And welcome to the third and final part of this mini-series on developing black and white film! I started this series quite a while back, but due to some technical issues with this site I was unable to get this post on here until now, and although it’s long after the rest of the series, I hope you can catch up with the other two posts here, and here, so we can continue directly from where I left off. In these two parts I covered the equipment you would need, as well as the chemicals necessary, to develop film – specifically black and white film – now let’s get on with the process itself
The process I’ve outlined below is one that I follow when developing black and white film, a process I have created by reading a bunch of different and sometimes conflicting articles on the developing process. By reading these different opinions and ideas, and putting them together, with a bit of experimentation, I feel this exact process to be perfect. For me, at least. It has consistently worked out, and given great results, as long as I followed it exactly – and like I mentioned in the other two posts, consistency is absolutely vital when developing film – so I urge you to follow the process as closely as you can too. And if you feel the need to modify it, please do so – but modify it consistently!
- Chemicals must be brought to a temperature of 20° C before being used: the developer chemical must be within 1° of 20° C, and the fixer within 5° of 20° C. The rest can be at room temperature (read the process for more info on this)
- Do not let ANY light directly onto the film: use a changing bag or a completely dark room to place your film into the developing tank. Once it’s in the tank, it’s completely light sealed – you’re safe then!
- Label your beakers as “DEVELOPER”, “FIXER”, “STOP BATH” etc., so you know which beaker is holding what
- Never mix any of the chemicals: this means using different stirrers to stir each chemical, using clean beakers to mix the chemicals in, etc.
- Better be safe than sorry – wear protective eyewear and gloves!
I covered all this preliminary stuff in the other posts, so again…please check them out first! It’ll be much easier to follow the rest of this post if you know what I wrote about earlier
You know the chemicals you will need, you know the equipment necessary – alright, now get all of it ready before you start. To summarize, you will need:
- Developing tank and reels
- Changing bag (or a completely dark room, whichever’s easier to get your hands on)
- Thermometer (a fairly accurate one should do)
- Timer (mobile phones work)
- Measuring beakers (as many as you can have, you’ll find you need ‘em!)
- A bath of water (a large basin or a bucket) large enough to hold at least two beakers
- Film canister opener (bottle openers work fine too)
- Film clips (or any weighted clip like a bulldog clip)
- Stop Bath (optional)
- Wetting agent (optional)
- Distilled Water (not a chemical, and optional too)
Yeah, get all this stuff together and ready it all for use. Rinse out your measuring beakers, your developing tank and reels, your stirrers – anything that has been lying out and gathered dust – and dry them. Remember to wash the reels at least an hour or two ahead as these need time to completely dry before you can load the film – if they’re damp, the film will stick and refuse to wind – never, EVER try to load film into even a slightly damp reel
Ready your work place – kitchen, basement, living room, whatever it is – set it up in an organized manner. It helps! Place all your beakers in the right place, get the chemicals out, prepare everything else in your equipment list and make sure it’s all there. Just get organized. Also, remember that unless you have some magical way of getting your chemicals to the 20° C mark, you need to think about preparing a water bath for this purpose later on. In my case, room temperature/tap water is always warmer than 20°, meaning I need to prepare a cold bath to bring the chemical temperature down. This means that not only do I need to get out my basin – which I have already mentioned in the equipment list – but I also need to have plenty of cold water ready, in order to make a sufficiently cold water bath. Easy enough: just put a couple of extra bottles of water in your fridge – and make some ice cubes; but remember to prepare for this or else your entire process will be delayed. If your tap water is colder than 20°, then it’s even easier – just get some hot water!
Load the film into the tank:
This can be done at any time. The day before even. I usually do it before I start on anything else. Once the film is in the tank, you can leave it in there for days, weeks, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t open it! I already mentioned the changing bag in the Equipment post, which is a really useful thing to have when developing film. If you didn’t get one, you can use a completely light-tight room. Either way, make sure you place all your items in there (in the bag or in the darkroom) before you start – that includes the developing tank (tank, reels, the center column, the LID!), the FILM, the film canister opener (or bottle opener) and scissors
Once you’re in the darkroom (or you’re hands are in the changing bag), feel around for the reels, place them on one side…keep the tank next to it…and try to get your hands on everything so you’re aware of where it all is. Then, grab the film. Open the film with the opener you have – the ‘flat end’ of the canister works best – it might take a couple of tries, but it snaps off in the end. Push the spool out of the canister, and unwind the first bit of the film. Cut off the film leader (the thin strip of film right on top, the first two inches or so). Once that’s done, you can start to feed the film into the reel, and wind it in. When you get to the end, use the scissors to cut the film end off the spool. Pop the reel onto the center column, pop the center column into the tank, screw the top on, and place the lid on top. You’re done!
