With the emergence of mobile phone photography, digital SLRs and phone apps the art of film photography is going through a bit of a resurgence lately… a bit like vinyl records. I’ve been capturing images with my phone almost as much as my dedicated camera and one of the things you notice most about the photography apps is nearly all of them offer some sort of filter. Most of those filters are based on film formats from years gone by. The problem with the filters is that though they might improve your image, and in some cases completely ruin them, they don’t offer the same experience as shooting film did.

One of the reasons I started shooting film is because I felt I was missing out on 50% of the fun, the experience of using film cameras, and so I wanted a way to do that in a way that was accessible and cost effective. Developing your own black and white film is a good way to do this. There are so many cameras out there that shoot 35mm and 120 each of which has it’s own style and personality which is embedded in the finished image. Ranging from ‘toy’ cameras like the Holga and Diana cameras to the more expensive Bronica, Hasselblad and Mamiya medium format cameras there is something for every one at every entry level.

I wanted to write a guide that would encompass some of the main aspects of shooting and developing black and white film because I remember when I was beginning I had many questions and found the answers scattered across the web and I want to compile those answers in a nice friendly article that my friends and anyone else interested can use to get their feet wet, so to speak.

Helpful Things to Remember

When you’re about to put your film onto the developing spool make sure the spool isn’t wet from previous developing sessions. It makes it harder to get the film onto it if the spool is wet as you’ll find the film starts to stick to the plastic and could potential ruin your film if it gets creased and scratched. Always wear a pair of disposable protective chemical gloves. When disposing of used chemicals do so responsibly. Phone your local council waste department for advice on disposing of chemicals. Some councils have a drop off point where you can take your chemicals in a chemical container for disposal. Do not flush down the toilet, the sink or down the drain and do not dispose of in garden soil or near vegetable or fruit patches. Wash clothes and skin that come into contact with chemicals after the process.

Equipment

Chemicals: Developer (Kodak D70), Stopper (Ilford Ilfostop), Fixer (Ilford Rapid Fixer)

Hardware: Developing Tank, Film Spools, Squeegee, Thermometer, Funnel, Chemical Containers (1L) x 4, Measuring Jug (1L), rubber gloves, overall / old clothes

Process

The process that is outline here is based on the process recommended by AG Photographic. I’ve been using variations of this during my experimentations. This will give you a great head start on the development procedure and you can modify this to suit.

Getting your chemicals ready

Firstly we want to get our chemicals ready if we haven’t already. For black and white photography you will be working with 3 different chemicals.

Developer

This begins the development process. The chemical reaction which exposes the area on the film that has been exposed to light when you press the shutter button. I use Kodak D76 developer for several reasons; it’s pretty cheap at around £2 for a sachet. It comes in powder form so is easy to store and when disolved in water you get 1L to work with.

To prepare your developer you need a container that can hold 1L of liquid. Fill it with 800ml of warm water, you can use the water from your hot water tap as long as it’s not too hot to touch. Empty a satchet of developer power into the water and stir until completely desolved. Once you can see no trace of the white developer powder top the container up to 1L and then put the lid on. Make sure you label the container or put a D on the lid so that you know this is the developer. You should let this cool to room temperature. You now have your stock developer solution prepared.

The developer solution can be used 3 times before needing replaced. I keep used developer solution in a smaller container and after I’ve used it 3 times I’ll dispose of it and replace with solution from my stock 1L container. This keeps the stock solution fresh in the 1l container.

Stopper

This halts the chemical reaction that happens when you added the developer. We are using Ilford’s Ilfostop solution. This is concentrated and as per instructions you need to dilute at 1:19 ratio. So for every 1ml of solution you will need 19ml of water.

The temperature of the water you will use should be around room temperature although it doesn’t matter too much as we’ll let it sit anyway and it’ll get to room temperature after a few hours.

If you are developing a single roll of 35mm film then you will need 16ml of stopper and 284ml of water. This adds up to 300ml which is the capacity of a single 35mm roll developing tank. If you are developing a roll of 120 film then you will need 31ml of solution and 560ml of water. The developing tank for 120 film is slightly larger than a single 35mm tank and can be used to develop two 35mm rolls at the same time, a single 35mm roll or a single roll of 120 film. It might be easier just buying the larger tank and using it as required.

Put your stopper solution into your container and put the lid on. Label as suggested before and leave to stand to room temperature. As we are making our stopper to a required volume we only need one container and don’t need a container for stock. Stopper can be used 5 times. After the fifth time we can dispose and make up another batch.

Fixer

This is used for washing away any unexposed areas of silver on the film and that means that the film is no longer sensitive to light making it safe to remove the film from the developing tank.

The fixer is also a concentrated solution and needs diluted, although this time more than the stopper at 1:4 ratio. For 35mm film you’ll need 75ml solution and 225ml water. For 120 film you’ll need 147ml of solution and 453ml of water. As we are making our fixer to a required volume we only need one container and don’t need a container for stock. Fixer can be used 3 times. After the third time we can dispose and make up another batch.

