to vibration;
  • You need handy access to running water, and you will go through a lot of it;
  • If you're not doing a lot of prints, your developer may oxidize before you've fully exhausted it, so you may wind up wasting some chemistry - you can mitigate this by storing the developer in a collapsible bottle to minimize contact with air when you're not using it.

Like MikeW says, it takes some trial and error before you nail the exposure. You will wind up burning several sheets of paper before getting it right. That's just part of the process, but given that each sheet costs some money, you may want to slow down and think a bit about what you want to accomplish before burning that initial test strip.

I haven't done prints since '98 or so, and I haven't processed film in several years now, so I have no idea how expensive paper or chemistry is. I can only imagine it's going to get more expensive going forward as more people work digitally.

Alternately, you can look for a film scanner (4000 dpi was the industry standard when I bought mine around 2004 or so). It's not quite as much fun as using an enlarger, but it's definitely faster and more space-efficient. Again, I haven't done this in a while, and I have no idea how expensive this option is anymore.

  • Thanks for all the good advice. Very good points about the chemicals. I used to have a lot of experience but by now almost 10 years have lapsed since the last time I worked in a lab (I feel old right now..). My scanner sports 6400 dpi, if tech specifications are to be believed.
    – Francesco
    Mar 20, 2012 at 23:08
  • 1
    You will find that good film/slide scanners are stupid expensive. Seems that the market has split into low-resolution ones at consumer prices, and really high-res ones at prices only a commercial lab can afford. Mar 21, 2012 at 1:11

I haven't developed film yet, but I definitely plan to do so. But I have no intention of printing in the dark room. I would just develop the film, scan the negatives, and prepare the final image in software.

And I think this is a good place to start and get a hold of before learning the printing as well. Maybe you end up finding out that shooting film wasn't your thing after all...

But if you do decide to do printing in the dark room, I think this video could serve as a introduction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewcsEHi8Vbg

  • I will start with the scanner, too, since it's easier. Assuming that an epson v500 is good for the job... But I would really like to try the "real thing" :)
    – Francesco
    Mar 18, 2012 at 12:50
  • Btw, thanks for the link, it was really very very interesting!
    – Francesco
    Mar 19, 2012 at 6:23

When you make a contact sheet, you physically place the negatives on the print paper and just turn on the light in your enlarger. The film is contacting the paper, hence the name.

Once its exposed, you have to develop, fix, and wash the photo paper.

Typically you develop the contact sheet and pick out best shots for enlargement.

Then you put individual film strips in your enlarger's head and enlarge one photo at a time. There are a zillion adjustments you can make. Dodging and burning is one, using papers with different contrast sensitivity is another.

I don't believe any scanner can really do a proper job. I have a nice Nikon film scanner that does 4000 DPI, but its not nearly as good as a real paper enlargement.

And to your direct question: NO, 300 DPI or even 600 DPI is not good enough. Even 4000 DPI is not good enough, IMHO.

  • Thank you Pat. I appreciate your comments on the scanner. I can't say that I am surprised...
    – Francesco
    Mar 21, 2012 at 6:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.