Darkroom and Photographry Comments



I beg everyones indulgence, this post is from a question   Cedar n Sandy, asked me on my Minolta post about darkroom, etc. I felt it would be read more on a new thread.

Cedar N  Sandy
Be careful what you ask for, I tend to be a little long winded or in this case long-fingered. I will try and be brief as possible. I know you asked about a dar room but it takes a long explanitation as to why it works for me.

In the sense of what I define a professional photographer, one who can make a buck at it, that is what I am. No you won't find my photos in many magazines, nor do I do weddings or have a studio. But basically I take photos of any opportunity and make money at them. My specialities if there is such a thing is probobally events like conventions, association meetings, political happenings, etc. My other speciality is shooting photos for environmental companies in order to meet HABS/HAER standards, where photos are needed to document siginifacant historical sites before the wrecking ball gets to them or before new development gets to them.

After 10 years of the Army, and 10 years of Real Estate Related business I choose to strike out and work for myself. Mostly, because I love to chew tobacco, scratch myself where I want and say the words that come to mind with no thought to those around me. In California it's getting hard these days to be a redneck. So photography was the answer. I always liked shooting photos and did quite a bit for Uncle Sam on various borders of countries.

Anyway, I live in Sacramento where we have all kinds of events, conventions, and general happenings. I started going down to the Capitol building a few times a week. Usually you can get photos of groups going into legislator's office and they will pay a few bucks $100 or so for a set. At events I take no prisoners, I walk in and ask for the press room, sign in as a free lance and start shooting photos. Sometimes there is no press room and I just shoot and hand cards out. I usually eat lunch or two at the event for free, make contact with some high powered people and shoot their photo as well. It always works out to something else. In the last year because of this I have taken photos at  both the California Democratic and Republican Conventions as well as the National Democratic Convention with all expenses paid as well as a good chunk of change.  I also get turned on to other things as well and you never know what pops up. Last year I went in one month, from shooting photos of a guy running for Congress to running his campaign a month later.  Sucked alot of my time and I made some dough, but he lost. Oh well. Two trips to DC on his dime as well as LA, etc.

The only part of being a photographer I consider myself an expert in is getting business. It's out there as long as you don't get a big head and charge an arm and a leg and hustle a bit. Also listening to the client helps. That is how I got the HABS/HAER gig. The last person this company hired was charging $2000 a day and then raping them on the production of photos and wouldn't turn over the negatives. (Many pros would give their first born rather than their negs, and I understand) But hey shoot another set and keep those for yourself.  Anyway I met this guy at a trade show I popped into as an after thought. We chatted and 3 weeks later he hired me for $750 a day, plus expenses and printing costs to fly to Los Angeles and other places to shoot photos for them. Works for me. Thing is he never saw one photo I took, before he hired me. And I still do work for them.

Now many photographers make their mony on their reprints. Color development can cost for a roll of 36 exposures and 4 by 6 photos from $4.00 (Costco, etc) to $12 at professional labs. The thing is they all use the same machines usually, change their chemicals at the same rate and hire and pay the same people $6.25 an hour. At Costco, the film development is a lost leader for them. They make no profit. But you ever try and go there and not buy something else? So they make sure, at least my store does, that they do a great job.   The standard size for enlargement for 35 mm is 8 x 10. I can usually do my own to 11 x 14 without any loss of clarity and pro labs can to. It takes practice as well as film type and other considerations. After that it gets grainy. Costco's price $6 for 8 x 10 pro lab $15 and up. My cost in the darkroom less than a buck. I charge the client $20 which is below market of what other photographers usually charge.

YEs the enlargement equipment costs, $500 for initial set-up and the chemicals and paper costs about .75 cents for black and white print 8x10 including negative development and .80 for color not including negative development, but its worth it. (I have Costco do my color negative development because they can do a better job than I can. Color negative processing requires accurate chemical measurements, time, a lot of patience and temperture, not worth the effort.) HABS/HARE work requires black and white to be used and hand development, besides its pretty easy. The thing I love about the darkroom, is I consider it another extension of the art of photography. I can control and adjust the final output the way I want it.

