Do It Yourself Film Developing – B&W Traditional
Traditional black and white film is cheap, easy, and looks superb. Digital images and scanned colour film is easy to turn into a black and white image with Photoshop or similar, but neither of these offer the tonal range, the dynamic range, or the look of true black and white silver halide film. But who develops it nowadays? Your local 1-hour shop certainly won’t, and even pro labs might have to outsource the developing of black and white film. But part of the joy of black and white is the control that is afforded to you when developing your own film. It can also give you some much needed quiet time, and some might just love sniffing the chemicals (note: sniffing chemicals is not recommended for extended periods).
So do I need a darkroom? No, not if you plan to use a hybrid . A hybrid is one where you shoot film and then bring it into the digital realm via scanning. Scanning is by far the easiest way of bringing your film to the print ready stage. Photoshop offers more control than you could ever achieve in the traditional darkroom, however there is something special about an optical print which give them a look of their own. Printing is a real skill, and takes years to begin to master. We will not be discussing optical printing (darkroom prints) in this tutorial. This guide will teach you the basic principal behind developing at home, in broad daylight. No darkroom required.
Important Note: Whilst following this tutorial should allow you to yield good results, its intended purpose is to familiarise you with the basic technique and terminology so that you can research and develop your procedure. Different film formats and emulsions, combined with different camera will produce varying results. You may experiment with different developers, agitation techniques, drying techniques, different fixers or baths, or no bath, or a pre wash……….Developing black and white film is not always an exact science, and very few people will have a technique that is identical to the next person. But the image making process doesn’t when the is fired, so get out and shoot some film, and then enjoy experimenting with developing process. It really is half the fun!
What Do I Need
There are a lot of gadgets and devices designed to make your life easier when developing, however none of them are essential. We will outline the bare necessities, and then you can buy the extras as you see fit.
- Change bag or change tent or a large darkproof closet
- Film tank and reel/s
- Bottle opener
- Laundry with trough and some bench space
- 4x 1 litre jugs
- Distilled water (optional)
- Wetting Agent (optional)
All of the above products can be easily found at shops such as Vanbar Imaging. Darkroom supplies appear regularly on eBay also.
For simplicity sake, we will be looking at the developing technique using one shot chemicals. Some chemicals can be reused several times, often with a need for timing compensations.
Most developing times will be given to you based on the solutions being at 20 degrees. If your chemicals are hotter or colder, adjustments can be made to compensate, but usually 20 degrees is the preferred temperature. Chemicals come in liquid form, and powder form. If you have powder developer, a batch must be mixed prior, and usually mixed at a higher temperature than desired for developing. Therefore, powder chemicals should be mixed at least several hours before required.
There are several types of film formats, and each require different techniques. Here we will discuss the development process of 135 format film.
The development process can be broken down into two stages; the film loading stage, and the chemical stage. The film loading stage is where we place the film into the tank ready to receive the chemicals, and the chemical stage is where we add chemicals to the tank to process the film.
1. Once you have exposed the film, rewind and remove the film canister from the camera.
2. Place the film in the change bag/tent or completely dark room, along with scissors, bottle opener, and tank/reel combination. If you are using a change bag/tent, make sure that the zips on the inner and outer layers are done up securely, then insert arms. The film is now in complete darkness, however if you are using a change bag/tent, the rest of the stage can be performed in the daytime. However working in a dim room is advised.
3. Using the bottle opener, pry off the lid of the film canister and remove the film.
4. With the scissors in your right hand, and the film in your left, cut off the film leader leaving a square straight edge on the film. If desired, you can round off the corners with the scissor. You may find that one corner is already rounded. This may help with the feeding of the film onto the reel*.
5. Feed the film into the reel, starting just prior to the ball bearings. Be careful not to handle the film too much. Grabbing on the very end of the film roll is fine, as your images will be a few centimetres from the either end of the film. You will be able to feel the correct location of the starting position, as the reel has protrusions to help with the feed.
6. Push the film past the ball bearing, usually a few centimetres will suffice.
7. The film should now hold into position and you can now grab each side of the reel with each hand. Proceed to wiggle each side of the reels back and forth. This action causes the film to wind onto the reel. As you wind , it may become a little tighter as more film is drawn in to the reel. This can be more evident when working with 35 film. Shorten the wiggle strokes.
8. As you near the end of the film, cut the end of the roll away from the canister. Continue to wind until the entire roll of film has been taken up by the reel.
9. Insert the reel holder through the centre of the reel. If you have a two reel tank, then it is important to insert two reels, even though you may only be developing one roll of film. The reel containing the film must be inserted first, with the empty reel on top. The reel holder forms part of the proof Paterson system and must not be left out of the tank.
10. Once you have inserted the reel/s on the holder, drop into the tank and align the bottom of the reel holder into the groove in at the bottom of the tank.