NOTE: Feeling Negative is a great blog that includes some very useful videos on developing film. Many people asked me to make this post a video instead, but that’s really not my thing. Instead, have a read here, and then check out the YouTube videos I’ve linked at the end! You’d definitely find the video on loading film onto the reels a real help
NOTE: Get a cheap roll of film and practice doing this a couple of times with the light on, so you’re familiar with how it works – don’t make your first attempt an important roll of film!
Ready your timer:
You will need some sort of timer to time every part of the process later on. I use a great free app on my Android phone simply called Darkroom Timer
I have no idea how I would’ve done without it. It’s a basic app, pretty much a programmable countdown timer – but it’s really useful. You can use a stopwatch if you like, but know that you’re going to have to time many sub-processes here, and most often your hands are full. This app lets you set a countdown timer for each part of the process, and sets them sequentially, so after one process is done, it automatically readies itself for the next one. No big deal…a countdown timer that allows you to program more than one timer will work just as well… but this app works beautifully!
Prepare the chemicals:
If you’re using liquid chemicals like I am, you will have to mix them just before developing. Look at the dilutions necessary for each chemical, and mix accordingly. Use gloves and protective eyewear while mixing. In fact, I recommend wearing them right throughout the entire process. These chemicals are very mild, but it’s not that hard to wear gloves and glasses
If you’re using powder chemicals, you can mix them well beforehand – mix the powders with water, and store them, following the instructions on the packet. Once you have the powder concentrate, you might need to dilute that again, into what’s known as a working solution before you can use it to develop film. Or your powder concentrate might be what you use directly, for the process itself. Again, read the instructions on the packet
My liquid film developer needs to be mixed at 1:9 or 1:14, meaning you mix one part chemical concentrate for nine parts water (or fourteen parts water) – naturally, I chose to mix it at 1:14 so I can use less developer and stretch the concentrate! Check how much your developing tank needs, and measure accordingly. My tank needs 375ml for 1x 35mm roll, or 650ml for 2x 35mm rolls.
So, when diluting at 1:14, for 1 35mm roll, I mix 25ml of concentrate with 350ml of water. Simple math! Give it a good stir. That’s it. Mix the fixer in the same way (following the different dilution on the fixer bottle), and if you bought the optional stop bath and wetting agent, mix those too
When I’m mixing these liquid chemicals, it’s usually minutes before the process begins, so to get my 30° C tap water closer to the required 20° C, I use 50% tap water, and 50% cold water from my fridge – I’ve found that this brings the temperature to around 22 C
IMPORTANT: Please remember to use different stirrers to mix each chemical. DO NOT mix any of them together
Get to the right temperature:
As you know by now, the chemicals need to be at around 20° C before they can be used. The developer is the most critical – it needs to be very close to 20° C. The fixer is not quite as fussy, and if you can get it around 15-25°, you’ll be fine. If you have the other optional chemicals, it’s ideal if you can keep them around 15-25° C too, but don’t worry too much about it. Room temperature should work for these…although if you do start using these chemicals at a cooler temperature…that’s right, DO IT CONSISTENTLY!
