At the moment I have a simple red light bulb from Dr. Fischer installed on the ceiling which is pretty dim and radiates a lot of heat so I started looking for alternatives. I am aware that there are special led safelights that are sold for 200eur + a piece and I just can not afford it. If you didn’t know the best red safelights reach peak wavelength at around 620-630 nm. If they are in this range they are suitable for use in the darkroom without fogging the bw photographic material. Safelight is usually made from an ordinary light bulb in a special housing closed with coloured filters. As a history nerd I really like the old designs and I am always looking for some good deals on ebay.
Photographic materials are sensitized differently and require different safelights. I am mostly working with handmade + black and white silver gelatine emulsion that can normally be handled under a red safelight as well as most of the other bw light sensitive materials (papers,…). These are so cold orthochromatic materials which are also sensitive to yellow light and must be used only with a red safelight. On the other side are Panchromatic films and papers which are normally sensitive to the whole colour spectrum and can not be handled under any visible light. These are mostly colour films, papers and also autochrome (link) which I am working on. You have to handle this in the dark or what I am trying to do under infrared light with a wavelength above 700nm. Our eyes are not able to see it but cameras are if IR filter is removed. I tried removing the IR filter from my phone’s camera and mounted it in cheap VR goggles. It works but needs some improvements before I will make a post on it. This will allow me to coat the autochrome screens with sensitised panchromatic emulsion in a complete darkness!
Back to the lights in my darkroom. I went searching the forums again and heard many good things on simple RGB LED strips which can be controlled with a remote. A fellow wet plate photographer from Slovenia Borut Peterlin is also using them in his darkroom without any problems. I started searching for affordable options and found one one ebay that was around 30eur watersealed and 5m long. I had them well before my shelves and sink were constructed so they were sitting there waiting for me to instal them. Now that I have finished installing all of the central pieces in my Container Darkroom it was finally time to install this babies. They already arrived with the adhesive on the back and I designed the shelves in a way that they are running above the sink and the counter. This way I was able to run the led strips along the edge of the shelf which is almost 5m long in total. With adhesive on the back it was fairly easy to instal, all I had to do was run electricity to the connection cord. Before you know it lights where on. They looked great but then I remembered what if they will fog up the paper. I should have made a few tests before setting everything up!
I didn’t have a choice now but to pray LED safe lights will work the way they should. So closed the doors turned the lights off and switched on the LED safe lights. At full power they are really bright so I turned it down to the lowest setting which is still plenty for darkroom work. I cut paper to three pieces and lef one in the sink, some a bit higher 20 cm from the light and another one so close that it was in contact with the diodes (this one was more for fun). I test strips and developed them. Paper left in the sink as well as the one closer to the light source had no signs of reacting. The one that was touching the light got exposed tho but I never intend to bring the materials that close.
For the conclusion I am happy to say that my LED safelights are indeed safe to use with orthochromatic materials. They are not perfect or the best but for the money I think it is hard to find anything better. I also developed my first dry plate under them.