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Inconvenient Darkroom Illumination

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A classic scene in a lot of media where film is used for a photograph; a photographer is in a darkroom developing the print, when suddenly someone opens the door, turns on the lights, or activates some other light source, bathing the room in bright light and overexposing the print, rendering the photograph entirely black.

This always happens before the print has been put into the fixer, as the image is destroyed completely. The main part here is that the photo is then worthless and either cannot be saved, or requires lots of technology to recover. Naturally, this tends to happen especially if the photo in question is of extreme importance, or of something so unique that it can not be recreated.

Mostly this happens on accident, but a character can do it on purpose if they want to destroy the photo for some reason.

Can be Truth in Television, but not as much as fiction would like you to believe. In Real Life, to print an image requires the negative to be developed and fixed, and thus rendered insensitive to light. In other words, only if this trope happens before the photographer has the chance to fix the negative will you get an all black photograph. A print that was developed and then exposed to light will turn pink or reddish, and if it's further developed after fogging it becomes a solarized print, not a piece of solid black paper. Film doesn't show much effect if it's briefly fogged in between development and fixing. Finally, as the negative was able to be printed from, even if a print is destroyed, you can make as many prints as you want.

Nowadays becoming a Dead Horse Trope due to digital photography, which no longer requires darkrooms and a delicate developing process. And before that, an instant camera with self-developing film could already be used to avoid this problem. Nevertheless, characters using darkrooms may still be seen in Period Piece works set in the 1960s or 1970s, or in works about art students, photography students, or a Camera Fiend. Can lead to Life's Work Ruined if the photo was particularly special. See also Camera Obscurer for other methods of ruining a photograph.


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    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In one story, Donald Duck enters a photography contest, the topic of which is "the end is near". After many antics and failed ideas, he finally gets a photo he is satisfied with and retreats into the darkroom to have it developed. Then Huey, Dewey, and Louie burst into the darkroom to propose their own idea for a photo, ruining Donalds photograph and triggering one of his infamous angry outbursts. The story ends with Huey, Dewey, and Louie winning the contest with a photograph of an extremely angry Donald, complete with Nightmare Face, closing in on them.

    Comic Strips 
  • Happens in a The Far Side comic. A photographer is excited to see that he's developed an indisputable photo of a flying saucer, just as his mother opens the door to bring him a snack.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Freaky Friday (1976): At one point in the movie, Ellen enters the school's darkroom. Wondering why the lights are off, she turns them on, ruining the Photography class's photos.
  • Averted in Gregory's Girl, with a long scene in a darkroom, where Gregory knocks before going in, and discusses Dorothy, as a developing picture of her appears before him.
  • The Great Muppet Caper: Gonzo, Kermit, and Fozzie are developing Gonzo's pictures to find the one of the theft of Lady Holiday's necklace. Unfortunately, they are using a restroom for a darkroom, and the other Muppets are literally dancing to get in. Just when the trio discovers the right picture, with Kermit proclaiming "We've caught [the thieves] with their hands in the cookie jar!", the mob breaks open the door, ruining the incriminating photo.
    Fozzie: The cookie jar just busted.
  • Ghostbusters II plays with this heavily. When Egon and Ray are analyzing the pictures the team took of Vigo's portrait, said ghost psychically locks the door when they discover the river of slime in the background, followed by setting all the photos in the darkroom ablaze. Egon and Ray manage to escape with their lives thanks to Winston's timely intervention.
  • Averted in Stepmom. Isabel, a fashion photographer, is developing her film when her stepchildren's mother, Jackie, knocks on the door. Isabel invites her in, but nothing bad happens. If you pay attention to the trays in the shot, you'll notice the two pictures she's working on have been in the fixer tray, meaning light won't hurt them. Isabel herself flips on the overhead lights before taking the final print out of the wash tray, which rinses the print of the chemicals used to develop it.