Ok, you know how to get the temperature right. Get your basin, and prepare the water bath! Yeah. If your tap water is warmer than 20°, like mine, you need a cold bath – full of cold water and ice cubes – and if it’s cooler than 20°, you obviously need a warm one. Alright, assuming you’re going for the cold bath, fill the basin with cold water and ice cubes, and place your beakers in there. Give each one a stir every minute or so, to make sure the chemicals cool evenly, and remember to use SEPARATE stirrers for each chemical! That’s it
Place the thermometer in while you wait. If you want to check the temperature of the other chemical, wipe the thermometer clean and put it in the other beaker. Monitor the developer’s temperature more closely, as this is the most important, AND it is the first chemical you need to use. If you find it’s not cooling enough – if the temperature has leveled off at around 22° or so – add more ice. While I’m waiting for the bath to cool the chemical temperature, I get my timer out, and start the actual process! This is where the fun begins:
The Developing Process
Step One: Presoak (1 minute)
This allows the film to moisten and get closer to the 20° C temperature. Just pour in plain water (same quantity as your chemicals, 375ml or whatever) and let it soak for a minute. I do my usual 50/50 of tap and iced water, so the temperature is roughly 22° C…but the temperature isn’t important here, I don’t even measure it…just make sure it’s fairly close to 20°. Let this go on for a minute and pour it out
Step Two: Developer
The developing time depends on your chemical, the dilution (1:14 etc.) and your film/film speed: use the Massive Dev Chart to figure out how long you should keep the developer in the tank. For example, Fuji Neopan Acros (ISO 100) in Ilfosol 3 (1:14) developer needs 7 minutes to develop fully. Make sure you’ve entered this time into your timer beforehand…it makes things easier
Ok, so once the presoak is done, there’s no real rush. Just wait until the thermometer in your developer beaker reads 20° C. Once it hits the mark, pour it into the tank immediately, and start the timer
Once you pour it in, you need to agitate the tank i.e. turn the tank in your hands, inverting it repeatedly. Do this for 10 seconds (doing about 10 inversions) as soon as you pour it in, and then agitate for 10 seconds every minute thereafter. Each time you agitate, tap the bottom of the tank firmly against the table (or floor) to dislodge any bubbles that might have formed. So yeah…agitate for 10 seconds, tap firmly, and wait for one minute…agitate, tap, wait…and repeat until the time is up. While you’re waiting, wipe the thermometer clean and put it into the fixer beaker to monitor its temperature
15 seconds BEFORE the time is up, start pouring the developer back out into the empty beaker. This is because the developer continues to react with the film even after it’s poured out…it only stops when the stop bath is poured in…so you need to make sure you can pour IN the stop bath at the exact moment the developer timer stops, so that the reaction stops at this time. Therefore, as the developer timer hits zero, the tank needs to be empty. I think 15 seconds is just right to pour it out slowly, and then as the timer hits the mark, in goes the stop bath
Step Three: Stop Bath
45-60 seconds: I use water, and I pour it in and leave it for around a minute. Timing is not very important here, but I agitate the tank non-stop for the entire minute. If you use a chemical stop bath, follow the instructions as indicated
Seriously, water is fine. Use it. I use two stop baths of water. Yes, I use my 50/50 mix here too. First, I pour one in, invert 20 times…pour it out…then I pour the next one in and invert another 20 times. This usually takes a minute. And it works fine
Step Four: Fixer
2-5 minutes: By this time your fixer should be between 15-25° C, which is fine. I usually try to keep it at 20° C, and it’s not that hard to get it right
Ok, just like the developer: pour it in, agitate for 10 seconds, tap firmly, and then repeat agitation for 10 seconds every minute thereafter
You should let your film fix for at least 2 minutes. There’s no such thing as fixing your film too much, so you can safely fix for much longer, even more than 5 minutes. Fresh fixer should do the job in 2 minutes, but as you know (if you read my Chemicals post), you reuse fixer – and after the fixer has been used a few times, it loses strength, and needs more time to fix your film. So, to be safe, I always fix for 5 minutes…be it fresh fixer or reused stuff
Once the fixer is done, you pour it out back into the beaker – and don’t forget to pour it back into a storage bottle to reuse next time
Step Five: Wash
Once fixed, the film is no longer sensitive to light. So you can open up the tank if you want to. Then, it’s time to wash the film. The wash method I use is based on the ‘Ilford’ method
First, take three beakers full of water. Temperature not important, but I try to maintain a cool temperature for the entire process so I add some cold water in there too. Pour the first one in…invert 5 times, and pour out. Pour the second one, invert 10 times, and pour out. Pour the third one in, invert 20 times, and pour out. First part done!
