As my interest in photography progressed, it was only natural I’d one day end up wanting to develop film. I developed my first roll last night by following this guide. It was extremely helpful – but there were a few points it didn’t cover. I made notes while I was developing, and so here’s a modified version of the guide, including my advice.
If you’re interested in seeing what I was able to achieve, some samples are here.
What you’ll need
These are the items in my inventory. I’ve bought “proper” gear where necessary but most of the kitchen-type items came from a supermarket for pennies. I bought the developing tank from eBay, and the same seller was also offering a kit with all the chemicals, listed as Ilford Black & White Film Developer’s pack
- Stop bath
- Wetting agent (cheap washing up liquid will do)
- A developing tank
- 3 water bottles – preferably one litre
- 3 plastic jugs – at least one litre
- Kitchen timer (get one with a mechanical knob rather than a digital one)
- Clothes pegs
- A place to hang the negatives sufficiently high that they won’t touch the ground
- A dim light. Colour doesn’t matter- perhaps a torch with half-flat batteries.
- Bottle opener
- Something to stir the chemicals with. I used old picnic cutlery!
- A storage box for all of the above, with a lid.
- Room thermometer
- Familiarise yourself with how to mix each of the chemicals – how much concentrate to how much water, how much you want to end up with, etc.
- Make a note of how much of each chemical your tank requires you to use.
- Calculate and make a note of how long each of the three phases should take.
- Label each of your empty bottles and jugs with a permanent pen so you know which chemical belongs in which jug.
- Take film, bottle opener, scissors, developing tank and reels into a lightproof room.
- Organize the materials on a table. You’ll need to know where each item is in the darkness.
- Turn off the light.
- Open the film canister at either end with the bottle opener.
- Take the film out of the canister and cut off the leading tab at the end to create a straight edge.
- Load the film onto your tank’s spool. The method varies depending upon your tank, but I found my Paterson System 4 tank easy to use.
- Pull or cut the end of the film off the spool and remove the tape.
- Drop the loaded reel into the developing tank and secure the lid.
- Turn the light back on.
- Mix chemicals according to directions.
- Put the right amount of each chemical into the three jugs.
- Put any leftover chemicals into the plastic bottles for storage.
- Technically with a good tank you should be safe to have the light on, but it never hurts to be cautious, so at this point I switched the main light off and worked by the light of a dim torch, pointing at the ceiling to softly illuminate the whole room. If you wait a minute or two, your eyes will get accustomed to the low light.
- Take the top off the developing tank.
- Pour the pre-measured developer into the top of the tank.
- Tap the tank against the counter to dislodge bubbles.
- Agitate the tank by slowly inverting it and turning it back over for the first 15 seconds.
- Repeat every 30 seconds for the recommended time (usually 5 to 10 minutes).
- Pour the developer back into the jug.
- Pour stop bath into the now-empty developing tank.
- Agitate the stop bath and let stand for 1 minute.
- Pour out the stop bath and replace with fixer.
- Agitate the fixer for 15 seconds and then for 15 seconds once every minute for the allotted time.
- Pour the fixer back into its jug.
- Remove the lid of the tank and run water into the tank for 15 minutes.
- Add wetting agent to the water to expedite drying. If you are using washing up liquid, add a tiny drop to the water in the tank and let it sit for a minute.
- Remove the film from the tank.
- Gently pull the film off the reel.
- Attach a clip to the top of the film and hang it up. I hung mine from a clothes horse in the bath.
- Attach another 2 or 3 clips at the bottom, to prevent the film from curling as it dries.
- Hang the film in a dry, dust-free area.
- I don’t know how long it really takes them to dry, because I went to bed at this point. When I woke up, the film was dry and straight.
- Cut the film into appropriate length chunks for your scanner / envelopes / etc.
- Store dry negatives in plastic negative sleeves.
- You can usually re-use the developer several times (although it takes longer each time). Store it in a clearly labelled bottle.
- You can re-use the fixer. Store it in a clearly labelled bottle.
- Rinse all of the “dirty” components in warm water and dry them thoroughly before putting them away in a clean place.
If this is your first time developing a film, there are some things you should do first. You should probably do them before every time you develop a film, even if you’ve been doing it for years 🙂
Loading the film
Developing the Film
Tips & warnings
- The optimal temperature for most developers is 20°C. Processing at a significantly higher or lower temperature will result in soft, easily damaged film or flat negatives. Some developers have a chart on the packaging to give the time correction if your room temperature is different from this.
- Do not remove the top of the developing tank to look at the film until after the fixing stage.
- Use storage bottles that are just the right size for the amount of developer you are mixing. Label a chemical with its name, date and dilution.
- Begin timing each step as you pour chemicals into the developing tank, and start draining chemicals 10 seconds before the time is up.