Q.

I am interested in developing my own pictures, but the problem is where to start. I haven't had much experience in this, though I have a general knowledge, and my job in printing is somewhat related to photography. I have the space in my house needed for a darkroom and now want to know the costs and the next step.

Q.

What do I need to set up a basic black and white darkroom? I do mean basic, and cost is a factor. Back in my Navy days I was pretty good in the shipboard labs, so space is less of a factor.

A.

First some general thoughts: Start with black and white. It's easier and teaches many of the basics that will apply to color. If, however, you've never been exposed to hands-on processing, be very careful. This is a difficult subject to learn without some instruction.

I suggest a course. Check with the community colleges and area universities, the Smithsonian, the Corcoran or the local camera club. I've found that there are often informal darkroom classes among club members. If all this fails, try a local camera store. People there frequently know about learning opportunities.

Now, for the specifics: I suggest you first set up to process negatives. This can be done in any small windowless bathroom without causing much dislocation. If there is a window, it will have to be blacked out. You may have to staple some felt weatherstripping around the door to make things light-tight. Sometimes a towel across the bottom of the door will be all that's needed.

A piece of wood, about 18 inches long by 6 to 10 inches wide, makes a great temporary shelf. Put it across the tank of the toilet, and it will hold all the negative processing gear.

You will need a film developer: Start with the most basic of the fine-grain developers -- D76. This developer will handle any black and white film. It comes in foil packs of powder to make a gallon and costs about $3.45.

For fixer, there are several brands on the market that work well. Make sure that the one you buy comes with a hardening agent. Don't get talked into too large a container -- one gallon of concentrate is enough. The Kodak fixer is about $3.25.

One other chemical required is a wetting agent -- such as Kodak's Photo-Flo. This is used after your final wash -- before you hang your negatives up to dry. Four ounces cost $2.70.

Buy three one-gallon opaque containers. Use one for D76, one for fixer, and one to mix the next batch of developer. Get two one-quart graduates: one for developer and one for fixer dilution. A small, plastic stirring rod will also be needed.

The bottles cost $2.50 each, the stirring rod $2 and the graduates $6.50 each.

You will also need an accurate thermometer. Get the dial type that is so much easier to read. A good one will cost about $13.95, but it's worth the price. A timer is necessary; they come in all shapes and sizes. A big darkroom timer can cost up to $50. I recently have been using a digital kitchen timer that cost about $12. Buy a square of chamois or a box of lintless tissues to wipe your negs after processing. Chamois costs about $9, but with proper care will last for years. You'll also need a couple of photo clips and weights to hang up your film to dry. They cost about $3 a set.

Now the biggie: You need a developing tank and developing reels. The Nikor reels are stainless steel and standard throughout the industry. They go with stainless steel tanks that hold from one to eight 35mm reels. A two-reel tank (a great starting size) costs under $13, and each reel is $4.50.

The other method is a Patterson plastic tank and reel combination. Many people find the plastic easier to load in the dark. A tank and two reels (they sell as a unit) cost about $24.49.

Once the film is loaded into either of these tanks, the rest of the processing operation is done in daylight. These tanks are used first for developer, then for fixer, and at last as your wash tank.

Get started this way; if you haven't done any processing in a while, follow directions on your packages. Enlarging can come later. In the meantime, pick out the negatives you like and take them to a lab for printing.

The North Bethesda Camera Club is holding an auction on Wednesday, March 9, at the Bethesda Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, Wilson Lane and Clarendon Road, Bethesda.

The event, held every other year, serves several good purposes. You can sell your surplus camera and darkroom equipment or you can buy something special at a good price, and the club gets 10 percent of each sale.

Everyone is invited; admission is $1.

Be sure instructions and any other information are attached to your item. You're asked to bring things you can stand behind as being in good condition, or easily repairable. For details call B. J. Kendrick at 762-0888.

Write to Carl Kramer c/o Weekend, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, DC 20071.