How to develop black & white film

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

  • Developer
  • Stop bath
  • Fixer
  • Wetting agent (cheap washing up liquid will do)
  • A developing tank
  • 3 water bottles – preferably one litre
  • 3 plastic jugs – at least one litre
  • Funnel
  • 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.
  • Scissors
  • 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

    Preparation

    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 🙂

  1. 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.
  2. Make a note of how much of each chemical your tank requires you to use.
  3. Calculate and make a note of how long each of the three phases should take.
  4. Label each of your empty bottles and jugs with a permanent pen so you know which chemical belongs in which jug.
  5. Loading the film

  6. Take film, bottle opener, scissors, developing tank and reels into a lightproof room.
  7. Organize the materials on a table. You’ll need to know where each item is in the darkness.
  8. Turn off the light.
  9. Open the film canister at either end with the bottle opener.
  10. Take the film out of the canister and cut off the leading tab at the end to create a straight edge.
  11. 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.
  12. Pull or cut the end of the film off the spool and remove the tape.
  13. Drop the loaded reel into the developing tank and secure the lid.
  14. Turn the light back on.
  15. Developing the Film

  16. Mix chemicals according to directions.
  17. Put the right amount of each chemical into the three jugs.
  18. Put any leftover chemicals into the plastic bottles for storage.
  19. 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.
  20. Take the top off the developing tank.
  21. Pour the pre-measured developer into the top of the tank.
  22. Tap the tank against the counter to dislodge bubbles.
  23. Agitate the tank by slowly inverting it and turning it back over for the first 15 seconds.
  24. Repeat every 30 seconds for the recommended time (usually 5 to 10 minutes).
  25. Pour the developer back into the jug.
  26. Pour stop bath into the now-empty developing tank.
  27. Agitate the stop bath and let stand for 1 minute.
  28. Pour out the stop bath and replace with fixer.
  29. Agitate the fixer for 15 seconds and then for 15 seconds once every minute for the allotted time.
  30. Pour the fixer back into its jug.
  31. Remove the lid of the tank and run water into the tank for 15 minutes.
  32. 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.
  33. Remove the film from the tank.
  34. Gently pull the film off the reel.
  35. Attach a clip to the top of the film and hang it up. I hung mine from a clothes horse in the bath.
  36. Attach another 2 or 3 clips at the bottom, to prevent the film from curling as it dries.
  37. Hang the film in a dry, dust-free area.
  38. 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.
  39. Cut the film into appropriate length chunks for your scanner / envelopes / etc.
  40. Store dry negatives in plastic negative sleeves.
  41. Afterwards

  42. You can usually re-use the developer several times (although it takes longer each time). Store it in a clearly labelled bottle.
  43. You can re-use the fixer. Store it in a clearly labelled bottle.
  44. Rinse all of the “dirty” components in warm water and dry them thoroughly before putting them away in a clean place.

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.

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