Colour film requires much stricter temperature conditions. With black and white film you will be developing at around 20 degress. This is quite close to regular room temperature in the UK and this is what makes it so accessible to people because you could literally use your bathroom to develop your films. Just make sure the room you are going to use isn’t too hot or too cold and that your chemicals have been sitting at room temperature for a few hours out of the reach of children.

Liquid Chart for 35mm film

 35mm Chemical Water Solution
Developer 109g Sachet 1L 1L
Stopper 16ml 284ml 300ml
Fixer 75ml 225ml 300ml

 Liquid Chart for 120 film

 120 Chemical Water Solution
Developer 109g Sachet 1L 1L
Stopper 31ml 560ml 600ml
Fixer 147ml 453ml 600ml

 

Loading the film

Now that we have our chemicals ready the next step is to load the exposed film from your camera. The process differs slightly from 35mm to 120. One thing that is the same however is that this must be done in complete darkness.

The following video is a good guide to loading 35mm film.

And this video is a good guide to loading 120 film.

There are a couple of ways that you can make sure you are doing this in complete darkness. The way that I do it is to tape up any windows with bin liners and make sure there is no light coming in under the door or from any other place. Then hiding underneath a duvet and holding a sheet of plain white a4 paper I wait a minute or two to see if I can see the white paper. If you can’t see the paper then you’re good to go.

The other way is to buy a changing bag which lets you pile all your tools and film into the bag and change the film over in daylight. You’ll still be doing it blind though as you can’t see in the changing bag. All touchy-feely.

Processing

To summarise so far, we should now have our chemical solutions made up and ready. We’ll have 3 containers; 1 with stock developer, 1 with stopper and 1 with fixer. We’ll have 1 empty container which will contain your used developer solution.

We should also have our developing tank ready with our first roll of film inside.

We are now ready to begin developing our first roll of film! At last!

The following times are suggested for Kodak T-Max but I’ve also used it for Ilford black and white films. As you gain more experience you can start experimenting with the timings to influence contrast, grain and exposure.

Have a stop watch ready. Firstly measure out 300 ml of developer solution into your measuring just. Now take the jug and pour that solution into the top of your developing tank and put the lid on when you’ve done that. Start your stop watch. We need to develop for 8 minutes. However, we also need to add another variable into the developing process; agitation. This means taking the developing tank and turning it upside down for a second before putting it back upright. When you agitate the film develops quicker because the solution in direct contact with the surface of the film is replaced every time you agitate. This keeps the chemical reaction at it’s optimal level. Agitation also increases contrast but may also decrease sharpness.

So with that in mind every 60 seconds agitate for 10 seconds (4 or 5 inversions). After 8 minutes pour out the developer into the container for used developer. You can use this developer another 2 times, but be aware that the longer you leave the developer between sessions the less effective it becomes as the developer begins to expire.

The next step is to pour in the stopper solution for 30 seconds. You should agitate for the full 30 seconds.

After 30 seconds pour out the stopper back into its container and then pour in the fixer.

We keep the fixer in for 5 minutes. Every 30 seconds agitate for 10 seconds. After 5 minutes pour the fixer back into the container.

The final step is to wash the film. Some people buy a special solution for this step called a wetting agent but unless you live in an area of hard water this is not neccessary. Use water at room temperature. I always forget to prepare my room temperature water for washing and so normally just use a mixture of warm and cold water from my tap directly into the developing tank.

Fill the tank with water and invert 10 times. Empty the tank and refill. Do this 4 times to make sure.

Now you are ready to remove the film from the tank. Take special care doing this because it is possible to scratch the surface of the film at this point and these scratches will show up when it comes to scanning your negatives. Use the squeegee to remove excess water and hang in a clean environment with good air circulation. I normally hang them from the shower curtain rail using rail hoops with a paper clip attached and turn on the extractor fan and leave to dry for a few hours or overnight.

 Stage Time Agitation
Developer 8 Minutes 10 seconds every 60 seconds
Stopper 30 Seconds 30 seconds
Fixer 5 Minutes 10 seconds every 30 seconds
Water (10 times then refill) x 4 refills

I’m sure you’ll agree that seeing your developed negative hanging there drying is a very satisfying experience. Not only are you a film photographer but you’ve just expanded your knowledge base. Being able to tell people that you develop your own black and white film can be a great conversation starter.

Resources

http://www.caffenol.org and Flickr group http://www.flickr.com/groups/33051635@N00/ for finding about how to use coffee to develop your film. Perhaps a more environmentally friendly method.

http://filmdev.org/ is also a great resource where people post up their developing recipes, film types and images of their results. This is great for finding things that work for other films that you might be interested in trying or other developing chemicals.




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