Today I want to talk about an argument that fascinates me: The process of developing black & white film at home.
It is a really wide topic, made of small but important details and a lot of variables; that said we can start!
What you need
To develop film at home you’ll need some accessories/tools, some of them are pretty common, others are not…
But it is all easily available.
Lets start with the essentials:
- A black & white film (clearly)
In my case is Ilford HP5 (amzn.to/2BvVDG2), a film that I know really well and I know what to expect from it. I suggest you to use this same film if you want to follow along, giving the variables introduced by the use of a different film stock.
- A changing bag (amzn.to/35VzYFw)
I recommend the one linked up here, giving its size and the experience I had using it for years.
You’ll need it to transfer the film, from the roll to the developing tank.
- A developing tank (amzn.to/2VXCzKe)
Also in this case I chose a Paterson product.
I personally use the previous model of the one linked up there, but I recommend this one because it allows to develop two rolls of 35mm at the same time or one of 120. I would suggest not starting with bigger tanks, because the bigger size makes them more complex to handle during the developing phase.
- A thermometer (amzn.to/33JPHoU)
This is fundamental to check the temperature of our chemicals before pouring them into the developing tank and start develop our film.
The choice of chemicals comes from personal experience and taste, so I’ll suggest you the ones I use and tell you why I use them.
- Developer (amzn.to/2MvK9c2)
Ilfotec HC (from Ilford) is my choice because it is perfect to develop at box speed but also for push processing the film. The initial cost isn’t really low but this is a one shot developer and the dilution is really high (1+31).
This means making the necessary solution every time and using it only that time, so the concentrate will lasts for a very long time.
- Fixer (amzn.to/2qp6Y8y)
Went with Ilford for this one too, with its Rapid Fixer, even if the choice isn’t really relevant in this case…
As I said previously, this is what I like to use, others may suggest using a stop bath, where I repeatedly rinse with water; other may use something like photo flo at the end of the develop, where I use a “squeegee” and noting else…
Anyway this wants to be a base from where you can build your own style, so what I listed up here should be enough.
Find an empty table where you can place your changing bag, once it is in place, open it from the bottom to put inside of it the necessary tools.
At this point “the path splits” between who wants to develop a 35mm roll and who a 120 one, no worries anyway, I’ll show you both methods.
If we have a not completely re-spooled roll our life will be easier, you’ll only need to cut straight the feeder of the film, and you can start loading it into the developing spool.
Clearly only the first part of it, so you won’t have to do it in the dark, inside of the changing bag.
Instead, if we have a completely re-spooled roll you’ll have to get a bottle opener (for beer bottles) and remember to put it inside of the changing bag, along with all the other tools required to load the film in the developing tank.
For both scenarios (speaking of 35mm) we have to put the following stuff inside of our changing bag:
- Film roll, “pre-loaded” on the developing spool or not.
- Developing spool.
- Spool “pin”.
- Tank funnel.
- The bottom half of the tank.
- A pair of scissors.
- A bottle opener (in case we are using a completely re-spooled roll).
We do not need the tank cap (for now), because closing it with the funnel will result in an already light tight tank.
Once it is all in our changing bag, we can close it tightly and insert our hands in the sleeves present on both sides.
Now stats the fun part of the process, where we’ll have to spool our film onto the developing spool. I recommend to try first outside of the bag with a “sacrificial roll”, to be prepared to do it in the complete darkness of the changing bag, where we won’t be able to see our hands.
The developing spool has two “gates”, one for each side, to indicate were to start “feeding” the film in, once inserted in those gates you’ll have to rotate both sides of the spool, front and back, to drag the film forward. (Sometimes the film could stuck, if this happens to you do not panic, just release few centimetres of it and try again; just pay attention to touch the film as little as possible).
if we have a non completely re-spooled roll we can start with it already “initiated” on the developing spool (as said previously), but if we have a roll that has been completely re-spooled we’ll have to open it with the bottle opener from the side that hasn’t the “pin”, cut the feeder and than start loading it onto the spool, all in the darkness of the changing bag.
Once that the film is loaded onto our developing spool, you’ll have to cut the end of it to separate it from the film cassette.
Done that we can close the tank, paying attention to put the “pin” inside of the developing spool and the spool itself inside of the tank, closing it with the funnel. Once it is all closed and light tight, we can open the changing bag and get all of our stuff out.
Medium format is surely more complex to load into our developing tank compared to 35mm, but nothing impossible.
The first thing to do is to expand the developing spool to make it able to accept a 120 roll, to do that you’ll need to rotate one side of it to unlock it, expand it and than lock it again.
Now we can put all of the necessary inside of the changing bag:
- Film roll
- Developing spool
- Developing spool “pin”
- Tank funnel
- Lower part of the tank
You won’t need scissors and/or a bottle opener.
