With the digital revolution, a bad economy and luxury spending at a low point, film photographers are asking themselves, “Is there any advantage to having your own darkroom?” After weighing the pros and cons, I’ve only found three. When it comes to photo labs, the personal darkroom falls way short.
Here are the three advantages to your own darkroom. You have full control of the content and quality. You know what you look for in a picture, and even the best photo labs may misunderstand your instructions. If you do go with a photo lab, you must develop a working relationship with the printer, and make certain they know exactly what you’re looking for.
Another advantage is you don’t need to waste paper. You can cut the paper to meet your current needs, and use the unused portions at a later time. Remember, paper is expensive and the more you use the pieces the more cost effective your paper becomes.
The real reason schools teach darkroom techniques are so that you learn the whole process of photography. It helps to understand what’s possible when your film is developed.
The biggest problem with darkrooms is the cost. When you consider the paper, the chemicals, and supplies the cost of running your own darkroom is far more than any photo lab.
Running your own darkroom has another big cost, the cost of your time. Printing takes time, and that’s something not everyone has enough of. With a photo lab you just drop off the prints, give the printer instructions, and let them do their job. You can pick them up at your leisure.
The final cost to you is space. With a darkroom you have to have a place to store supplies (paper, chemicals) when they’re not in use. The actual equipment takes a little room, not a whole room but enough to make it inconvenient.
There’s also the hassle of poisonous chemicals, and messes to clean up. Even photographers like Ansel Adams preferred to go to a lab he trusted.
I could go into how to find good labs, but that’s another blog. The point is if you still shoot with film and are thinking about building your own darkroom, don’t. You’re far better going to a well-run photo lab, and you’ll save money, space, and time.
Challenge: Develop (no pun intended) a relationship with a local photo lab that has a good reputation for quality, and service.