How to Make a Photo Enlarger

Written by bob barber
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How to Make a Photo Enlarger
You don't need an expensive photo enlarger to enlarge photos. (Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Making your own photo enlarger may be cheaper than buying one, and has the added advantage of allowing you to use lenses which you may already own, instead of buying specialised enlarging lenses. All you need is an ordinary 35mm film camera, a tripod and household supplies.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • 35mm film camera with 50mm lens
  • Tripod
  • Light fixture with cord and switch
  • Enlarging bulb
  • Cardboard box, wide enough to house camera at one end
  • Aluminium foil
  • One or two sheets of opaque white plastic, as large as the end of the box
  • Black duct tape or other black tape
  • Piece of matt or anti-Newton ring glass, slightly larger than the size of a 35mm negative

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Line one half of the inside of the cardboard box with aluminium foil, dull side out.

  2. 2

    Cut a round hole in the aluminium foil end of the box and push the light fixture through to install it. Secure the light fixture with black tape. Screw in the enlarging bulb, which is the same size and shape as a normal incandescent light bulb. Obtain your enlarging bulb at a photography store or through an online vendor.

  3. 3

    Install a baffle of opaque plastic in the middle of the box, parallel to both ends and at the end of the aluminium foil. Secure with tape. The purpose of this baffle is to diffuse the light source, so that it will strike the negative underneath it evenly. You may need to use two sheets of plastic, or even a different type of plastic, to achieve this effect. One possible source of this plastic is a plastic gallon milk jug.

  4. 4

    Remove the back of the camera and mount the camera on the tripod. The specifics of how to remove the back of the camera will vary according to the type of camera. Consult your owner's manual. Many camera backs are similar to a door hinge, which you can remove by knocking out the central pin that runs lengthwise through the hinge. However, this step is not absolutely necessary. You can also open the camera back as if you were loading film, without removing the back, and follow the rest of the steps in this how-to. If you don't remove the back, though, it may be a bit more difficult to mount the cardboard box on the back of the camera.

  5. 5

    Mate the end of the box without the light fixture to the back of the camera. Check for a good seal, and modify the box as needed, but do not seal it yet.

  6. 6

    Remove the box from the back of the camera, and place a negative where film is exposed inside the camera. If the negative fails to sit flat, tape the edges or weight it down with a small mask. You can also place a piece of glass over the negative, using matt or anti-Newton ring glass. Be careful that the glass is dust-free.

  7. 7

    Remove the camera's lens cap, set the shutter to B, and set the aperture. To determine the sharpest aperture for your lens, focus the lens at its widest aperture on a piece of paper in an easel underneath the enlarger, using a grain focuser, then stop down step by step, noting at which aperture the grain is sharpest through the grain focuser.

  8. 8

    Place the box over the back of the camera, seal with tape as necessary, and expose and develop photographic paper normally.

Tips and warnings

  • You can use filters for graded photographic paper by holding them underneath the camera lens while exposing the photographic paper. This will not affect the focus of the image.

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