The first stage of making a darkroom print is to determine the exposure time.

If you have already created a contact sheet of your negatives, and they appear correctly exposed, then you should have a rough idea of the necessary exposure (provided you haven’t moved the enlarger head or aperture setting after exposing the contact sheet). Note: If you change the degree of enlargement you will also need to adjust the exposure. Some enlargers have scales printed on their columns to make this easier.

Another way to determine the exposure is by making a test strip.

The area of the negative you choose for exposure testing won’t necessarily be the centre. It should ideally contain a range of tones that is representative of the negative as a whole. If this is impossible then pick the most important region of the picture.

The drawback of traditional exposure testing, made by progressively covering or uncovering a strip of paper during the exposure, is that each step shows a different portion of the negative.

A better method is as follows:

  1. Tear a sheet of 20.3x25.4cm (8x l0in) photographic paper into five strips of equal width.
  2. Set the enlarger aperture to f/8, place a piece of MULTIGRADE photographic paper in position on the enlarger baseboard. Choose the appropriate filter (we suggest filter 2) and place into the filter drawer. If using graded paper either grades 2 or 3 should work fine. If you have already created a contact sheet you may prefer to use a paper or filter of a lower or higher number if your contact sheet suggests that the negative is not of average contrast.
  3. Give the first strip of paper 2 seconds exposure, the next strip 4 seconds, then 8, 16 and 32 seconds respectively for the other three strips.
  4. Develop the strips face down in the dish. After 30 seconds in the fixer you can view them under normal room lights to decide on the correct exposure time. You may find that this falls midway between two of your steps.
  5. If all the test strips are too light start again with an aperture of f/4. If all are too dark, set the lens aperture to f/16 and repeat the test.

By following the above procedure, you will be able to determine the correct exposure for the print you wish to make.