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5-2. Overview of Developing Film and Making Prints


The objective of the film development process is to make the latent image on the exposed film both visible and permanent by providing a permanent negative image of the photographed scene.  Darkroom development involves removing the exposed film from its cartridge in total darkness and placing it in a developing tank where it is immersed in a succession of film development chemicals.  Temperature of the developer, stop bath, fixer (hypo) solutions and the timing of each immersion must be carefully controlled.  Upon removal from the fixer, lights may be turned on and the film washed under running water.  Sometimes a clearing agent is used to ensure removal of all traces of the fixer.  Additionally, in areas of hard water, a wetting agent might be used to ensure there are be no water-spots left on the film.  Lastly, the film is placed in a dryer.



The initial objective of the printing process is to make a sheet of contact prints, each print the size of a 35mm negative.  The dried film is cut into five strips of approximately six frames each.  In the darkroom, the enlarger, a light projector, is adjusted to focus its light on the easel directly below.   Working under a "safelight," the contact sheet, an 8" x 10" sheet of light-sensitive photographic paper, is removed from its storage container and placed on the easel.  The negative strips are then positioned on the contact paper and a sheet of glass is placed over them to ensure complete negative-to-paper contact. Then, a test print is made to determine the best overall exposure time for the film.

A piece of cardboard is used to mask all but the first strip of film.  The enlarger is turned on for a period of three seconds.  The cardboard is then moved to expose the second strip and both are exposed for another three seconds. The process is repeated until the last strip is exposed, resulting in a set of strips that have varied exposure times of from 15 to three seconds.  Now, fully exposed, the sheet is ready to be developed.

The exposed paper is immersed in vats containing print development chemicals: developer, stop bath and fixer, before being washed under running water.  After the test sheet has been developed, the optimum exposure time can be determined.  Now, a final contact print is obtained by exposing all the negatives for the optimum time and processing the exposed sheet as before.  Then, the final contact print or proof sheet, is reviewed to select the frames which will be projection-printed.   These are the ones which present the most usable images and best support the story.  

The projection printer (sometimes called an "enlarger") optically regulates the size of the image on the photographic paper.   During the time that the paper is being exposed, enhancement techniques such as dodging or burning may be employed to adjust the contrast of a portion the image.   Once developed and dried, the projection prints are the final darkroom products.

Dodging and Burning. Dodging and burning are the processes of lightening or darkening parts of an image. In a conventional darkroom this is done during the printing process by positioning opaque masks between the enlarger and the paper. This is something of a hit-or-miss proposition as you cannot see the actual results until the print is processed.  In editing a digital image, there are a number of different ways to perform these local tonal adjustments in a highly controlled fashion.

Cropping. Sometimes, the photographer or editor would decide to crop the picture to give better emphasis to the intended subject or to remove distractions.   Cropping could be done by masking portions of the projected image or by cutting away the unwanted portion of the finished print with a pair of scissors.

A photo can tell several stories, depending on how it is cropped.  Leaving this photo full-frame shows the three runners who are leading the pack of bunched-up runners farther back.  Cropping recomposes the photograph.   By eliminating some of the pack of runners on the right side of the print, the editor can shift attention and feature the intense competition among the lead runners.

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Post Production Responsibilities

The photographer must gather the negatives and final contact print and place them in an envelope, labeled and dated to reflect the story they support.  This material will be archived for possible future use.

Photochemicals, except for wetting solution, are subject to an array of Federal, state and local laws addressing disposal of hazardous waste.   You must learn and follow proper procedures for local storage or disposal of developer, stop bath, and fixer (with its recyclable silver content).  These chemicals must be processed, not merely poured down the drain.  The bottom line: photochemical disposal is both problematic and expensive, two good reasons for Army Public Affairs’ transition to digital photography.

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