Pete LePage

Thoughts on web development, life, and photography.

Water Baths

Water baths are useful for affecting the shadows or highlights, depening on how you look at it. Water baths retard the development of shadow detail, so it allows highlight detail to develop while the shadow detail is “put on pause”. During normal development, the paper is placed in the developer and agitated while in the developer, allowing fresh developer to replace areas where it has been exhausted due to the shadow development. (Note, it is important to think about this process on a very small scale.) As shadows develop, they exhaust the developer much more quickly than the slow developing highlight detail. Thus, if we don’t allow that “exhausted” developer to replenish itself, it won’t be able to continue developing the shadow areas, but the developer in the highlight areas won’t have exhausted quite as quickly.

Using a water bath, we take the print out of the developer quite soon after we start to see the darkest part of our print show up, and we place the print in a tray of STILL water - prints must not be agitated while in the water bath, as we’ll move the developer around, and cause our shadows to continue to develop, which we don’t want them to do. If the print has been taken out of the developer too early, and we don’t get DMax on our prints, we can quickly return the print to the developer for a few seconds, and then back to the water bath.

Using this method, you’ll end up with shadow areas that are more open, and highlights that are more defined. Your midtones will be mostly the same, though you will likely notice some difference.

How To: Use A Waterbath #

  1. Immediately next to your developer tray, set up a tray (big enough to fit your print) and fill it with water. The water should be approximately the same temperature of the developer.

  2. Expose your print normally

  3. Place your print in the developer, when the deepest shadows on your print start to develop, GENTLY remove the print from the developer. Do NOT drain the print, we need that developer on the print to remain there so it can keep working!

  4. QUICKLY & GENTLY SLIDE the waterbath.

    Do NOT agitate the water bath.

  5. Using a safe flash light, watch the print, when it looks like it’s done (no more changes in the highlights or shadows), continue to develop normally

Notes About Water Baths #

  • It is hard to determine when DMax has been reached in the dark room. It make take a few tries to determine this. Therefore, its a good idea to keep track of the total time you spend in the developer

  • You’ll need to replace the water in the water bath on a somewhat regular basis. Each time you add a new print, it’s adding developer, and eventually, you’ll end up with a very weak developer, kind of defeating the

    purpose of a water bath

  • Sometimes areas of single tones may develope unevenly, in this case, adding a small amount of calcium carbonate (1:10) will help