The Process

The Current Version:

Due to circumstances out of my control (the photographic paper I used was discontinued) and circumstances in my control (relocating to Vermont and no longer have access to my darkroom), my process has “evolved” to digital. Feeling more like an arranged marriage than a creative process right now, I’m doing my best to make the most of it. Even so, the process described below is still true for the work that remains, so I’m keeping it up as a sort of memorial.

The Short Version:

I use a medium format camera and develop my film by hand. My photographs are produced in a traditional wet darkroom. When hand coloring, I usually use colored pencils, sometimes I use oil paint, but I always use patience.

The Long Version:

This is my camera, a Contax 645. I switched to medium format (from 35mm) around 2001. It’s a gorgeous camera – a bit on the heavy side weighing in at 6 pounds with this lens – and it is no longer made. I bought this one on eBay, known as the final frontier for analog users.

Contax 645

I develop my film in this stainless steel tank, two rolls at a time. The process – soak, develop, stop, fix, wash – takes about twenty-five minutes. I hang the film to air dry in a closet and do my best to forget about it for a few hours.

Stainless steel tank for 120mm film

After drying, I cut the rolls into strips and ready them for contact sheets. A roll of 120 film gives just 16 exposures.

My contact sheets are very important to me. On the back of each one, I record all of the developing data for the selected images. Exposure, aperture setting, image size, filters, burning, dodging, enlarger, paper, and developer. Since this data seems to change every other time I print the image, it’s more of a starting point.

Lightbox, negatives

This is my enlarger, a Zone VI, that I bought on, you guessed it, eBay. It is a gorgeous enlarger and I feel so fortunate to have one in my possession. You can’t use it so don’t ask.
**(Actually it’s for sale right now, so you could totally use it)**

Zone VI Enlarger

This is the paper I use, Fomabrom Variant IV 123. Every year the factory, located in the Czech Republic, closes down during the month of August for a holiday. Speaking from experience, keep this in mind should you want to order some.


I converted a spare bedroom in to a makeshift darkroom, but it doesn’t have running water so I have to carry the wash tray downstairs to the garage where I have my washing sink. It can be precarious at times, especially when I have my two overly excited German Shepherd dogs at my heels as I maneuver down the stairs holding steady on to a 16×20″ tray, but so far no accidents have occurred.

After the prints are washed, I place them on screens to air dry. Being fiber based, they curl when dried, so I flatten them in a dry mount press on low heat by lightly dampening the back. This can sometimes backfire (causing the print to wrinkle), which means the print will have to be rewashed and the process repeated.

makeshift darkroom

Not every image I print makes it past my print edit. I tend to vary my development times, contrast, etc, to see different results when I’m printing. I’m always looking to see if I can make it better than the last time I printed it. Aside from that, there are paper flaws to look for and the occasional dent or crease in the paper that will send the print straight into the recycle bin. (you can click on the image below to see my editing choices)

Print Edit, the process

Not all of my prints are hand colored, but the ones that do end up here, at my easel.

Easel, the process

These are the supplies I use for coloring. The top photo is of the two solutions – PM solution for blending color and Marlene for removing color. The cotton, cotton swabs, etc, are used for blending.

The other photo is my collection of various colored pencils. Most are Prismacolor as Marshall colored pencils, made specifically for hand coloring photos, are more difficult to find.

Materials, the process
Pencil caddy, the process

The print is first coated with a very thin layer of PM solution. Then I will apply the base colors.

Scribble, the process

With cotton, I blend the colors.

Handcolor Blending, the process

I will then add more color, blend it, and remove color, blend it, then add color, blend it, then remove color, until I get the effect I’m looking for.

I am always asked how long it takes me to color a print. I don’t time myself; I never have. I do know, by the direction of the sun through the windows, that some take hours, some take all day into the next, and some can be finished within a playlist.

Handcoloring Step by Step, the process

When the print is finished, I let it rest for a few days as the PM solution needs time to dry. Then I will spray it with a UV protectant. When dried, the color is permanent and it’s safe enough to rub a cloth over it to remove any cotton residue.

© Kelli Knack - Breathe

I do all of my own matting and framing, using archival materials in every step. The prints are attached to the backing with photo corners and can be removed should one ever want to re-mat them. All of my prints are titled, numbered and signed on the front; the mat covers this by default. On request, I can sign and title the mat.