We are all well aware of the fact that photography and cameras have come a long, long way since they started out. To the point that a single technology standing in 2024 will be completely different than what it used to be when it was invented. Sure, there is still a lot of physics involved, and most principles are still upheld, but the concept of photography is entirely different, altogether.
It has been some time since we were ushered into the era of digital photography, but before all of this, glass, paper, metal, and plastic were some common mediums that were used in photography, and it was only up until the 1880s when the plastic film was invented and more and more people started getting access to photography.
However, a plastic piece was just one part of the puzzle that would allow you to take the pictures; you needed more pieces such as photographic paper, an enlarger, photographic chemicals, and most importantly, a darkroom with the right safe light.
Let’s dive in and discover why is red light used in photographic dark rooms and its nitty-gritty.
Why is Photography Rooms Red and Why Are They Called Dark Rooms
In photography or filmography, for that matter. A darkroom was essentially a room that would be used for developing photographs, and in this room, normal light, especially blue light was excluded and a safelight (typically in red) was used. I am sure you have seen a darkroom in real life, or you may have seen it in a period drama or movie.
Whenever you are in the process of enlarging a photographic film negative onto a paper so you can have a print, a safelight is used to do this and the purpose of this safelight is not to overexpose the paper with light.
Safelights in Darkroom Photography
A safelight could be a bulb in a housing that is covered by either red or amber. These safelights are only used for black/white enlarging paper because these colors end up illuminating the darkroom but they do not have the wavelength of light that ends up impacting the photographic paper.
There are other faint colors such as a yellow LED that can be used in the darkroom as well, but it is more common to use a color enlarger in the dark, and then process the print using a color paper processing machine.
Sounds complicated, I know but let’s keep exploring to know why are dark rooms red.
Are Darkrooms Still at Large?
As mentioned before, it has been a long, long time since we ushered into the era of digital photography, but that does not mean that darkrooms have gone extinct. Considering how so many people are still using film cameras, especially enthusiasts and purists, darkrooms are still found.
They are not as common, but they are used when it comes to processing photographs on paper. Many photographers have built their own darkrooms in a spare room in a building, and that is entirely possible. Sure, you are going to be spending money on doing so but it is not something that cannot be done.
How are Darkrooms Important to Photography?
This is another thing that people go around asking about darkrooms and how they are important. Well, the reason why darkrooms are essential is simple, it has everything to do with the darkroom printing paper and how it works. The paper is sensitive to blue light, just like our eyes, and that is why these rooms are set up in a way to avoid that particular color in the visible light spectrum.
Utilizing Safelights in Darkroom Photography
This can be done simply by using a safelight with a red or amber filter that helps any blue light from coming through and actually having a negative impact on the development of the photographic paper.
Thankfully, using the red filter does not really harm the black and white photography paper whenever a photographer is using a film negative to create a darkroom print. Once the print goes through all the necessary chemicals, you fix it and it can be viewed through the normal light without the chances of the print being ruined.
For those wondering, safelights work as lighting fixtures that can be installed in photographic darkrooms. The safelight emits a light source limited to a specific visible light spectrum so that light-sensitive items such as photographic paper or chemicals used when developing paper are not ruined. Without using safelight, developing a photographing print is not going to be easy because in that case, it will need to be done in complete darkness.
Can Red Light be Used to Develop a Film?
This is another question that is very common why do photographers use red light? Sure, but you are going to need orthochromatic black and white film which is not sensitive to red light. However, most of the black and white films produced in the modern day and age are panchromatic and are indeed sensitive to red light including a red safelight.
This means that unless you are in the process of developing an orthochromatic film, a red light should only be used in the darkroom while processing black and white darkroom enlarging paper.
What About Color Film and Red Light?
So far, we have been talking only about black and white films but a lot of people also want to shoot using color films and the question comes in, as well. For those wondering, yes, color film is sensitive to all light.
When you are about to load your color film from the film roll or the canister into the developing tank for processing, you have to do it in complete darkness. Not following this will actually ruin the film altogether.
Can We Use Any Other Color in the Darkroom?
A common question that comes in all the time is whether one can go ahead and use other colors in the darkroom instead of just being limited to red safelight. The short answer is yes. However, red is the most common color and people have been using the red color for as long as one can remember.
The other colors that can be used in the darkroom are.
- Greenish yellow.
- Dark green light.
However, the use of different colors is not as simple as it might seem. Depending on the spectrum range of light that is necessary for the development of photographic paper, these colors can be used.
Whenever you are selecting the color for the safelight, you will need to figure out the visible light spectrum range that is compatible with your photographic paper and in case you are not sure about the light spectrum, then you should refer to the manufacturer’s recommendation of your darkroom paper.
Understanding the range will help you figure out the color of light that is compatible with the enlarging paper that you are going to use in your darkroom.
As I have mentioned before, the whole process of using a darkroom to develop photographs used to be all over the place back when digital cameras were still in the process of maturity but now that these cameras have matured, we are seeing increasingly less and less use of the darkroom. With digital cameras, you just have to follow some tips for setting up lighting and you are off to the races.
Still, that is not to say that the film cameras have completely gone out of the picture; all the enthusiasts or purists who are still in possession of their digital cameras are more than happy with developing the pictures because there is a human element in the process that is completely missed in digital photography or even color grading.
Why photography rooms are red? Since modern-day photographers cater to all their photography needs through digital means, having a darkroom or a film camera, for that matter is rare.