Digital Darkroom: Printing iPhone Photos Using Traditional Chemical Processes

Lincoln, UK-based photographer Adam Rhoades came up with an interesting way of printing digital photographs using analog darkroom processes. By mounting his iPhone (displaying a photo) onto a 35mm enlarger, he’s able to enlarge and focus his digital photograph on photo paper as if it were a negative being projected.

Using a grain focuser, he’s able to see the individual red, green, and blue pixels of his phone’s display.

There isn’t that much that needs to be done to the digital photos prior to darkroom printing. Rhoades simply flips the image and inverts it to create a “digital negative”, which ensures that it’s printed correctly.

Rhoades writes,

Dramatic vignetting can be seen in the prints, this is partially because of limitations of the rig and the slight darkness of the iPhone screen in the corners. Results vary depending on the size and contrast of the image.

I’ve had the best results with prints that are similar in size to the iPhone screen, much larger and the grid pattern of the pixels starts to show. However, reproducing at 1:1, as with the retina display, the pixels are indiscernible to the human eye.

These prints where made using Ilford Multigrade paper, exposed for between 4 – 10 seconds (depending on size) and wet processed using a mixture of Ilford/Kodak chemistry.

Here are a couple of sample photos he shot using this technique:

This process is like Polaroid Instant Lab on steroids.

Image credits: Photographs by Adam Rhoades and used with permission

  • John R

    Nice one

  • Nathan Blaney

    I’ll have to give this a try!

  • Adam Rhoades

    Thanks guys, would love to see what you come up with!

  • Claire Marie

    thats cool!

  • murhaaya

    What lens are you using. That strong vignetting can be cause by insufficient image circle of the lens. I’d sugget 4×5 lens. 210 or 180 mm

  • Samcornwell

    I’ve spent the morning trying to achieve this using colour paper in the darkroom. It’s not as easy as it sounds. A colour negative isn’t just a a simple negative.

  • Adam Rhoades

    I’ve been using a 50mm enlarger lens, good thinking, I will have to invest in a new one!

  • Ari S

    You need to add a blank frame of color negative film to make up for the lack of an orange mask. That or add 50y+50m to your starting standard filtration.

  • Samcornwell

    Hey Ari, I tried exactly what you’re suggesting, but it didn’t make a great deal of difference. Also remember that the light is coming from the iPhone, so you can’t add filtration the traditional way. I have experimented also today with a straight negative printed on to acetate. I achieved best results at y+75, m+60.

    For best colour results using an iPhone screen I’ll need to find the correct filter from a colour digital picture to a negative film, with a built in filtration into the picture. Any ideas?

  • Marschal A. Fazio

    I always suspected that this would work, but never had the time or space to try. My vintage DeJur enlarger is collecting dust in a closet. Going to get it going sometime in the future again

  • Randy

    I would think you need to do a couple of things to get rid of the vignetting. 1 is your need a 4×5 enlarger. The iphone is more to that size and the 4×5 box would cover it and most likely stop the vignetting. 2 as suggested a different size lens would help. You may also need to create a mask for your phone like a negative carrier to get rid of the excess light. I would also use an easel as it appears you aren’t. That should solve your problem. It will also cost you some money. You might want to rent out darkroom space and try it there so your costs will be less.

  • Jeff Leland

    Definitely use a 4X5 lens and enlarger – the correct size for the iphone. I would be prepping the negative in photoshop first and then importing that into the Iphone – whether color or B & W. Stop down for a decent amount of time for dodging and burning in the printing process.

    Use an 8X10 enlarger for an Ipad! Or use an Ipad for contact prints!

    Great idea!

  • garybart

    Hang on to your 4×5, 8×10 enlargers, should work with a iPad. Great fun and idea.

  • Loose stool

    You can’t stop down in point source printing you moron.

  • Jon

    There already is a great digital enlarger for doing this, way better quality; Chris at Blanco Negro in Sydney has the only one in Aust.. top quality!

  • Jon

    There already is a great digital enlarger for doing this, way better quality; Chris at Blanco Negro in Sydney has the only one in Aust.. top quality!

  • Ari S

    Sorry, forgot where the filtration was added. I’ve done something similar to this, but with different digital media. Just open the pic in an image editing program as a negative and do color tests just like you would with film. Instead of adjusting filtration on the head change the color on the iPhone.

  • Ajira Darch

    Love this so hard.

  • WPC Jack

    I think this is a really fun and clever idea, and my colleague here at Middle Tennessee State University is going to give us a demonstration this coming Friday.

    I’m looking forward to it, but I do wonder — Why not make an inkjet digital negative for contact printing on gelatin silver paper. It seems one would get a lot more mileage out of the camera phone images!

  • lsisaxon

    Write an app to take a snapshot of the first test print (and subsequent) test print using the iphone camera and compare it with the original image and perform the subsequent color correction automatically.

  • lsisaxon

    Just an 80mm or 90mm lens for 6×6 or 6×7 will do just fine.

  • marzipan

    A phone screen is about the same size as medium format film. so: Use a 75mm or longer lens to get rid of the vignetting. Not a 50mm made for 24x36mm negs.
    Has nothing to do with the illumination on the screen itself.

    As a side note, the enfojer poeople used a simple meniscus lens to “holga-ify” the print and get rid of obvious pixels. I think this may be a good idea, until we get super-mega-retina phone screens with a dot count in the millions.

  • Kazuo Teramoto

    I think that you can get better results with graded paper in place of variable contrast paper. VC paper control the contrast by the ratio of blue and green light so you are getting an image made by high and low contrast adjacent sub pixels. But you will lose 2/3 of the sub pixels because graded papers are blue sensitivity only.