In Stranger Things, we frequently see Jonathan go inside this to "refine" his photos or something. I don't quite understand what happens here.

He puts the photo in water, and somehow this makes it more clear? An example is in the first season when he refines Barbara's photo and sees a little bit of the Demogorgon.

Is this an old film technique, and if so, what is it called?

red room, picture 1 red room, different angle

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    Also on reddit now: reddit.com/r/memes/comments/cigy8z/we_are_now_this_old facepalm
    – K Split X
    Commented Jul 27, 2019 at 12:43
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    This post has made it to The Guardian
    – A J
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 14:03
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    What I don't think most people understand is that just because you haven't heard of a specific technique that you "should've" by a certain age, that doesn't immediately mean you should feel old. I'm not 14 or 15 like you may assume. This was just something I never came across, and that's the bottom line. No need to feel old.
    – K Split X
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 14:51
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    And Business Insider.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 5:43
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    @KSplitX no, it's when thousands of other people reach a certain age without hearing of something that you yourself could not possibly have reached adulthood without knowing, that's what makes you feel old. (Times change.)
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 5:45

3 Answers 3


That room is called a darkroom, and it's part of the photographic printing process.

A darkroom is a workshop used by photographers working with photographic film to make prints and carry out other associated tasks. It is a room that can be made completely dark to allow the processing of the light-sensitive photographic materials, including film and photographic paper.

And for why it's red:

When making black-and-white prints, a safelight is commonly used to illuminate the work area. Since the majority of black-and-white papers are sensitive to only blue, or to blue and green light, a red- or amber-colored light can be safely used without exposing the paper.

But in the digital photographic age, darkrooms are getting outdated, as digital printing is safer than chemicals used in the previous process. It's still not an extinct process and still used by some professional photographers.

For further interesting readings:

It’s Time to Accept That Your Darkroom is Dead

Do Photographers Still Use Darkrooms?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 23:57
  • I could not help and notice that the first referenced article received much criticism due to the technique (or newer similar) are still used in some areas.
    – Alexei
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 4:02
  • @Alexei Most of the critics seem to fail to grasp that the article was written in a publication aimed at college instructors, not photographers in general. It makes much sense to start beginning photographers in 2022 with digital, even if their ultimate goal is to work with chemical photography.
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 10:58

This is called a darkroom.

A darkroom is a workshop used by photographers working with photographic film to make prints and carry out other associated tasks. It is a room that can be made completely dark to allow the processing of the light-sensitive photographic materials, including film and photographic paper. Various equipment is used in the darkroom, including an enlarger, baths containing chemicals, and running water.

And it is used for processing the photographs. Jonathan is a photographer in that newspaper company, and he uses this room to process the photographs he captured. This show is set in 1983 when digital cameras were not available.

With digital photography being used these days, the popularity of such rooms is decreasing.

From the above link,

Due to the popularity of color photography and complexity of processing color film (see C-41 process) and printing color photographs and also to the rise, first of Polaroid technology and later digital photography, darkrooms are decreasing in popularity, though are still commonplace on college campuses, schools and in the studios of many professional photographers.

Is this an old film technique, and if so, what is it called?

Yes, this is an old film technique which is used for processing photographic materials.

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    They were specifically using an enlarger (mentioned in this answer) to "blow up" the portion of the image with the demogorgon. Today they would have pinch-zoomed the HD image on a phone or tablet and lightened the image in Photoshop. Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 20:14
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    @DaveSwersky If I'm an avid photographer looking to enlarge an important image, I'm certainly not going to rely on pinch-zooming with my phone. Best to use dedicated software (e.g. photoshop) equipped with various scaling algorithms that I can custom fit to the situation.
    – arkon
    Commented Jul 27, 2019 at 23:36
  • Wikipedia is a little behind the times here. Most schools and colleges have finally thrown in the towel regarding darkrooms and teach photography from start to finish using digital equipment.
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 10:06

Interestingly enough both answers given while correct give no explanation why Jonathan sees slowly the photos he took earlier.

In the age before digital photography, the photo was made, by putting light-sensitive chemicals on a thin stable substrate (called film). Exposed to light these chemicals would go through a reaction that makes them darker. So in the camera, a part of the film is behind the lens, if you click on the button for split-seconds light is allowed to flow in the camera and expose the film. After that, the mechanic moves the film that a new part is behind the lens so that you can take another photo (in even older cameras you had to replace the sensitive material after each photo was taken).

Now, this material would darken most in the places that are the brightest in what you photograph, so the colors are inverted. This film is therefore called a negative. Also, the chemicals are still light sensitive. So in the darkroom, you remove the light-sensitive chemicals with other chemicals (therefore make the negative stable to light) and you basically take another photo of the negative, this time bigger and with the chemicals on paper, so that you can comfortably look at them. Again light-sensitive chemicals have to be removed before it is safe to look at it under normal light conditions (or everything gets black). And chemicals are used for this process (so this is not water he puts the stuff in, but a chemical solution).

Most of the light-sensitive chemicals don't react under red light, therefore the darkroom is dimly red illuminated.

As this process is time-consuming, uses a lot of chemicals and needs this special room, pretty much everyone changed to digital photography the moment resolutions there at least somewhat acceptable. The good analog film has still resolution hard to match by digital photography, but the upsides of digital are outweighing that.

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    Sorry, but this isn't exactly accurate, either. The light doesn't darken the film, though the chemical coating of the film is altered. The film is then put into a chemical solution bath, which "develops" the film - this is when the image actually darkens on the film, with a fixative added to stop the development of the image on the negative at an appropriate/accurate level of intensity. The negative-developed film is now safe to expose to light. The lamp is for projecting the light through the negative image onto photographic paper, also "developed" by chemicals for a "positive" photo/image. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 15:27
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    If you look at my comment and say "yeah, that's what I said," then I'll suggest that it's not clear from the wording used. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 15:28

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