First things first: Pulling a roll of self-developed film out of the developing tank is rewarding, no matter how many times you’ve done it. Developing your own film does not only save you money, it also makes you appreciate your images more. Being in control of the photographic process from start to finish is not as hard as you may think. You don’t have to be the modern-day Ansel Adams, the margin of error allowed when developing film is not as minimal as you may fear. To some starting out with developing may be somewhat overwhelming, but with the right gear in place, it’s a walk in the park.
Your exposed black & white film needs to find its way into the developing tank. This part of the process is the only one that needs to be done in complete darkness. There are changing bags designed to do this in broad daylight, but a bathroom without windows, with a towel covering cracks under the door, a plastic bag inside a hoody in a darkened room, anything that shields the film from being exposed to light during the process will do.
Before doing this in darkness, you definitely want to sacrifice a roll of film for some dry practice. Align the beginning of the film with the opening of the developing spiral. Gently start rotating the sides of the spiral back and forth, while applying pressure to the very side of the film with your index fingers on both sides of the spiral. Gradually wind the film further and further into it, and insert back into the tank once the film is fully winded up. Make sure your tank is properly sealed, before exposing to daylight.
The spools can be a little funky, but don’t lose your cool and keep your fatty fingers off the film.
Get all your gear in place, mix up the chemicals as described on packaging and bring up to temperature, most commonly 20 degrees celsius. If your developer is too warm you can throw it in the fridge for a second. If it's too cold, emerge the mixing container into to warm water bath.
The Massive Dev Chart will be your friend throughout your B'n'W career and provide you with specific developing times for different film & developer combinations. Be mindful of keeping your chemicals away from coming in contact with food or things you'll eat from. As you get into the art of black & white, you’ll figure out your personal preferences of film and developer combination, but the kit by Ilford & Paterson will set you up with all the tools needed to develop any kind of film in the future.
This is where the magic happens and you'll want to stay off the gram while doing it.
The exact process is up to the developer and film combination. You’ll be able to drag more contrast or even sharpness out of your images through certain techniques and combinations, but if you’re just getting started you may want to opt for an easy-to-use combo.
In this example we develop HP5+ for 6,5 minutes at 20 degrees celsius, agitating (a cool word for carefully flipping over the tank) the first 10 seconds of every minute, and lightly tapping it on the floor to loosen air bubbles on the film afterwards. Different developers may require other agitation patterns and development times.
Pour out the developer back into the container and dispose of it according to local guidelines once the developing is done. In some cases developers can be reused.
The stop bath ends the developing process and rinses out residual developer before the fixer is applied. There is many store-bought options out there, but also plenty DIY solutions using vinegar, acetic-, or citric acid if you want to save some bucks in the future.
The fixer stabilises the image and washes out silver halide residue and ends the film's sensibility to light. This should be done thoroughly to make your negatives safe for archiving. As for everything, there are multiple options on what fixer to use. Generally, Ilford's rapid fixer is easy to prep and has some good mileage.
A similar agitation pattern to the one used while developing, and about 6 minutes in the fixer will make your images permanent.
The most ecological way to water off your film and finish the process is suggested by Ilford: You fill the tank with water, give it five inversions and pour it out again. Afterwards do the same with ten inversions, another one with twenty and a final one with five.
Add a wetting agent to help with streak-free drying, especially if your tap water has a lot of lime. You can carefully wipe off excess water from your film by using your fingers as a squeegee.
Drying is best done in a dust-free environment, bathrooms are usually a good idea. Curtain clips work well, if you don't have professional film clamps. The more time you give a negative do dry, the safer it will be for archiving. After drying, cut the film into pieces and store in an archival film holder.
These are the essential items you'll need to start developing. Ilford & Paterson's Simplicity Kit is an easy entry, comes with everything you need for your first development and can be used with any film & developer for future use. Foto Impex or macodirect are good resources to find anything you'll need.
- Archival Storage Sheets (pay attention to film size)
- Towel for spills
Thrilled as you are from holding your first self-developed roll of film in hands, you quickly realize a strip of negatives is not a final product. Continuing your organic image journey by learning how to do gelatin-silver prints may be too much for one afternoon, so you'll most likely want to digitalize your image.