Relearning old tricks

rolls of 35mm film

I recently relived the experiences (and the smells!) of the darkroom.  Many years ago in the pre-digital age I spent a great deal of time printing and developing my own photographs but, like many others, I moved away from the older technology. In a sense it is very similar to many trainers I know.They have moved from the analogue world of stand-up training to the digital world of e-learning design and development. Sometimes it is great to revisit some of those older skills.

Recently, when a family member needed a film camera for a course she was attending, I remembered that I had a Canon EOS 600 (one of their last generation film cameras) lying around at home so I loaned it to her. Once her course was finished I decided to have a go at it myself and took some black and white photographs on a cycle ride in Dorset on the south coast of England.


Film photography is a slower process, not only in the obvious way that I do not see the results immediately but also in the fact that I tend to take longer to take a single photograph. Rather  than taking pictures from every angle as I would with the digital camera I spent more time walking around and observing the objects from different angles before I even set the camera up and pressed the shutter button. And there were occasions, mindful that I only had thirty-six exposures rather than the  seemingly unlimited number on a digital camera, that I simply did not press the button at all and did not take the picture. I would suggest film photography is a much more reflective process than digital.

You can view digitalised versions (scanned from the negatives) here but obviously the real thing I wanted to do was to make my own prints so the other Sunday I spent several hours in a darkroom relearning the skills of creating a test strip to decide the correct exposure, and burning and dodging to manipulate the final image.


Apart from reliving the experiences of photographic printing it was also the first time I had been on a training course for a long time so it was fascinating, as a one-time stand-up trainer to watch another trainer at work, especially if it is a subject I knew a little bit about.

The trainer was a professional printer and developer who had worked with many famous photographers including the late Linda McCartney, so he knew his subject inside out and he had swathes of enthusiasm for the darkroom! Enthusiasm always comes in handy when you are running a training course – for the delegates everything looks like it is going along perfectly but underneath there is always a lot going on including last minute re-ordering.

Being a trainer is a little bit like being a swan – on the surface you glide along whilst underneath you are frantically splashing away.

It is always interesting to observe the structure and order of the topics. What does the trainer think you need to know first before moving on to other topics. Interestingly one thing we did not cover was printing a contact sheet of our negatives which I have seen listed as a topic in other darkroom courses. There is no wrong or right way but it does reflect what the main learning outcomes of the course might be. In some cases it may be that printing a contact sheet could lead on to a discussion about choice of photographs which could include topics such as composition, exposure, etc. Our course was practical and we jumped straight into printing our own photographs. Both approaches are valid but they reflect the different ways the subject could be delivered and also, possibly, a bit of the personality of the trainer.

It was a great day and a big thank you to Nick at Photofusion in Brixton for running the course in such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable manner.