A darkroom is a specialized light free environment designed for artists who work in the medium of photography. In order to develop film and prints, artists need to work in darkness to avoid exposing the light sensitive emulsions which cover photographic paper and film before they are developed. A darkroom can vary widely in size and design, depending on the type of materials being worked with in the darkroom and the number of artists sharing it. Often, artists work together in the same darkroom to share the costs of photography.
Typically, a darkroom is reached through a series of doors and curtains to prevent any kind of light pollution. This is very important in a shared darkroom, where different people may be performing different tasks with varying levels of light sensitivity. Switches to operate overhead lights in a darkroom are usually made difficult to access, so that someone does not accidentally turn them on.
A very basic darkroom usually has an enlarger for making prints, along with an assortment of developing chemicals in separate tubs. To develop prints, the artist exposes photo-sensitive enlarging paper to light through an enlarger, and then dunks the photograph in a series of developing chemicals to bring out the latent image, stop the action of the developing bath, fix the photograph, and rinse the developing chemicals off. Once this process is completed in the darkroom, the paper is safe to expose to light, and it can be dried and used.
Black and white photographers can work in a darkroom with what is known as “safe lighting,” usually in the form of orange or red lighting. Since black and white enlarging paper is sensitized to the blue-green end of the spectrum, red light in the darkroom will not have an impact on the finished print. This safe lighting allows photographers to see what they are doing in the darkroom.
Color photographers and film developers are not so fortunate. Film is extremely sensitive to light, so it has to be processed in complete darkness. Color enlarging paper is also sensitive to light on many parts of the spectrum, meaning that the photographer needs to work in the dark to avoid fogging or clouding the finished print.
People who are just starting to learn photography usually use a rented darkroom, since the costs of setting up a darkroom can get high. Professional photographers may use a pooled darkroom, as is the case at many newspapers which use film photography, or they may have private darkrooms. Artists tend to prefer private darkrooms for their work, as the quiet allows them to focus.