Develop Your Own Film Part Two-Process And Steps-Episode 12

Welcome to part 2 of this series on how to develop your own film. If you missed it, be sure to check out part 1 (episode 11 of the podcast) for information on the equipment and chemicals you will need. Part 3 of this series will cover the process of digitizing your developed negatives so you can share them with others, so stay tuned for that in a couple of weeks. OK, on to the fun!

There's nothing like film

Film Developing Guides

There are plenty of "how to" guides to developing film on the internet. Just Google it and you'll find all you want and more. I did that when I was researching how to develop film but found a couple of useful resources that I thought I'd share:

1. Ilford's "Processing Your First Black & White Film" which is available as a PDF and summarizes the process very well. It's biased towards Ilford but the steps are laid out well and you can transfer it to just about any film/developer combination.

2. Another great resource for information on developing times using various combinations of film and developer is the Massive Dev Chart at Digital Truth. They also have a lot of other information about developing film including temperature/time conversion charts. In addition to the website, they also sell a darkroom app that you can use on your iPhone or Android. I haven't used the app yet but I may give it a try here soon.

My Film Developing Video

Back in 2012 I recorded a video showing the basics of the film development process. I think it will be helpful is seeing how relatively easy it is to develop your own film. It's about 10 minutes in length. Enjoy!:


Film Developing Step-by-Step

Here's my step-by-step guide to developing film. The key to successful film developing is to take your time, follow a specific process, be accurate in your measurements and temperature control and, most importantly, HAVE FUN!!!

Before You Start-One Additional Piece of Equipment

I failed to mention in last week's episode one vital piece of equipment- a thermometer. You definitely need to be able to accurately measure the temperature of the liquid mixtures used in the film development process. I use a kitchen thermometer/timer but any one will do.

Here are the steps:

1. Practice, Practice, Practice...

Before you develop your first roll of real film (with potential images on it) get yourself a roll or two of test film to practice with. You want to make sure you are comfortably able to load the film on the plastic reel and get it into the tank, all while not being able to see what you're doing. It took me a good 10-15 trial runs before I felt confident in my abilities. Don't rush it, just deliberately load/unload the film from the reel until you can do it by feel only.

2. Load Film Into Tank

Once you've practiced you're ready to load the actual film onto the reel inside the changing bag. take your film, development tank, scissors and bottle opener/film-canister opener) and place them in the bag. zip up the bag, insert your arms into the bag and carefully open the canister, trim the film and load it onto the plastic reel. Place the reel on the spindle and put it in the tank and close the tank with the screw on lid. Congratulations!, you're now ready to develop.

3. Pre-Soak

Before you add developer to the tank, fill the tank with "properly tempered" water (usually 68 degrees) and let the film soak for about a minute. This helps wet the film and reduces the chance that the developer will leave spots/bubbles on the film. After a minute drain the tank. You're now ready to add the developer...

4. Developer

The developer is the star of the process. It's what makes the images appear on the film. Each developer and film combination requires a specific ratio of developer to water and time of development. Make sure to read the documentation that comes with the developer or use the Massive Dev site to get the proper ratios/times. Use your graduated beaker to measure out the correct amount of developer and mix it thoroughly with water at the proper temperature. Add the developer to the tank and start your timer. Many people suggest you agitate the film on a regular basis in order to keep fresh developer flowing over the film. I agitate the film for 10 seconds each minute and seem to get good results. Once the time is up, drain the developer and immediately add the stop bath

5. Stop Bath

The stop does what it says, it stops the development process. That's important because you don't want to over-develop the film. The ratio of stop bath to water is usually 1 part stop to 14 parts water but be sure to check the specifics for the particular stop bath. Add the well-mixed stop bath the the tank and agitate thoroughly. You will want the stop bath time to be at least 15-30 seconds but you can leave it in longer with no ill-effects. The stop bath is basically very strong vinegar so you can pour it down the drain when done.

6. Fixer

After you drain the stop bath solution you add the fixer. The fixer is what "permanentizes" (my word) the image on the negative. It works by drawing the remaining Silver from the negatives. Fixer is fairly difficult to mix correctly so make sure you do a good job of mixing. The time for the fix bath is 3-5 minutes. Unlike developer and stop, fixer can be used a number of times before it is exhausted. In addition, since the used solution has a "heavy metal" -Silver, not Black Sabbath :-)  -in it so you don't want to pour it down the drain. So, when you are done, pour the fixer into one of the storage bottles to be used next time. Fixer should last for 5-10 rolls of 35mm film. You can test the fixer by applying a drop of it on a piece of exposed film and if the film clears in a few minutes the fixer is still fine. If the film doesn't clear you can replenish the solution by adding some more new fixer to the container. When you need to get rid of used fixer you can add  a piece of steel wool to the mixture, wait a couple of days, and then remove the "sludge" that is left over. Keep the sludge and recycle it at one of the local "hazardous waste" recycling events that many communities have. The remaining liquid can then be drain-poured with lots of water used to flush it down the drain.

7. Rinse and Photo Flo

After you fix the film you need to completely rinse the film with tap water. You can remove the top to the tank at this point and fill/empty the tank a minimum of 3 times, making sure that the negatives are completely submerged. Some people recommend placing the film under running water for 10 minutes but I think that is a bit over the top. Three to 4 good rinse cycles should be fine.

After the final rinse you will want to mix up a tank full of water with a couple drops of the Kodak Photo-Flo, which helps the film sheet water faster and reduce water spots on the negatives. All it takes is a few drops at most so don't over do it. Take your tank to a spare bathroom and hang it up to dry.

8. Dry

Take your film to a spare bathroom and hang them up to dry. I just use a hanger over the shower curtain rod and attach the negatives to the hanger with a binder clip. Be sure not to touch/smear the wet negatives while hanging them up. Add another binder clip at the bottom of the roll to give it some weight so it doesn't twist/curl as it dries. To help reduce the amount of dust I turn on the shower for a minute to get some steam in the room, hang up the film and then close the door. The steam helps to knock down any dust in the air thus saving you time in the scanning process. You want to make sure the negatives dry completely before handling them. I usually let my negatives dry overnight. After that I trim the negatives down to size so they will fit in the archive sheets.

Congratulations! you've developed your first roll of film. You are now an "official" film photographer :-) Now that you have your developed negatives you will probably want to scan them into your computer so you can share them with others. Part three of this series (in a couple of weeks) will cover the scanning process so stay tuned for that.

Until the next episode.......Happy Shooting!