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The printer: technique books

The darkroom printer can learn from a mentor, by experience and by reading up on techniques. Right next to the formulary books on my bookshelves, sit the books that discuss practical techniques for use in the darkroom.

In this article, I will maintain a list of resources for you to consult and I provide mini-reviews of each. You will find links to the full reviews in the descriptions. This post will be a rolling release and will be updated whenever I finish reading.

Release: 2018-02-03

The Photographer’s Master Printing Course

Tim Rudman’s book (ISBN 1-85732-407-2) is a good introduction to many darkroom printing techniques and offers plenty of advice. It is recommended reading for beginners and more advanced printers alike. Contains a lot of prints in various stages of the printing process: proofs, improved proofs and final prints, to give you a good grasp of what is possible and how to achieve it.

For a full review of this book, click here.

Way Beyond Monochrome

This is a reference book (ISBN 978-0240816258) that should be on the bookshelf of every darkroom printer. It has a wealth of information and practical advice to achieve quality prints (and negatives). It includes step-by-step guides for beginners and many advanced topics such a split grade printing, toning, and testing procedures. Lambrecht and Woodhouse have put everything they know on paper for you to read. Highly recommended for all levels. Also if you want to venture a bit into digital negatives that are often used for making enlarged prints using alternative processes, such as platinum/palladium, salt prints, etc.

The Variable Contrast Printing Manual

Published in 1997 when Variable Contrast papers gained in popularity, this book by Steve Anchell (ISBN 0-240-80259-4) gives a good insights on how VC works, with what problems engineers were faced in the early days and how to treat it well. Most information is a bit outdated and mostly relevant for older stocks, but nonetheless useful also for today’s printing.

The Print

I probably cannot say anything bad about this book without being burned at the stake. This book (ISBN 0-8212-2187-6), part III in the infamous three part series by Ansel Adams, is completely dedicated to the third stage of making a photo: the print. The text is not always easy to follow, but does otherwise give a good introduction to printing (mainly focused on graded papers). For more advanced techniques, I recommend you also take a look at other books in this list.

Beyond the Zone System

Those that have been shooting large format for a bit more than 2 weeks will probably have encountered “BTZS”, or Beyond the Zone System in full. Written by Phil Davis, it tries to improve on the Zone System by providing useful tools and insights into what terms in the zone system actually mean. It is largely written for those that are not mathematically inclined, giving step-by-step guides on how to construct several important graphs. For the more mathematically inclined this can get rather tedious, I have to admit. The book is not per se focussed on making prints, but it does focus on how to characterize printing papers and how to fine tune prints using a BTZS methodology. If you want to know your material intimately, I recommend you give it a good read (ISBN: 0-240-80343-4, 4th edition).


Professor Jacobson’s name pops up on quite a few books that were standard reference materials for several college level photography courses. Together with L.A. Mannheim, he wrote this book on making enlargements in the darkroom. The first edition was published in 1939, but I am reviewing the 22nd edition of 1975 (ISBN 0-240-50913-7). At over 500 pages it covers almost any topic you can think off related to the practical side of the silver gelatin process: how to setup a darkroom and choose an enlarger, how to calibrate your process, formulae for developers and toners, making black-and-white and colour prints, but also retouching and mounting, posterisation and document copying. Of course, with a book published in the 70s, most information is outdated. It is a good reference book to own though, especially if you are looking into less common applications. For example, how to make mural prints, make monochrome enlargments from colour films, or work with paper negatives. For the few bucks it will cost you second hand a recommended addition on your bookshelf.

Suggestions or want to donate a book?

Do you have any suggestions for other books that I should add to my collection? Or want to donate a book to the collection? Please let me know via e-mail, or Twitter!

Published in Darkroom Bookshelf