Thoughts on the Darkroom Walls

Posted on 16 July 2010 by Brian Auer

Over at The Online Photographer, Mike Johnston has been working on building a darkroom again after some time away from it. He’s been going through the various aspects of setting up a darkroom such as paint for walls and floors, the dry side, and the wet side. I’m sure he has lots more to share as he continues to build his darkroom.

One of the topic that is somewhat controversial is the color of the walls. Some folks (including Mike) prefer them to be white to increase visibility under safelight viewing. Other folks (like Ctein) prefer them to be black to decrease stray light during the print exposure — in fact, Ctein wrote a follow-up article on this topic where he discusses the topic of darkroom walls (his being the photo above). He has some interesting points, but the best one was something along the lines of when it comes to what color you paint your darkroom walls, there’s not really a globally accepted right or wrong.

I’ve been hijacking my kids’ bathroom for my makeshift darkroom, and since we currently live in an apartment I don’t have much of a choice on the wall colors (white). White seems to work fine for me and I’ve never had any noticeable issues with stray light (that I know of). But I’m starting to think about the topic more because we’re in the process of trying to buy a house and I’ve already staked a claim for dedicated darkroom space. If this happens, I’ll need to make a decision on the walls: black, white, or some shade of gray.

I’m sort of leaning toward white or gray. I do like a nice bright room when viewing the prints and making decisions, but perhaps it would be smart to darken things down for the sake of quality. I’m not sure if it really makes a difference one way or another.

What are your thoughts on the issue of darkroom color (meaning black, white, or any gray in-between)? Does it really matter for a personal darkroom?

Categorized | Darkroom, Printing Tips

5 Comments For This Post

  1. Janne Says:

    I kind of agree with Mike and white walls. After all, if it’s too bright you can always turn down your safelight a bit. And with light reflected off the walls you get a more even, consistent light in the room, without hard shadows that can distract you or even make you misread your prints.

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  2. Mike Ford Says:

    I’d go for white walls, because as long as there’s no light to reflect, they won’t reflect any (obviously), and when you are looking at prints and analyzing them, the room will be brighter and more like any other space where you might view prints. Just do a good job of sealing the door and you won’t have any problems. FYI, I use my garage as a darkroom, and it works just fine (even for tray developing 8×10 negatives) as long as I black out the windows at the top of the door.

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  3. Axel Says:

    I would go darker, because you can fog the paper from the safelight(s). Ansel Adams suggests dark gray, in his book, “The Print”. I’ve worked in a lot of pro darkrooms, and they were either black or dark gray. Mine have always been white, but I feel more comfortable in a darker colored room.

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  4. Martin Says:

    Black ! Allthough I am still in the process of light sealing my first dedicated darkroom ever !
    I can’t tell you from experience though, white walls have been fine to me, and the clothes you wear may be matter more (or my glasses !).
    But matte black is cool anyway.
    Even though I have good safelights, I always work as dark as possible, like the blind. Never had a problem with that. Now I want my enlarger to just light the paper. Even when I am waving to dodge and burn, or do multiple short exposures.
    When viewing a print just turn on the daylight tubes, after that you’ll be blinded but that doesn’t matter in total darkness anyway.

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  5. Drew Says:

    Every decent non-bathroom darkroom I’ve used or visited has been some sort of flat grey. If I ever get to the point where I can have a darkroom of my own, the walls will be dark grey. It just makes sense.

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