Last September I received as a birthday present all the essential equipment to start developing my own film, sheets of film and photographic paper.
Since then I’ve developed a fair number of rolls, found myself pleased with some of the results but also learned more than a few things from my mistakes. As I think of this blog as the place where I share The Good but also the Bad and the Ugly, it’s my intention to collect in one single post (or maybe two…) all the images which have gone wrong so far. In the meanwhile, here is a step-by-step guide on how to develop your B+W film at home without setting up a darkroom.
This is the list of the things you will need:
Pair of film clips
Step 1. Loading.
Insert your tank, reel, can/bottle opener, scissors and roll of film into the changing bag. Use the can/bottle opener to open the 35mm film canister and pull out the film. Scissors will be needed to cut the leader and then the end of the film from the spool. In case you have a roll of 120 film, just separate it from its paper backing.
Wrap your film around the reel (you can find dozens of how-to videos on the Internet but I think this is one of the clearest) and put the loaded reel into the developing tank. Only when you are sure that the tank is tightly closed, you can remove it from the changing bag and start preparing the developing chemicals.
Step 2. Mixing.
From this point on, most part of the action takes place at my kitchen sink which I keep chemicals free using a washing up bowl. I also use disposable nitrile gloves and an apron to protect myself from possible splashes.
Measure all your chemicals (developer, stop bath and fixer) following the manufacturer’s instructions. The combination of film type, film speed and developer you are using (I use Ilford Ilfosol 3) will determine the length of time required to develop the film. To find out development times for a particular film/development combination you may want to use The Massive Dev Chart.
Once the chemicals have been mixed, bring them to the correct temperature putting the jugs in the kitchen sink which has been previously filled with water at 20°C or more if your kitchen is as cold as mine. I’ve often read you shouldn’t trouble yourself if the temperature is +/– 1ºC than the recommended one because B+W film, unlike colour which requires stable temperatures throughout the process, is fairly forgiving. This might be true but, because I’m a meticulous person who likes to be on the safe side, I prefer to bring the developer at 21°C to allow for a slight temperature drop during processing.
Step 3. Development.
Bring the tank to the kitchen sink, remove the cap and pour the developer in. Start the timer and follow the tank instructions. I use the Paterson Universal Tank so I insert the agitator, twist it back and forth three or four times, tap the bottom to dislodge any possible air bubbles and put the cap back on. At the and of the first minute and of each subsequent minute, I invert and tap the tank.
As the developing chemicals become exhausted very shortly after touching the film, agitation is very important. But bear in mind that too much agitation or a too vigorous agitation can damage the surface of the film leaving sprocket marks on it.
A few seconds before the end of the development time, remove the cap and pour the solution out of the tank. This developer solution won‘t be used again, so it can be poured straight down the sink.
Step 4. Stop bath.
In the next two steps time and temperature are not as critical as in Step 3. Nevertheless, I would recommend following the chemicals instructions exactly.
Precisely at the end of the development time (Step 3) pour the stop bath in. This will arrest the development process immediately. I use Ilfostop so I put the cap on, turn the tank twice and pour the solution out after ten seconds. I’ve read you can also use water instead. Just check on the Internet the sequence of steps as I think ten seconds and two turns won’t be enough.
Step 5. Fixer.
After pouring the stop bath out*, pour the fixer in. Immediately put the cap on, agitate by inversion once and and tap the bottom of the tank as in Step 3. Agitate again at the end of each minute. As I’ve said before, the time is not critical provided it is over 3 minutes.
*Stop bath and fixer can be re-used so pour them in storage bottles.
Step 6. Wash.
Once the fixer is out, the film is no longer light sensitive so you can remove the lid of the tank (the funnel) and wash it under a running tap for about ten minutes. Alternatively, use the Ilford method which consists in filling the tank with water at the same temperature, +/– 5ºC, as the processing solutions and invert it five times. Drain the water away and refill. Invert the tank ten times. Once more drain the water away and refill. Finally, invert the tank twenty times and drain the water away.
Wetting agent should be added to the final rinse water. I don’t use it, but you may find it useful if you live in a hard water area.
Step 7. Drying.
Remove the film from the reel and attach one of the clips to it. Hang the film from a hook which must be about 2m off the ground (I hang mine in the bathroom) and slowly unwind the film. This is my favourite moment as I can get my first quick peek at the images on the negative! Remove any excess water from the film using wet fingers or squeegee tongs. Attach the other clip at the bottom of the film. It will act as a weight and help the film to dry flat.
Leave the negative to dry overnight.
Step 8. Tidying up.
Yes, it is the most boring part but it’s very important that you wash and dry all the tank’s parts and the measuring graduates and the mixing jugs and the chemical mixer and… whatever needs to be washed, before putting everything away.
Last but not least, a few words about the disposal of the chemicals. As I’ve already said, you can pour developer and stop bath down the sink (obviously I’m talking about small quantities here) unless you have a septic tank system. If you have a septic tank system, you should phone your local authority and ask for disposal instructions.
Fixer can not be poured down the sink as it contains silver. You can pour it in a transparent plastic bottle and de-silver it by putting steel wool in it. Wait a couple of days and you’ll be able to discard chemical and wool safely. Another method would be to pour the exhausted fixer into a bucket and leave it outside to evaporate. For obvious reasons, this last method would never work in a country like Ireland.
Camera: Canon EOS 300
Film: Ilford XP2 Super
Location: At home