Once inside of the changing bag you’ll need to unspool the roll, separating the backing paper from the film itself, being careful of touching as little as possible the emulsion. Ended the unroll you’ll have to remove the tape that keeps the paper and film together, so you’ll be able to feed it through the developing reel (from here on the process is the same as 35mm).
Now that we have the roll (35mm or 120) loaded into our developing tank, we can start the developing phase.
DISCLAIMER: A said before, I’ll explain my way of developing, with my choice of chemicals, this process could vary depending on the different film stock and chemicals.
For this phase we’ll need the help of the “bible” of developing, The Massive Dev Chart (digitaltruth.com/devchart.php), here we’ll find all the information about developing times based on our developer-film stock combo.
Chosen the film stock: Ilford HP5+ and the developer: Ilfotec HC, we’ll have this spreadsheet in front of us:
I’m going to assume the film roll was shot at box speed (iso 400) and the dilution that we are going to use will be 1+31, this combo will result in a developing time of 6.5 minutes (6 minutes and 30 seconds) at 20°C.
Write those data down, are going to be useful down the line and lets start prepare our chemicals.
In a 1 litre container (graded if possible) we can start adding water until we reach 968.8ml (a syringe could help).
It is important for the water to be at 20°C, or as close as possible to that.
When the water is ready we can open the Ilfotec HC and with the help of a syringe, lets take 31.3ml of it and pour them in the container with the water and mix.
Once that it’s all well mixed, our developer is ready; close the concentrate bottle and put it away (I stock it in a fridge to prolongue its life).
The fixer differs from the developer because is not a one shot but can be reused, so could be useful having some empty bottles to store it (I use some old beer bottles with an “air-tight” cap).
We have to mix 800ml of water with 200ml of Rapid Fixer concentrate, giving us a 1 litre solution at a 1+4 ratio. As for the concentrate Ilfotec HC, cap the bottle of Rapid Fixer and put it away.
We can officially start the developing our film roll, first of all we have to check the temperature of our chemicals (to be as close as possible to 20°C), if they are not at a right temperature we have two options:
- The optimal choice would be taking them to temperature, using hot/cold baths.
- If we are in a rush and the discrepancy from 20°C isn’t too big (±2 degrees), we can compensate incrementing or reducing the developing time, using the calculator on The Massive Dev Chart (digitaltruth.com/devchart.php?doc=timetemp).
Now take back the developing time that we have wrote down before (or the compensated one) and prepare a timer (I use the one on the phone).
Before pouring our developer in the tank it is important to know how to agitate during developing.
As for all the things that “orbitate” around the film developing topic, even for agitation there are different school of thoughts, I rely on what the maker of the gives film stock suggests, so in this case the Ilford method.
So 4 agitations in 10 seconds, every minutes.
That said, lets pour the developer in the tank and start the timer; follow the agitation method until the time ends, remembering to agitate slowly and rotating the tank.
Ended each agitation phase, tap the tank on a flat surface to eliminate any air bubble that can be stuck to the film.
When the timer ends we can empty the developer and wash the film with water to stop the developing of it.
It’s important to repeat the washing multiple times, agitating the tank and constantly changing the water, to remove any developer left inside.
After a dozen washing we can start fixing the film, so set the timer to 5 minutes (more or less, fixing doesn’t require the same precision of the developer, after five minutes we should have a properly fixed film, that is no more sensible to light) and pour the solution into the tank, remembering to follow the agitation method (the same we used with the developer).
Ended the five minutes of fixing, empty solution in a container to preserve it, you’ll can reuse it.
Now the film is no longer sensible to light, we can open the developing tank to facilitate the washing. For this phase I suggest putting water in the tank and spinning the spool using its “pin”, washing the film (repeating this process as long as necessary, frequently replacing the water with fresh one).
Le Your photos are developed, now you can unlock the spool and take the film out. It is important not to touch the emulsion, especially where the actual frames are, so handle it by the sides and hang it with a clip so that the film is fully suspended (as far away as possible from dust).
Now leave it to rest for 4/5 ours, I use a squeegee to remove any excess of water stuck on the film but if the squeegee is damaged could leave scratches on the emulsion, so it is better to let it dry without touching it.
Congratulations! If you followed along this guide you should have ended up having your properly developed film roll.
Once the drying is done you’ll be able to cut the film in strips and put it in film sleeves (amzn.to/2Bwptuk) or (amzn.to/2Mz5Yaz), personally I cut every 6 frame the 35mm, while every 2-3 frames for 120 (6×7).
You can also scan your negatives, following my guide: ilnegativo.com/en/how-to-scan-negatives/!
That said, I hope that this tutorial on developing your black & white film was useful to who is starting to approach tho the world of film developing but also to who needed to dust off this practice. In the near future I’ll make a complementary video about this topic on my Youtube channel.