Developing your own film – a how to guide
New JCH guest contributor Nam Tran has been kind enough to share with us his technique for home developing film. I know a lot of people want to try it but don’t know how, so this is a very easy to follow guide on how to develop for yourself.
Film is lovely. I love loading a new roll into my camera, and feeling the film advance to the next frame. It seems that with the endless advances in photographic technologies, there has been a resurgence of film users; But the one statement I hear repeated countless times is regarding the high expenses associated with using film. I believe that using film can be extremely economical if you minimize some of the superfluous expenses. Developing your own film will immediately cut the cost. So I would like to show any reluctant first time film users how to process your own film. It is fun, brings you emotionally closer to your photographs, and will save you some money to buy more film!
Let’s Start! Color or B&W?
Since I am writing this with the beginner in mind, I will be going over processing B&W film. But you shoot color? No worries because if you can develop B&W, you can develop color. I only strongly suggest developing B&W for your first time because color film is very sensitive to chemical temperature. Once you have gotten the hang of developing B&W film, you may choose to move to color. By then you will be familiar with the steps of developing, and the only new thing you have to worry about is the temperature of the color chemicals. So shoot some B&W film first.
What do you need to Start?
You don’t need that much to start developing. Total start up materials cost around $70 U.S. and can be even cheaper depending on what you choose. After the initial cost, the chemicals will cost around $10-$15 dollars every 20-25 rolls of film. I put materials under two categories, tools and chemicals. I list the materials below, and brands I recommend for your first time.
Developing Tank (Patterson 35mm tank and reel)
Changing Bag (Adorama sells great bags for a great price)
A timer of some sort
Developer (Kodak D-76)
Stop (Any stop is fine)
Fixer (Sprint Record speed fixer)
Photo-flo (This is optional)
The 4 Easy Steps To Developing
First you will need to load your film into you reel. You should sacrifice a roll of cheap film to practice getting the film onto the reel. Since you will probably be using a changing bag, you will not have your sight to aid you in getting the film loaded. So when practicing close your eyes and try to do it blind. Once you are a master, you can try it on your actual exposed roll.
Developing film is nothing more than a series of chemicals. The only thing that varies is how long you leave the chemicals in the tank. This length of time can be found on the box your film came in. An easier source is the Massive Dev Chart provided by Digitaltruth photo (They also have a fantastic iPhone app). On the website you can enter your film type and speed, and it will tell you exactly how long to keep the developer in for.
You will notice that the development chart has numbers that look like this (1+2). This simply means 1 part developer and 2 parts water. For your first time, just do a (1+1) mix, and develop for the amount of time stated by the development chart.
Note: 1+1 does NOT mean 1 part powder developer and 1 part water. You need to make the liquid developer from the powder first. Then you can take 1 part of the liquid developer to mix with 1 part water.
Once you have your dilution, just pour it in your tank. Agitate it for first 30 seconds. After that, make sure to do inversions every minute until the proper time has elapsed (An inversion is just turning your tanking upside down and right side up for 10 seconds). Poor the developer out, and continue to the 3rd step.
Note: Please follow the times very specifically. If you develop less or more than the time stated, your negative will come out over or under exposed. So just be sure to keep an eye on the timer.
The hard part is over. If you have gotten this far the rest will seem like more of the same. Poor the properly diluted stop into the tank, and agitate it for 30 seconds. After 1 minute you can poor the stop out. Now it’s time to fix the film.
You are almost done! Everything is all developed inside the tank. Now we need to make the images permanent by making the film insensitive to light using a fixer.
Pour your properly mixed fixer into the tank. Again, agitate for 30 seconds. Do Inversions every minute. After 5 minutes you are done. Your film is now developed!
Note: Fixer can be reused. I reuse it no more than 3 times.
Wrapping Things Up
You need to rinse all the chemical of you film. At this point you may choose to add Photo-Flo. Photo-Flo prevents watermarks on your negatives when they dry. It’s not mandatory, but will help you get nice clean negatives.
Wash for 10 minutes and hang to dry. Clip a small weight with a clothes hanger at the bottom of your negatives to help them dry straight. If your film does end up curling, just cut and sleeve them. Then put them between some heavy books for 24 hours. They will be straight as an ironing board when you take them out.
That’s it! I included a lot of information here. You will see when you start that the process is actually very easy. It’s a great feeling to see your developed negatives the first time. It’s gratifying to know that you were involved in every step of making that photograph. If you have any question please feel free to contact me at Nam@namtranphoto.com
Nam has a website and a blog that you should check out. Lots of interesting articles and info about photography. He has also made a couple of videos about this, check out these links:
Do you have anything to add? What are your techniques or tips? Please comment and tell us all how you like to do things.