What is a photographic darkroom?

For those unfamiliar with the analogue printing process or analogue photography might not know what a photographic darkroom is, possibly having never even heard of anyone needing one! We have a darkroom, using it to create our prints and will mention the darkroom when talking about our prints or the processes that we use. If you are unsure of the photographic darkroom, stay with us and we will enlighten you!

So, the photographic darkroom, what on earth is it?

A photographic darkroom is an essential requirement for an analogue photographer to print and develop the own photo prints. A darkroom or space will be needed if a photographer wants to develop photographic film themselves.

At its most basic, a photographic darkroom is a space where there is no external light. Switch off all lights inside there will be no light visible, it will be as dark can be imagined and then a bit darker still!

Sounds like a rather intimidating and odd place to be doing anything. This need not be the case as a darkroom can be a cosy environment to create artwork in. One of the quirks of analogue photography, is that a lot can be done with a light on!

This leads us to one of our grand definitions, this time of a photographic darkroom.

A Photographic Darkroom
A photographic darkroom is a contained space where any external light can be controlled and eliminated, and any internal light can be controlled in intensity and spectrum.

Ta! da! A grand defining statement!

Whilst trying not to get bogged down in the minute details of the “how” and “why” of each requirement, we will overview the definition.

A photographic darkroom(1) is a contained space(2) where any external light(3) can be controlled and eliminated, and any internal light(4) can be controlled in intensity(5) and spectrum(6).

  1. photographic darkroom – area for analogue photo printing and/or processing;
  2. contained space – a fully enclosed area such as a single room or many connecting rooms, alternatively an area within another space i.e. within a room or a vehicle or even anywhere outside;
  3. external light – any light outside of the contained space, generally the light from the sun but this can also encompass streetlights, floodlights etc;
  4. internal light – any light deliberately introduced into the controlled space;
  5. intensity – the brightness of the internal light, which could be from blindingly bright to extremely dim or low;
  6. spectrum – the colour of the controlled light intensity, from one individual colour such as red to full spectrum of white light.

From this we can summarise that a photographic darkroom need not be an actual room but has to be a light tight space where the light from outside the space is prevented from entering into the space. Usually this is easiest done with a single room, hence darkroom.

The room or space, having no light getting into it, can have light added to it inside. This light will depend on what task is being done. How bright that light is will be pre-determined and can be controlled e.g. on or off. The colour of the internal light will vary depending on what is being done within the darkroom space. For the sake of brevity, the reasons for different colours and brightness of the light are best not explored in this article.

Darkrooms are really simple. Keep the outside light from getting in and only have the correct colour and brightness of light(s) inside for what is being done! This simplicity of requirements can hide the complexity of achieving simple needs. This is especially true where odd shaped windows, ventilation ducts or non-permanent installation has to be dealt with. How these can be dealt with is for another topic (or ten) entirely!

Some types of darkrooms

Darkrooms that we have worked in have varied from effectively a closet space all the way through to an entire floor of a building! The darkrooms have been within office blocks, warehouses both old and new, a purpose made van, as well as the more normal domestic houses or flats.

In addition to our current darkroom space we even have a small bag, for want of a better description, which acts as a darkroom for a particular task – more of a dark-space instead of a darkroom!

Most people can have a darkroom. Most buildings can have a darkroom. It might not be the ideal space but as long as it works in controlling the light levels, it can be called the darkroom! It is really that simple!


This has been a Hand Printed Photos production