technical: Making a black and white print

Making a black and white print

What you need

  • Darkroom
  • Enlarger with timer
  • Masking easel,
  • Photographic paper
  • Negatives
  • Scissors
  • Developer, stop and fix, ready to use
  • Processing trays
  • Tongs,
  • Thermometer,
  • Measuring cylinders and jugs,
  • Water supply and sink

Tip: Photographic paper is sensitive to light and the box must only be opened in safe lighting. Photographic paper can fog in seconds and is expensive to replace.

Setting up the enlarger

Diagram of how to place a negative in a negative holder.

With main lights on, place the negative you have chosen into the negative holder, making sure it is shiny side up and dust free. Then decide what size print you want, and set the masking easel to this size. Open up the aperture of the lens to its widest setting to allow lots of light through, it will be easier to focus the lens this way. Most of the other adjustments will have to be made under safe lighting.

Place the pointer over the diagram to switch off the main darkroom lights and switch on safe lighting. Move the pointer away again to switch the main lights back on.

Diagram of a black and white enlarger. Set the size, focus and position of the image with the main lights on before getting out the photographic paper. Turn off the main light, and carry out the exposure with the safe light on.     

Under safe lighting, raise or lower the enlarger head until the image is the size you want for your print.

Now get the image into sharp focus by raising or lowering the lens. This can be checked using a focus finder, place this under the lens so that light falls into it and then look into the eye piece. When the image is in focus you should be able to see a grainy pattern - these are the particles of silver that make up the photographic image.

If you are using variable contrast photographic paper, such as Ilford Multigrade, select a filter and place it in the filter drawer. Grade 2 or 3 is useful as a medium contrast filter to start off with, if you are not sure how much contrast you will need. You can change it later if necessary.

Stop down the lens to a medium setting such as f.8, or your exposure time will be too quick and it will be hard to control adjustments.

Turn the enlarger off and place a piece of photographic paper into the masking easel, without moving the easel out of position.

Set the timer, and make the exposure. It is useful to make a test strip first, to find the correct exposure time, check contrast level and save paper. Process the print, wash and dry.

Find out about how to make a contact sheet.