11. Insert the proof funnel and lock into place. Then attach the lid
12. You can now remove the sealed tank from the change bag/tent or darkened room. Provided the proof funnel is not removed, your tank is now proof. The lid can and must be removed to insert the chemicals.
* There are two main types of reels. A plastic Paterson type reel, and a metal reel. The Paterson reels feed from the outside in, and the metal reels feed from the inside out. I use the Paterson plastic reels, as they are easy to load, and can be adjusted to take 120/220 film also. My description here is based on the Paterson reels.
It is important to work in a clean well ventilated environment. Clutter is your enemy in this stage of the development. It is advisable to have your chemicals laid out in the order of which you will use them. Depending on the climate, you may or may not have to adjust the temperature of the chemicals. More often than not, some adjustments will be required.
1. Establish the developing time required of your film/developer combination, with the /ASA setting that you used to expose it. A chart will have likely come with both your developer and film. Charts are also available from the manufacturers website. A temperature adjustment table may also be available if you need/want to develop your film at a different temperature than that recommended by the manufacturer.
2. Lay out your four 1 litre empty (clean) containers.
3. Add your developing chemical to container one and adjust the dilution to suit. A single roll of 135 film in a Paterson tank will take around 300ml of chemical. If we have a developer such as Kodak D-76 (a popular versatile one shot developer), there may be no diluting required once the original powder solution is mixed. The developer can be stored in a proof container and may last several months in a mixed state. If a developer requires a solution of 1:4, then you would add 60ml of developer and 240ml of water.**
4. Continue this procedure for the bath and the fixer.***
5. Fill the fourth jug with water to the appropriate level. In this case, 300ml.
6. Using the thermometer, check the temperature of the developer. Usually the bath and fixer are stored together with the developer and should be a similar temperature. The developer is the critical temperature to obtain, however the bath and fixer should be within a couple of degrees to the developer.
7. If the temperature is hotter than the manufacturers recommended temperature (usually around 20 degrees although this can vary), the fill the laundry trough with cold tap water, and add ice. If the temperature is colder than the recommended temperature, then add warm to hot water to the laundry trough. Drop the containers into the tempered water, making sure the level of the trough water is slightly below the level of the chemicals in your four containers. If the water is above the level of your container liquid, the containers will bob and become unstable.
8. Once the developer has reached the recommended temperature, remove the containers and drain the trough.
9. Remove the lid from your tank and pour in the developer and start the timer.
10. Replace the lid and follow the developer manufacturer’s recommendation for agitation. Sometimes the film manufacturer may have different recommendations for agitation or development times than those times recommended by the developer manufacturer. Either recommendation should yield acceptable results, although experimentation may be required.****
11. Once the developer has been in the tank for the desired time, remove the lid and pour the developer out of the tank into a container suitable for chemical storage/disposal.
12. Pour the bath (if required) into the tank and replace the lid.
13. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for timing and agitation.
14. Remove the lid and dispose of the bath.
15. Pour the fixer into the tank, replace the lid, and repeat Step 13.
16. Dispose of fixer.
17. Pour the water into the tank, let the tank rest for five minutes, then agitate the tank five times. Dispose of the water and add another 300ml to the tank. Let the tank rest for five minutes, agitate ten times, then dispose of the water. Add another 300ml, rest the tank for five minutes, then agitate twenty time. Dispose of the water.
18. An optional step is to add another 300ml of water along with a wetting agent. This may not be necessary if you have nice clean water, but this step can assist even drying of the film. I use distilled water for all of my chemical mixtures and rinsing, yet still use the wetting agent. I find that I get little to no drying streaks.
19. Once you dispose of the wetting agent mixture, remove the lid and proof funnel from the tank. Take the reel/s from the reel holder and separate the reel with the loaded film.
20. Hang the film to dry in a dust free environment for a minimum of two hours. I hang my film from in my shower. I run my shower for a couple of minutes prior to hanging. This generates steam which can help settle dust. I use film clips on both ends of the film; one to hang the film, the other provides weight to keep my film flat.
**Distilled water is a good option if you have hard water. It is clean, however it does add to the cost of development. Filtered water is another good option.
***Some chemicals do not require a chemical bath, and water can be used to rinse between developing and fixing. Some fixers are not compatible with certain films, but a modern rapid fixer will generally be okay.
****There are several ways to agitate film. Some films require a gentle agitation, but normal agitation will generally suffice. Each agitation should last around 2.5 seconds, and a typical agitation cycle is four agitations in ten seconds or two agitations in five seconds. A typical technique is to hold the tank upright with your fingers curled over the lid. Invert the tank upside down, then return to the upright position. Then rotate the tank a quarter of a turn and repeat. Each inversion is one agitation.
Once the drying process is complete, you are reading to scan your film, or take it into the dark room. The process of Stage 1 and Stage 2 will generally take about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, plus drying time. As mentioned above, there are many techniques for developing film, and this is but one. But the above technique does outline the basic technique, and any additional steps or techniques will only produce marginally, if any, differing results.