  • I Am Number Four: Happens twice. First time is when John hides in the darkroom of his school when his hands start glowing, destroying all the photos that Sarah had in there. This has the added bonus of wiping his face off pictures, and Sarah thinks he did it deliberately because of his dislike of having his picture taken. The second time is in the big fight in the high school. The pair hideout/develop more pictures in the darkroom when a Mog blasts the door open with a light-beam weapon.
  • Downplayed in "The Silent Bullet", the first book in the Craig Kennedy series of detective novels by Arthur B. Reeve. Kennedy runs into the bathroom that Walter is using as an improvised darkroom do develop their photos, but fortunately closes the door again before any harm is done. It does lead to an angry response by Walter:
    Walter: Confound you, Kennedy, do you want to ruin these films!.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Get Smart: Max is guilty of opening the door to the darkroom, ruining the process, a few times. Once they even inverted it: CONTROL has created film which you can process in full light. Max walks in, sees them working on the film, and turns the lights off. That's what destroys the negative.
  • In the infamous "Lemon Wacky Hello" episode of Just Shoot Me!, the board with the magazine layout falls just as Elliot takes a picture of it. Maya figures they can reconstruct the board from the picture, but Elliot, under the influence of the aforementioned Lemon Wacky Hello, takes the film out of the camera right that very moment, musing that "it's usually dark when I do this."
  • Suddenly Susan: in "Golden Girl Friday", Betty White's character did this while Luis was developing photographs for a story. It's one of several things that gets her fired. When she sues for age discrimination, she uses the excuse that sometimes a red light means "stop, then proceed". It turns out she did it on purpose to get fired so she could sue for age discrimination.
  • In one episode of Gilligan's Island, the castaways attempt to get rescued by using film equipment that washed ashore to make a Silent Film about their situation and send it adrift to civilization. Unfortunately, at one point when the Professor was developing the film, Gilligan came into the darkroom. While it didn't ruin the film, the scene that the Professor was developing when the door opened looked like an X-Ray.
  • In one episode of Hogan's Heroes, the Germans develop a type of bomb capable of homing in on radio signals. After the POWs manage to photograph the blueprints, Newkirk uses a locker as a makeshift darkroom to develop the film. When Klink comes in, the others pass off Newkirk being in the locker as a Punishment Box for an earlier offense note . Feeling generous over the approaching test of the new bombs, Klink decided to rescind Newkirk's punishment and opened the locker to let him out, unknowingly destroying the film.
  • Stranger Things: In the first episode of season 3, when Nancy arrives at the newspaper where she interns, and begins to distribute the sandwiches she picked up for the staff, she enters the dark room, where Jonathan is developing pictures there. She hastily apologizes and closes the door again. It's not shown if any damage was done to the pictures.
  • A Running Gag in Babylon Berlin, where people constantly barge into Gräf's darkroom and destroy whatever photos he's developing.

    Video Games 
  • Henry Stickmin Series: In "Infiltrating the Airship", one scenario has Charles help Henry get past an electrical defense by remotely rerouting the power to a darkroom, where a Toppat member is developing photos. The sudden increase in power causes the one light bulb to glow much brighter, ruining the photos. The photographer can then be heard screaming in agony and frustration.
  • Super Solvers: In Treasure Cove!, one of the caves you can go into is unlit. Using your flashlight will reveal several random things each time, one of which is an octopus with an Oh, Crap! expression with hanging photos that are now black squares.
  • In The Very Big Cave Adventure (parodying Colossal Cave) bringing light into the Dark Room results in you being chased out by an irate Italian photographer whose work you have ruined.

    Western Animation 
  • In Code Lyoko, William is put to the task of developing his and Yumi's photos (having let her escape through the dark room's window earlier). When Jim enters the room at the end of the episode, he ruins the pictures as Yumi returns.
  • In the "Wacky Deli" episode of Rocko's Modern Life, one of Ralph's attempts to sabotage the titular show is to walk into the camera room while Rocko and the others are trying to put the film into its can, thus overexposing it. He even has a searchlight with him to make extra sure. Like all of his other attempts, however, it just makes the show even more popular.
  • The Pink Panther:
    • The page image comes from "Doctor Pink". Here, Pink Panther works as a janitor in a hospital, and enters the darkroom to clean up just as The Little Man is developing an x-ray photo, thus ruining the photo. Pink, oblivious to his mistake, keeps dusting the place off, and even takes the now completely black X-ray and dusts off the black, leaving The Little Man with a white sheet of paper.
    • In "Smile Pretty, Say Pink", the Pink Panther mistakes flashbulbs for eggs, and devours a dozen of them. Then, whenever he hiccups, Pink lights up. Terrified of his plight, Pink runs into a photographers' darkroom. There, he hiccups, lights up, and runs away, leaving The Little Man with ruined film.
  • The Simpsons: in "The Debarted", when Bart is chasing Donny, he turns on the light in a dark room and ruins all of Martins pictures, including photos of a Flying Saucer, Nessie and Martin posing with Elvis.
  • Gravity Falls: in "The Land Before Swine", Dipper sets up three cameras around a steak in order to get a picture of whatever's been stealing sheep and trashing cars in the area. He develops the photos (revealing a pterodactyl) just as Soos barges in with a bowl of "victory nachos" - so long, evidence! Of course, it's rendered moot when the beastie zooms by after grabbing Waddles.
  • The Loud House: In "Middle Men", Lincoln and Clyde accidentally cause this to happen when they try to find the middle school's art department, and open the door of a darkroom instead. A student inside angrily shouts at them that they just ruined a month's worth of work.
  • Totally Spies!: In "Do You Believe in Magic?", Mandy ruins the spies' photo for a photography contest by opening the darkroom while they are developing it. In a more realistic take on this trope than most other examples, the photo is not completely turned black, but just discolored. The girls go ahead and submit the discolored photo anyway, and much to Mandy's dismay, they win because the jury admires their courage to go public with their mistake.
  • In one episode of Sheep in the Big City, a rash or robberies occurs in Big City, which Sheep is accused of. While trying to clear his name, Sheep takes a photo of the real thief, but before he can inspect it after developing and blowing it up note , Swanky the Poodle comes into the darkroom and ruins the photo. At the the end of the episode, it's revealed that Swanky was the thief.


Video Example(s):


The Great Muppet Caper

Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo are really close to learning the identity of the man, who stole Lady Holiday's necklace. Too bad they were developing it, in the hotel's only restroom, where the rest of the occupants break down the door, resulting in the picture to be overexposed.

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