Developing black and white film might seem difficult, but it’s actually pretty easy! In this tutorial I’ll go over the basic science behind developing film and the equipment and steps needed for you to develop your own film. So let’s jump right in shall we?
Film is a long strip of “paper” covered with a light sensitive emulsion. When you expose that emulsion to light (by taking a picture), the particles in the emulsion react to the light. Once you’ve shot and rewound a roll of film, it is back in a light tight encasement, meaning that the film is not exposed to light anymore.
In order to remove the film’s light sensitivity and show the negatives on the film, you need to develop it. This is done in 4 steps: developing the film, stopping the development, fixing the film and washing the film.
During the development phase, the film is put in the developer chemical for a limited amount of time (the amount of time depends on the film+developer combination). The developer chemical reacts to the film and brings out the negatives. Once the development time is up, the film must go in a stop bath to completely stop the developing process, otherwise you’ll end up with overdeveloped negatives. After the development process has been stopped, a fixer chemical must be added to stabilize the film, removing all light sensitive material from it. Lastly, the film has to be washed to remove all remaining chemicals (developer, stop bath, fixer) from it.
And that’s it! The negatives on the film have been developed and the film is no longer light sensitive. Now let’s go over the equipment and steps needed in order to develop our film.
- Changing bag or a pitch black room
- 1 big (1 liter) measuring Cups
- 1 smaller (50ml or so) measuring beaker
- 1 wooden spoon (or something else to mix the chemicals with)
- Timer (a timer app will do too)
- 2 or 3 Plastic or glass bottles
- Developing tank
- Chemicals: Developer, stop bath, fixer
- Wetting agent
- Negative storage sheets
1. Check the amount of chemicals you need for your film. This amount is often noted somewhere on your development tank. If not, check the manual for your tank online.
Example: On the bottom of my Paterson tank, it states that I need 350 ml of chemicals for 35mm film and 500 ml for 120 (medium format) film.
2. Dilute the amount of chemicals you need. Consult the instructions on the bottles of each chemical to see how much you need to dilute. Note that some developers are what they call “one shot developers”. This means that you can not re use the diluted developer. The stop bath and fixer are re usable. I use each batch about 10 times.
Example: If I were to develop a roll of 35mm Tri-X in my Paterson tank, I would need 350 ml of developer, 350 ml of stop bath and 350 ml of fixer. I’ll make 400 ml of each just to make it a nice amount to work with. I will use Rodinal as my developer, Adostop as my stop bath and Adofix as my fixer.
Adostop I have to dilute 1+10, so I fill my measuring cup with 360 ml water and 40 ml of Adostop, stir it and pour it in a bottle.
Adofix I have to dilute 1+4, so I fill my measuring cup with 400 ml water and 100 ml of Adostop, stir it and pour it in a bottle.
Rodinal is a one shot developer, so I mix that one last as I don’t need a glass bottle for it. Rodinal I have to dilute 1+50, so I fill my measuring cup with 390 ml of water and 10 ml of Rodinal and then keep it there for development.
3. Have a completely dark room or changing bag at the ready.
Example: The room is completely dark when you can’t see any light come in, and you can’t even see a hand in front of your face. The toilet is often a good place to use a dark room if you seal off the door with dark towels.
4. Check the development times of your developer + film combination of the Massive Dev Chart and bookmark the chart.
Example: If you have a 1+50 dilution of Rodinal developer and a roll of 35mm Tri-X 400, you click on Rodinal in the first drop down, Tri-X on the second and on the chart that appears you can see that you need to leave your film in the developer for 9 minutes.
5. Check the bottles of your stop bath and fixer for stopping and fixing times. These are the same for all films you use, so you just have to remember them once.
Example: Adostop has a stop time of 1 minute and Adofix has a stop time of 4 minutes.
1. Start off by loading your film in your development tank in the changing bag or a dark room. Once the film is loaded, you can take the tank out of the bag, or switch on the lights. The development tank doesn’t let light through, so it won’t affect the film.
You can check this video to help you out, it’s quite tricky in the beginning.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. It takes practice, but once you’ve got it, you’ll never do it wrong again.
2. Set a timer with the development time (that you found in the Massive Dev Chart) and pour in the developer. Agitate gently for the first minute and then 10 seconds after each minute. Once the timer goes off, pour out the developer.
Example: For Rodinal (1+50) + Tri-X400, you need to develop for 9 minutes. So you pour in the developer, agitate for the first minute, then you need to agitate after every minute.
3. Set the timer for the stop bath and pour it in the tank. Agitate the whole time during the process. After the stop bath is done, pour it back into the bottle for re use.
4. Set the timer for the fixer, pour it in the tank and agitate for the first minute. Then agitate 10 seconds after every minute. Once the film is fixed, pour the fixer in a bottle for re use. Now that the film is fixed, it is no longer light sensitive. Keep the tank closed though, for the washing phase.
5. Now you’ll wash the film using the Ilford method. There are more ways to wash film, but this is the way that wastes less water.
Pour water into the tank, invert the tank 10 times. Pour the water out, fill the tank up and invert it 20 times.
Pour the water out again, fill the tank up with water and add 2 or 3 small drops (that’s really all you need) of wetting agent. Invert the tank 40 times and empty it once you’re done.
6. Once your film is washed, hang it up in the bathroom and watch it dry in all it’s negative glory!
Because most people shower with hot water, the shower is a relatively dust free environment and it’ll make sure your negatives don’t get dust on them.
7. Once your film is dried you can scan your negatives and store them in sheets.
Different developers give different results. While some give grainy negatives (like Rodinal), there are others that suppress the grain (like Kodak D-76 or Kodak Xtol).
It’s all about what you’re looking for in your photography. Don’t hesitate to research some of these developers and see what they can do for you.
If you’ve tried developing your film using this tutorial, please let me know how it goes, I’m always looking for feedback to improve my tutorials :).