A Creative Use For Darkroom Test Strips – Part I

Darkroom Tuesdays: What to do with those leftover darkroom test strips

When working in the darkroom, some photographers use test strips to determine the best exposure settings prior to making the final print. It’s a process where you basically tear off a small section of the printing paper, put your negative in the enlarger, then when the timer starts, you cover the strip of paper with a heavy black cardboard one inch at a time, the same number of seconds with the same setting until the paper is completely covered. Since some areas of the paper were exposed longer than others, you end up with a strip with varying shades of exposure as you can see from the strip on the left.

Since then, I’ve learned another tactic for determining proper exposure which involves a completely different way without actual printing of the negative. However, I had two long years and dozens of test strips. It seemed a shame to just throw them out!

So, today I decided rather impetuously to take a vacation (sanity) day from my day job and I sat down with an old canvas and started laying out all the test strips from various street photography shots (mostly in 35mm). I arranged them in an order that may not mean much to anyone, but to me, it was a way of recalling all the places I’ve been and what each shot meant to me.

I then used a $5 bottle of Modge Podge to affix all the pieces down and then went over the entire canvas with a thin layer of Modge Podge to preserve the exterior (I was going to use a Gel Medium until someone at Michael’s advised me that for this kind of paper, Modge Podge works just fine and will save some money).

It was in fact, a wonderful day off and an enjoyable, creative exercise! This is just phase one of a creative use of test strips. I have no idea where this piece will take me, but I have a feeling it will be coaxing me to play for weeks to come!  

The end of phase one: test strips on canvas. Phase two will arrive sometime in the near future.

Creative Use For Darkroom Test Strips
Close up
Creative Use For Darkroom Test Strips
The Whole Canvas