Street Scene and Light in Hoi An

It's been a little while since we had a translation from Omar of his darkroom articles but he's just a very busy man at the moment with an active family life and a recent move to a new house that is taking up much of his spare time. Many thanks, Omar, for finding enough time to do this latest translation. I'm sure it will be just as popular as all your others. And what a great pic!

by Omar Ozenir, analogue, analog, film, darkroom, enlarging, printing, silver gelatin, kodak, ilford, adox,
Hoi An, Viet Nam

Don McCullin's pictures in Bruce's last post made me go on a search for some interesting videos. There are quite a few on the web, but this one (well worth a look - Bruce) after the 13th minute also gives a glimpse into his darkroom and his printing. This being a darkroom blog, I thought some might be interested. By the way, towards the end Don can be briefly seen with the Mamiya Press Bruce mentioned.

In contrast to Don's war photographs from Viet Nam, my photos from that beautiful country are nothing more than happy snaps. My wife and I had quit our jobs and we flew to Bangkok to start our two month backpacking trip through southeast Asia. I just took along a Leica M6 with a 35mm and a 50mm lens, together with a Gitzo Traveller tripod. Oh, I did have a spare Nikon FM + 35mm lens at the bottom of the backpack just in the case the Leica failed, which it didn't.
This photo is a street scene from Hoi An, a city in UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage list. It was made with the Leica and 35mm lens on Ilford Delta 100 and developed in ID11 (1+1)., analogue, analog, film, darkroom, enlarging, printing, silver gelatin, kodak, ilford, adox,

It took me a few years to actually see the square crop on the contact sheet. I thought it was worth a try and made a quick straight print for some better judgement., analogue, analog, film, darkroom, enlarging, printing, silver gelatin, kodak, ilford, adox,

It didn't look too bad. The man in the centre carrying the child, the conical hats circling around the man's shadow, and the shafts of light through the leaves all held my attention. I asked for my wife's verdict and, having received her go-ahead, went back into the darkroom.

When printing there's one thing I'm always very careful about: the "white" of the photograph should be different from the white of the paper, especially at the edges. It seriously bothers me if the white of the image bleeds into the white of the border. Personally, I want to see where the picture starts and ends. All this is obviously only relevant if you print with a margin or don't trim.

During my first years of printing, I used to draw a black line around the image with a pen. And I felt very uncomfortable doing that because I knew that I was trying to make up for my lack of printing skills. At one point, I decided to spend as much time on a print as was needed so that it looked right without the black line. Today I know I'm printing much better then 10 or 15 years ago and I believe that this decision was one of the major steps towards better printing. I still occasionally print with the film rebate around the image, but only after making sure that the image looks fine without it.

In the image here, although I didn't touch the exploding light in the centre, I gave a bit more tone to the top and bottom edges where the white bled into the margin. We obviously have to burn-in these parts; but the question is, by how much? I'm sure every printer has their own methods -mine is none other then test strips. I presume some printers use whole sheets of paper, which is fine, but at the current prices I'd rather save a bit on paper where possible and reasonable.

What I do is, I cut small strips that are just big enough to cover the area in question, and I try different exposures on these strips. In this case here, the main exposure was 17 seconds. I cut off three strips, exposed the first one for the main exposure, and then gave the sky area another 8 seconds through a cardboard with a round hole in it. The second strip received 17 seconds, and the last one 34 seconds of burning-in exposure. Here's the straight print with the strip that received additional 17 seconds in the sky area., analogue, analog, film, darkroom, enlarging, printing, silver gelatin, kodak, ilford, adox,

The nice thing is, we can stick each strip onto the straight print in order to gauge the right exposure:, analogue, analog, film, darkroom, enlarging, printing, silver gelatin, kodak, ilford, adox,

Proceeding in this manner, I figured out the burning-in exposure for the sky area outlined in red, and for the foreground outlined in yellow in the print map below. To see a bit more detail in the face of the woman on the left I also held back that area for 2-3 seconds., analogue, analog, film, darkroom, enlarging, printing, silver gelatin, kodak, ilford, adox,

The final print is a 27x27cm image on fibre based 30x40cm Ilford MG IV paper., analogue, analog, film, darkroom, enlarging, printing, silver gelatin, kodak, ilford, adox,
Click to enlarge
These prints were made on a recently acquired Leitz Focomat IIc enlarger. This magnificent beast used to belong to a wonderful photographer and dear friend who passed away 7 years ago. After being kept in storage for some years it eventually found its way into my darkroom where it hopefully shall remain. The main photo in this post is from our final darkroom session together*, where Fethi was apparently already sick but none of us knew yet.

We printed photos from his last trip to Cuba and at the end, while the prints were in the washing tray, I asked him for a quick pose. The Focomat you see in the link is the same one as in the background above! Despite being some 40 odd years old, it still is fantastic to work with.

* The other photos are Fethi's from my print archive.


  1. Hello, there. I was wondering about Omar's posts missing for a while. It's good to see he's still well and making wonderful photos. As always it is an inspiring and instructive read.
    Thanks Omar and Bruce.
    Cheers, M.

  2. Great photograph Omar and a really clear explanation of your approach. I like your idea of cutting pieces of paper for test purposes and fitting them over the print. Might use that myself!

  3. thanks for sharing your experience with us. i enjoyed reading this post, as a fellow printer, photographer and a blogger :)

  4. That's a great post Omar - thanks!
    I always give an extra 4 to 6 seconds burn for each edge of a print - it was something I read in The Print. It's light enough not to look obvious, but dark enough to settle the image into the border.
    If you want to make a black line around the image but without the film rebate and you print to a standard size and your margins are always the same, then a piece of cardboard sized a couple of millimetres less than your easel frame size, can be placed over the exposed print and slid from diagonal corner to diagonal corner to make a pencil line, if that makes sense!

  5. Really wonderful photograph Omar, and would love to see the print in the flesh so to speak. Thanks for sharing your darkroom experiences.

  6. Thank you all for the comments.

    Phil, yes I do know about that method.


  7. Good stuff Omar - thought you probably would, but posted it for the benefit of other readers . .
    I don't use it myself ';0)