(skip past this panel to get to the tutorial)

I took two years of black and white photography in high school, in which we were required to photograph and fully develop our projects ourselves from start to finish. This meant using darkroom equipment to expose our negatives to photopaper for development of our final prints. Sometime in my second year, when I got bored, it occured to me that I might be able to actually create a lightsaber effect on my images without using any digital means, but rather through darkroom techniques applied at the time of exposure to photopaper.

The idea came about like so: I got to thinking how pictures are made by taking a white piece of photosensitive paper and bombarding it with light, which then becomes black once properly developed. By filtering that light with the negative of you image, you allow light to pass through the clear or "white" areas of the negative, creating black areas on the paper, and thus produce a non-inverted (proper) image. So the key to making bright spots on your image is to simply deny light to it. The simplest way of doing that is to just put something between the enlarger lens and the easel with your photopaper on it.

Okay, cool. Makes sense. But a lightsaber is a white hot core surrounded by an aura or light; A fuzzy bright area concentrated around it. Just putting a piece of paper in the shape of your lightsaber on top of your photopaper wouldn't do it. It didn't take me long to realize that all I needed to do was to defocus the same shape at the same time to deny light, in a fuzzy manner, around the core. This could be done by elevating a duplicate light denying object farther from the photopaper, where it's shadow would appear less focused since it would be farther from the focal point of the enlarger's projection (the easel being the point of focus). I then figured I would probably have to adopt a method of glow generation similar to my Photoshop/After Effects tutorial and have 3 "duplicates" of the light denying object above the "core", each "aura" blurrier than the last (each at different distances from the easel).

Okay, theoretically this sounded like it could work. I didn't have much luck explaining the concept to a couple of my classmates, but they were supportive of the idea. I wanted to do a test. But there was one problem. My teacher wasn't exactly supportive of unauthorized use of equipment for a non-class project, much less the elaborate setup of glass plates I would have to set up to elevate each "layer". So I waited for an opportune day with little activity in the darkroom and did it in secret. With my partner in crime, Collin, we snuck about a half dozen film canisters into the darkroom and borrowed the glass plates from a couple other enlarger booths and I soon had a sort of tower of glass plates supported by canisters on which I could carefully place pieces of cut out photopaper to block the light to the easel to make the effect. After a couple tests I succefully made a lightsaber on my image without digital aid.

I was, and still am proud of that idea working out as well as it did and wanted to share this with others who might be able to try the same thing. I hope if you have access to a darkroom, that you can attempt this procedure as well and hopefully do it with a less makeshift setup and without constant fear of getting yelled at.

Materials: Photopaper, thick or black paper (light musn't get through it), scissors or exacto knife.

Note: This tutorial was written for those with basic or intermediate experience in a darkroom in terms of enlarger use and print developing. Those without this experience should learn these basics before attempting this sort of project.

Note: Through out this tutorial I say that you must have a core "layer" and 3 glow "layers". Understand that all of this could also be done with only 2 glow "layers" if that's all you have to work with. In the image you see above I only had 2 aura "layers". I think a third one would have helped a lot, but oh well.

Begin by setting up your enlarger to it's maximum height from the baseboard as possible. (the higher you get, the blurrier your auras can be)

Position your easel if applicable and then align and focus your projected image how you like.

Make a practice print of your image to ensure you have all the exposure and time settings correct. Do a test strip first, if that's your style.

After developing and drying, take your test print to a place you can work and get your dark or thick paper and a pair of scissors or an exacto knife.

Using your test print, cut out your thick paper in the shape of the lightsaber as exactly as possible. You shouldn't be able to see through the paper to trace, so you'll probably want to keep trimming the paper and then placing it on your test print to see if it's the right size and then keep trimming if needed. I sacrificed my test print itself by just cutting out the lightsaber.

Once you have one thick pice of paper cut to the shape of your saber, use it to cut out 3 more identical shapes out of the thick paper.

You're now ready to head back into the darkroom.

Materials: Photopaper, 4 plates of glass, a means of supporting those plates of glass.

The first thing to do is to set up your plates of glass. It doesn't matter how you support the glass to elevate it, but they should be about the same distance from each other with the lowest plate just high enough above your easel or baseboard so that you can slip in a piece of photopaper without moving the glass. I've made a diagram to the right of how your setup should look. I've omitted any stacking objects from the diagram to avoid confusion. You might be using a variety of things.

Without a piece fo photopaper in place, turn on your enlarger and place your cutout lightsaber blades on each plate of glass so that they line up as exactly as possible with your projected image.

Turn off your enlarger (and turn on your safe light if you need it) and slip in a piece of photopaper onto your easel if you're using one, or just on your baseboard. Just be careful not to move your lowest plate of glass or you will misalign your lightsaber core.

Expose the image for your predetermined time and exposure.

Develop your image and take a gander! If you think you might have to do slight repositionings and re-exposures, be sure you don't touch the glass when removing your paper from the easel or baseboard.

If you actually get a chance to try this out on an image, I'd love to see it!
Please scan it and Email me... That'd make my week!