I need to digress for a second. Equipment I use to take my event photos which are also props to get into just about anything including sporting events. I always hang two cameras around my neck, although I rarely use the second, it's loaded and looks like a great camera but its not as good as my primary. Anyway I use the Canon EOS system. I have an ELAN II and a Rebel. Other 35 mm cameras will work just as good as props or for the real thing with practice. I have seen some very great deals in pawn shops that are great for the starting photographer for under $100. I also wear a vest with a zillion pockets. A photo vest, but hey many of you hunters can use those vests too. I have made up my own press credentials about 10 sets. One says event photographer, construction photographer, etc. My scanned photo is on it and I laminated and trimed at Kinko's with a clip though it. I also have real credentials because many of these events give you their own badges for their event. I hang those too the more the merrier. It;s kind of like ski lift passes just add them on. I also work the regulars. Make sure you find the people at the events and take a few photos of them and send them for free. It gets you repeat business.

So in answer to your question about darkroom, yes it's both cheaper for me, as well as gives me more flexibilty, and is fun. Not hard to set up. I have no running water in it I have to go to the kitchen, but its no big deal.

Now the reason I came across this board was a post I left at a forum at http://www.photo.net about setting up camera animal traps. That supossedly is the tech term for the cameras we talk about here. I saw a special on National Geographic about tigers or something and the guy used a couple for some great shots. I thought this was a neat concept, I have seen a lot of wildlife signs when I am up mining gold in the Sierras. So I went to a couple of environmental companies and nature preserves and asked them what they used. They had no idea but were interested. Of course I said I could provide them as well as set-up , take down, etc.  On one I got a contract to photo beavers in their environment. In another one we are going to take a census of animals in a given area over the summer. So  I can buy them for $500 or make them for less. I have a few weeks to work it out. I am happy with my results so far, even though I have destroyed 4 cameras. Only one was the Owl. They other three were used I bought at yard sales.

I have also gone to the local zoo and arranged to get urine from mountain lions, deer, foxes and wolves as well as other varmints. You would be surprised what a letter from a preserve does  for you here in California when you are trying to protect nature. I figure the urine will have some uses in the field or else I can brew some home beer with it.

I am working at loading my own film for the cameras. It's pretty cheap in bulk. I should be able to get 60 frames (photos) in a canister. It;s one of the things I am testing. This allows for a greater chance of a great photo. There are some cameras out there with attachable backs that allow you to load 250 frames.

So there you have it. I allready gave you the photo.net site. For those interested in the HABS/HAER work, which is the abbreviation for Historical American Building Survey/Historic Amercian Engineering Record.


Those of you that are interested in more info feel free to contact me my email is rflesh@pacbell.net.

I am deeply impressed with the photos I have seen on this site. Had I known about this ability two years ago I would have been in this in a big way. I have spent about 60 days a year the last two summers looking for gold. I could have had cameras out during that time. Oh'well. If interested in making some buckscheck with your local environmental businesses, or biologists at zoo to get a contract. Beleive me the need is there.   Both the ones I am working on are paid by the Federal Government.

That's about it. I don't know nearly as much about photgraphy as some, but I know enough to make a decent living and I am always looking to learn more.

Best to you all.



Well-known member
Mar 12, 2001
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Wow!!!!  Very inspiring, Rflesh!  Great Info!!

cedar N sandy

Well-known member
Mar 20, 2001
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Thanks for the "generous" reply, Rflesh!
Photography is a hobby that I could seriously get into but I have no desire to make money at it (at this time). There are several amateur photographers and one or two pros that visit here often that have spurred my interest in this field. I will check out the site you refered and do some more studying up on this subject. The volume of film I go thru with my trail cameras make for some hefty 1hr. Photo Shop bills. This may be the answer to cut down on cost and could lead to other prospects......who knows?

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