Darkroom ‘Tronics

The darkroom has been the recipient of electronic gadgets for decades. Many of the private darkrooms were equipped with electronic aids long before the digital upgrades. The intent was convenience, as well as ease of operation for the casual darkroom printer.

The first items were timers. After that came analyzers – darkroom meters used for judging exposure and contrast selection.


Enlarger timers, usually, control time. First ones were mechanical, much like a clock. Digital timers provided more features, including “f-stop” timing. In wet room (side) are process timers; some are multi-step, or even multi-process capable.

 Exposure/ Contrast Meters

Technically they are on-easel meters. The readings are taken at the printing stage. The negative is projected onto the easel; the meter probe (sensor) is positioned on the easel to capture the light from a spot of the image.

Darkroom 21: Tron

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Published source, DIY build information: timers, light sources, meters

Open Registration

Much of darkroom work is hand waving. Aligning images to build a print is part of the world of assembly processes.

Projecting a beam of light through a modulator, such as a piece of film, is the way of the darkroom. The enlarger is light and lens. We increase our control by being able to change the color and intensity of the light. These are the little pieces we build a world with.

Many Added

Here, we see a color print, made from separate BW negatives, using filters, manual registration, and RA-4 color paper.

tricolor type C printing

Notice how casual the assembly is. No film punch; no micro calipered, glass carriers; none of the carping crap posted on the Film Forum by slow moving Flim Flammers.

Many Divided

Next, Jerry Uelsman shows his method of making combination prints. He uses several enlargers, each with a negative of one element of the finished image.

Uelsmann in darkroom

There are people who use the computer to write their essays and there are people who still use a yellow pad and a pencil. They both can write excellent essays, stories or whatever. The process is the means by which you complete the image, but you don’t want it to be the end. There was a point at which the emphasis was on the Zone System that was all so technical. So you had this precise full tonal scale image, but what was the subject matter? It’s a cat or a sunset. So what? I’m committed to the darkroom, but I believe that if I had been 20 years younger when Photoshop came out with its visual options, I might be sitting in front of a computer rather than standing in front of an enlarger.

Jerry Uelsmann