The Darkroom
Coping With Change; Two Dozen Tips On Dealing With Diminishing Film & Darkroom Material

"Sorry, that's been discontinued." The salesclerk shakes his head. And that, you realize with sinking heart, is that: no more of your favorite film, paper, developer, whatever. These are trying times. What do you do?

First of all, make sure he's telling the truth. Far too often, "That's been discontinued" actually means "We're too lazy/inefficient/indifferent to continue to carry it." But let's assume that you've checked all the manufacturers' and distributors' websites and it is true. We have all seen too many examples to deny that it can happen.

AlexWebb, "Crossings"--Webb probes the hard contrast on the border between the US and Mexico in his subtropically-colored street photography.

Consider the most radical possibility first: a complete change of direction. Maybe you've been shooting 35mm. Is it time to switch to medium or large format? Or even (perish the thought) digital? If you're going from Nikon to Alpa, the changes in cameras alone will dwarf the change from Kodak paper to Ilford, or Agfa film to Kodak. You'll have to re-learn a lot of photography, but that's OK, as long as you enjoy it.

Let's assume you don't want to do that either: you want to carry on as close to your previous approach as possible. So what are your strategies for recovering from this body blow to your film photography? Here are 24 ideas:
1. Don't panic. There are still plenty of silver-halide materials available, with many of the old, familiar names (and some unfamiliar ones, too) printed in large, friendly letters on the box. As long as people go on buying it, they'll go on making it.

2. Stockpile. Often, discontinuations are announced far enough in advance that the practical limit for most photographers is how much they can afford or store, not how much is available. Buy as much as you can of a discontinued film or paper: it will keep for years in a freezer. Use it for your most important work; use the other ideas listed to manage the transition. You might be surprised to find that well before your stocks have exhausted, you have found something you actually prefer. The stockpile just gives you the peace of mind that you need to test other materials.

3. Don't hurry. Unless you're a professional who has work riding on it, you can afford to take your time--especially if you've got a good stockpile. More haste: less speed.

4. See if anyone else makes it. This is particularly important with developers. Most developing agents are now out of patent protection, and few are hard to synthesize. It's a bit like "generics" in drugs. Often, you'll find an identical formula from a less-known manufacturer. At the extreme, you can compound your own developers. There are plenty of published formulas, and making up developers (or fixers, or toners) isn't difficult.

5. Look for the closest substitute. The most obvious example is in films, where you have "new technology" (monosize crystals) and "old technology" (cubic crystals). If you're sure you're happiest with "old technology" films, with their greater exposure latitude, wider developer repertoire, and greater tolerance for out-of-spec processing, don't switch to "new technology." But if you like the finer grain of "new technology," by all means stick with it. On the other hand, if the only reason you've been using a particular film is habit, now may be the time to try something completely different.

Kodak's T-grain technology (this is TMY 400) gives fine grain and, in the hands of many, excellent tonality. But although this is one of my best shots on TMY, I still much prefer their "old technology" Tri-X. Don't automatically settle on the first film that gives you one good shot: look for a wide range of pictures that you like. I used a Nikon F and 35mm f/2.8 PC-Nikkor here.

6. Extend your search. Globalization isn't just a one-way street to maximize the profits of mega corporations, or at least, it needn't be. See if someone imports that obscure English, French, or Russian product. Shutterbug and of course the annual Shutterbug Buyer's Guide are invaluable resources here.

7. Buy a notebook. Anything you try, write down. Date it; note time, temperature, image color, anything else that strikes you. You may think you'll remember it all. You won't, especially if you follow the advice in #8 and try as many different things as possible.

RHenley's picture

Even if we are now in digital age, there are still photographers who are using dark rooms in developing their photos but I think its more creative and more authentic. - YOR Health

Lalit Ranka's picture

Honesty is just a Policy, it depends on you to Follow or Not.