Apt Question from FaceBook reader Harry Green.


“Any suggestions on how to be water conscious these days in Southern California. Our water prices are high, and I fret to think of those days I left water on for 8 hours, while printing for 8 hours. How to survive ? I used to wash DW prints and use hypo clearing agent. What is practical now a days.”

Thanks for the question!

I went through 2 rationed droughts in Carmel while I was working for Ansel and another in San Francisco when I had my studio there. Typical ration then was 50gal/day per person/per household. Because photography was a profession, Ansel got an extra allowance, and so did I in San Francisco. But all the dedicated artists were stuck with 50gpd.

 Some tips:

• DON’T leave the water running.

• DO change the water in your print-holding tray several times during a print session.

• DO use a hypo-clear or proven wash-aid for film and prints.

• DON’T run a toning or wash load except for a “full” load. If prints have been rinsed well, they can be screen-dried after initial fix/rinse and kept aside until a full load is ready.

• Current archival standards do NOT call for elimination of all traces of fixer. We can get by with MUCH less than we thought in the late ’70s. In the words of RIT’s James Reilly at the Image Permanence Institute: “DO tone your prints. DON’T over-wash” A modest trace of fixer actually acts as an anti-oxidant. A light tea color with an HT-2 test is a good guide.

• Washing. It can be tedious, but you can save a huge amount of water by using dump-and-fill methods for film, or cycling between trays of clean water for prints rather than using an archival washer with running water. You can safely wash 2 rolls of 120 film with 2 gallons of water!

 More on fixing and washing:

Answer to a comment advocating trashing the hardener bottle that comes with Kodak Rapid Fixer:

I generally buy Ilford fixers. I usually get the Hypam, because it can be used with or without a hardener. I process my sheet film in trays, so I add a hardener for that, but I use it without the hardener for prints. The Kodak Rapid fix DOES come with a bottle of hardener, but like the Hypam, you can use it or not. I use the fixers 1:3 for film and1:4 for prints – single bath only, 45 seconds with agitation. Among its other assets, selenium toner is ALSO a test for residual silver (adequate fixation). If your prints do not stain in selenium it is proof that they were fixed adequately. I do recommend using a wash-aid, but I personally have neither the time nor energy to wash each print by hand, and the more a print is handled, the more it is subject to physical damage.

Hope these tips help!

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Comments (3)

  1. Alan – Is there any circumstance where we would need to use heated water in film or print washing? I sm satisfied than I can get adequate temp control for b&w film processing using Jobo or other baths. The question is whether I need to run a dedicated hot water line to the darkroom to assist washing. – Conrad

  2. Vesa Lempinen

    And you can also effectively conserve and use water ( when washing prints or films) using siphon that turns the water to fine / very fine mist. That way you can still wash the prints or films effectively, Just make sure that the mist pressure is not too big to (possibly) damage the prints or films. I have not seen such an effect using mist washing method using moderate pressure, and the prints clear of residual chemicals just fine.

    In my personal opinion, other “running water” methods may just waste too much water before the chemicals even have time to dissolve into surrounding water (amount of water flow vs. dissolve rate/ability.) Dump and fill method, is of course the classic water conserving method mr. Ross mentioned in his post.

  3. Stephen Hartsfield

    45 seconds in fixer for film? I’ve never heard that before. Hypam is usually 60 seconds per directions for prints. Am I fixing my film too long by fixing in Hypam for 5 to 8 minutes depending on the film? Concerning toning, I’ve got in my notes that you fix your prints, then before toning put them in a wash aid, then selenium toner plus wash aid, then a final wash in wash aid. Is that correct?

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