Once washed, unscrew the top of the tank (not just the lid, remove the entire top), so that you can see the reels…and hold it under running water. Make sure the water is running cold, and let it wash for 10 minutes. Yeah, that’s right. Ten whole minutes. Or at least .
Step Six: Final Wash
Just before drying, give the film one final wash. If you got the optional wetting agent chemical, great – you should’ve mixed it in the mixing step, so just pour it in, agitate for as long as they say on the instructions, and you’re done
Instead of wetting agent, a tiny drop of liquid dish wash in plain water works too…so pour that in, agitate for 30-60 seconds, and tap hard to dislodge any soapy bubbles on the film, and pour out. That’s it. No further washing
I use distilled water for the final wash, with a drop of dishwashing liquid. I pour some plain distilled water into the open tank, swirl it around for a bit, pour it out – then mix some distilled water with a drop of dish wash, pour it in the tank, pop the lid back on, and agitate for about 30 seconds. Tap, pour out, and take the film out! Oh, and do NOT wash again!
NOTE: in case you’re wondering what the wetting agent or distilled water does, it makes sure that the film has no water or chemical residue remaining on the film as it dries. Even plain water can have mineral residue that could leave ghastly marks all over your film when dry. This step can greatly reduce the risk of this
Last Step: Drying
Open your tank, remove the reels, open them up, and gently take the film out without touching any frame – pinch it from the edges or right on the top of the strip – and check it out. If it looks cloudy, or milky, or simply not as clear as a negative should be, you probably didn’t fix it long enough, so just put it back in, and fix again (and follow the rest of the process from there). A real nuisance, I’m sure…so make sure you fix long the first time. 5 minutes is usually enough though. If you’re using old fixer, you might want to check your film immediately after the fixer step, without completing everything else and having to go back if it’s not been done right
Once it’s ready to dry, just clip it on to a coat hanger. If you got film clips, fantastic – otherwise, bulldog clips work great. Clothes pegs are fine for clipping the top of the film to the hanger, but you need a bit of a heavy clip to attach on the bottom end of the film strip as it hangs, to sort of tug on the film to make sure it straightens while drying. Hang it in your shower to dry – the dampness of the shower area means no dust, meaning no dust will be sticking onto your damp film while it dries
If you have a microfiber cloth, you can gently wipe the spots of water off the top side of the film (not the side where the image is reversed, don’t touch that side) – and if you have a film squeegee, you can use that to squeeze the water off your film. Some say squeegees can cause marks on the film, but I haven’t used one so I can’t say. If you don’t mind, give it a shot (and share your experience in the comments section!)
And that’s it!
And well, that’s about it. Once it’s dry, cut it up into strips, scan, and pop them in negative archive sheets…or make prints, whatever! The developing part is done
Make sure you dispose your used developer safely – down the toilet is the best way to go – and store your used fixer for next time. If you used a stop bath and wetting agent, read the directions – if they can be reused, store them…if not, dump them
Then comes the boring part: washing up. Make sure you rinse all your stuff well in warm water, especially the developing tank, ESPECIALLY the reels. You’ll curse yourself later if you let chemical residue dry up there, making it very hard the next time you try to load film. Wash all your equipment, store them properly, wash your gloves, and wash your hands! And you’re done
And that concludes my mini-series on developing black and white film. Have fun trying it out, don’t be afraid to experiment, and if you do, let me know how it came out! Some people had great results developing with all chemicals at room temperatures of 30° C…some had disastrous results…so who knows, different things might work for you. If it’s your first time, you might want to stick to this process, though. It really works great for black and white film. Doing color film is very similar in terms of chemistry and in process – just a few minor differences – and I’ve already covered that so check it out here:
If you have any thoughts of any kind, please leave a comment! I’m waiting to hear from fellow film users. And if you want to follow my future stuff, please subscribe via email! It’s the best way, really! Cheers!
Feeling Negative: How to Load Film on Developing Reels – check this out to figure out what to do when you’re in complete darkness!
Feeling Negative: Black & White Film Developing Process – I found that this video really helps, and gives you a better idea of how to do stuff, including the agitation of the tank and more
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By Heshan Jayakody All content oninthis post is my own