Setting Up Your Enlarger

Three Basic Controls.

As we indicated earlier, you try to divide your darkroom space into two separate areas — wet and dry.

Dry Area. In this area you place the enlarger. It should be placed on a sturdy level table or countertop — a surface that is solid, steady, and doesn't rock or vibrate.

Within easy reach, you need space for your negatives, printing paper, filters, focusing magnifier, and other ' 'dry'' accessories we'll discuss as we go along.

In the dry area you also want to place your enlarging timer since this is your control center for the darkroom. You may hang the timer on a wall within easy reach when you stand at the enlarger, or you may place it on the countertop alongside the enlarger.

Wet Area. In this area you set up the four trays for processing.

Generally, you need a space at least five feet wide for the four wet trays. If you don't even have this much space, however, all is not lost. You can still get by. As described in the lesson Finishing Tbuches in Unit Five, you can obtain a rack in which you stack the four trays, one above the other. So a space just a couple of feet wide can be used as your "wet" area if necessary.

Typically, in the wet area you will place the trays one next to the other, in the order in which the processing will take place, as follows:

Developer

Stop Bath

Fixer

Wash Bath

It doesn't matter if you run them from left to right or vice versa. What does matter is this: If your space includes a sink, then the four trays should be arranged so that the last tray — the Wash Bath tray — is next to the sink. In fact, the Wash Bath tray is often placed in the sink.

Convenient to the wet area should be the minute timer since you will be using this timer for controlling the time in each processing bath. Of course, since the timer is an electric appliance, you don't want it to get wet. Accordingly, it's best if you mount it on a wall or sit it on a shelf away from the liquids themselves. It should simply be easily reached by you when you handle the processing.

Now that you're set up with the necessary basic elements, how do you go about making a print? Let's start by exploring the three basic controls on your enlarger that enable you to manipulate the image:

Image Size

Image Sharpness

Image Brightness

Let's consider these one by one.

1. Image size.

You control image size by raising or lowering the head. The farther the lens from the print paper — that is, the higher the head — the larger the image on the easel. If you want to make a small print, you lower the head down, closer to the easel. If you want to make a large print of the same image, raise the head up higher, farther from the easel.

That's how you control image size.

2. Image Sharpness.

Once you've established the size of the image you want, you are ready to refine the focus of the image that is falling on the print paper. You do this by turning the focusing knob. As you turn this knob, the lens is slowly moved up or down a fraction. As the lens moves, the focus of the image changes. At some point, you will see the sharpest possible image. That's usually the image you want.

As we noted earlier, when you focus the image, the safelight will be turned off. The objective is to give you the brightest possible image to look at so that you can focus it precisely. This is where lens-aperture comes in. You should always focus with the lens open to its widest aperture so you see the brightest possible image.

Focusing will change the image size slightly. If the change is too great, raise or lower the head slightly to re-establish the image size and then refocus.

Obviously, you can't focus on the actual sheet of photographic paper you will use to make the print because this would produce an unusable image of its own on the photographic paper.

You might focus on the blank easel, but to do so is to ignore the thickness of the print paper that will be placed on the easel during actual exposure. If you focus on the bare surface of the easel, your image will be very slightly out-of-focus when you insert the photographic paper because of the thickness of the paper.

What you need is to focus on a practice sheet that is the same thickness as the actual print paper — a practice sheet you can place on the easel in approximately the same position that the print paper will occupy during exposure.

Your solution is to place in the easel a blank sheet of printing paper that you will not actually print. You can use the same blank sheet again and again for focusing every print. It becomes your ''target" sheet since you use it every time as a target during focusing.

Once you've focused precisely on the target sheet, remove it and slip into the easel a sheet of unexposed print paper on which you will make the actual exposure. The image should be perfectly focused for this sheet.

How do you knowr when the focus on the target sheet is perfect? You might trust your eye. When you see the sharpest possible image, that's it! Stop and lock it in.

The problem is that your eye is an inexact tool. Especially in the dim light of the enlarger image, you will find it very difficult to obtain absolutely exquisitely sharp focus by simply eyeballingthe image. You need some help.

Help is on the way in the form of an inexpensive tool, as shown above. It's called a focusing magnifier and as you can see it looks like a miniature microscope.

Place this magnifying device on the center of the target paper. Look into the eyepiece and slowly adjust the focusing knob on the enlarger until you see the grain of the negative in sharp focus. When the grain is in perfect focus, the image is in perfect focus. And with a focusing magnifier, you simply can't miss.

(By the way, for this reason, the focusing magnifier is sometimes called a grain magnifier.)

We recommend that you always — always — use a focusing magnifier when you focus the image on a target sheet.

3. Image brightness.

This is the third control you have over the image that is projected by your enlarger. As in your camera lens, an iris diaphragm controls the amount of light transmitted by the enlarger lens. By opening up one .//stop you double the amount of light. Thus,//4 transmits twice as much light as//5.6, and so on.

First, focus with the lens wide open to be able to see the brightest possible image.

Then, stop down two to three stops for the exposure. As we have already noted:

a. The sharpest focus of the lens is probably at an intermediate stop such asf/8 or//ll.

b. The smaller aperture permits a longer exposure, giving you time to control and manipulate the image.

c. The depth-of-field is increased, overcoming any minor focusing errors caused by waviness of the photographic paper or the negative.

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