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
1) Loading your film
Cutting the leader
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 [email protected]
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.
That’s a great article, a very helpfull and straight forward guide.
I have just started to get the hang of developing my own film, it’s great fun and quite therapeutic, it’s a feeling of accomplishment when the film is hanging there. I just got a decent scanner too… Which is another story!
Hi Bob. Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m glad you found the article helpful. I love that feeling when I see my negatives hang there. Congrats on the scanner!
Great point! I don’t use gloves in the videos or photos, but it would be of great benefit to use gloves when handling your negatives. Thanks Bastian!
I also wrote about this stuff a while back! Check it out: http://mountain-light.tumblr.com/post/20388408426/darkroom-report :)
Cool, the pictures are better than what I had sent too ^^
Nice article, easy to follow. I’d add that you might also find concentrations like 1:2, which is not the same as 1+2
thanks for the article.
don’t you care for temperature of your chemicals?
Hi Alexandre! Unlike color film, B&W film is much less sensitive to deviations in chemical temperature. I usually just make sure everything is at room temperature, and everything develops just fine.
If you care for good and consistent results you should care a lot about the temperature of your chemicals.
Speaking of Kodak D76 1+1, a temperature shift of +2 °C, shortens the developing time by 10%.
Developed my first roll of Tri-X last week in a community lab. We used a very similar approach to what you’ve shown here.
Two questions: How/where do you dispose of your chemicals? Do you have any advice on film scanners?
Thanks for the write up!
With developer and stop bath, I do poor down the drain. Fixer will never go down the drain. Fortunately I have access to a chemistry lab where I am able to dispose of used fixer. I have heard that putting some steel wool into fixer will draw most of the silver out, and make it relatively harmless to poor out. I can’t fully suggest this, but I have heard it works. You might also want to check with your local photo lab for suggestions. Congrats on your start in film developing! Welcome to the club!
I forgot to mention. Scanners can be really affordable or really expensive. For some just starting out I would suggest purchasing relatively cheap because you want to make sure film is right for you. A dedicate 35mm is preferable. A plustek 7600i is a great affordable choice of you aren’t shooting MF. If you are shooting MF you will need a flatbed scanner. An Epson v700 or v750 would be great, but you can find a v500 for as little as $80 used! I use a v500 with ANR glass and it works great. Good luck!
That is one really nice guide!
Not seen one anywhere that covers it so well using both words & photographs – Bravo Nam!!! :)
Thanks Cidereye! I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. Make sure to check out the videos too! It can clear things up that might be a little vague in the article. Cheers!
Nice article….. I just went a step further after setting up my “darkroom” in the extra/guest room….. just love seeing the image appear on paper in the developing tray……
First a word about Paterson tanks. They need to be really..I mean really dry. Any water in the reel when you load film will make a mess of the film you are loading.
Agitation should be followed by a good tap of the tank on the sink or something, I used to keep a piece of wood in the darkroom for this, this will dislodge “air bells” bubbles that cling to the film and cause round undeveloped spots.
Temperature makes a big deference, yes B&W has a fairly large range of temp, but that means 4 to 6 degrees 68F (20C) being the usual standard. It isn’t that the film wont develop but your results may be erratic. Developer activity is dependent on temperature and effects the time of development. So you need to know the temp. A temperature below 65F or so wont produce enough activity with out long wet times and above 72F times may become to short for reasonable agitation. Also some developers, D76 comes to mind, will become erratic much above 72F. Other temps are less critical, however with 35mm film you want to keep wet times fairly short to prevent grain clumping etc. What I generally have done is to fill the sink partway with water at a reasonable temp and place my chemistry bottles in the sink to temper for 20 minutes or so. Watch the water when you wash film in the sink, depending on the vagaries of your domestic water supply, all it takes is someone turning on the shower to shift the wash temp 20 degrees to cause emulsion reticulation and if hot enough the emulsion separating from the base. I have seen both happen in home and lab settings.
Last, photo-flo, instead of putting it in the tank try filling a clean try with water and photo-flo. When the film is washed take the end of the film that will hang at the top and draw the length of the film through the photo-flo mixture in one motion and let it drip,then hang it to dry.
Thanks for the great tips! Many will find this helpful :)
Good article. Just a couple of things to say if I may. Firstly I’ll second everything Jeff says above, esp about temperature. I live in the tropics – room temperature here is usually 30C. I try to process in the morning when it’s coolish still, and I use a pre-soak with water at 18C to bring the average temperature of the tank down. Then when I add the developer – usually at around 19C the tank stays pretty close to 20C throughout the development, even without a water bath. The pre-soak has the added benefit for removing the anti-halogenation layer from the film and stopping your developer from turning an outlandish colour.
Next – gloves. I don;t use gloves but many people are sensitive to the chemicals – esp the fixer. Best to wear disposable waterproof gloves while handing chemicals and developing – the tank invariably drips everywhere.
Stop bath : I have been processing films with the 60s and I don’t use a stop bath. It is not really necessary. Water will do.
I could be a must if your water have high Ca++ or other elements that can lead to solid deposits on the film.
I strongly recommend to use some, you can use also a drop a liquid soap for washing-up.
hi,i have a film of pic ….sudenly i lost my pic but i have his film(negative)…but there is problem this film is cut from side to center it is possible to get its print
Great help. I never realized it was so easy! I suppose I had just assumed it was an expensive and black magic process. Just found your site today and loving the shit out of it!!
Can someone please tell me how much stop, fixer and photo flo I need to use when developing? After I pour the D76 out, do I then fill the tank up with the stop bath solution etc, or do I need less than a full tank when using the above chemicals?
advise or links on how to load steel reels?
OK, I support Jeff Mickey’s comments, many of which I was going to make here. I always use a pre-soak (plain water at the same temperature as the developer). This has 2 benefits: (1) if the room temperature is low or high, it will bring the tank and film to the right temperature before the dev goes in; (2) it will prevent the air bells that Jeff referred to. Tapping the tank after inversion is a good idea, but a pre-soak will make sure that little bubbles (which love to stick to dry emulsion) don’t become a problem when the dev goes in.
longwei said “… you can use also a drop a liquid soap for washing-up.” This is not to be recommended; Photo-flo is purpose-made for the last rinse before drying (NOT before the final wash – that will just remove the Photo-flo!). Using any sort of liquid soap, you don’t know what you are putting on your film. It will work OK if you’re not worried about keeping your negs for a long time, but you are better advised to use the real thing.
This may seem like a huge ask/task but….. Is there any way this could be turned into a pdf file or similar for those (like myself) who do not have internet all that regularly? Would really like to read further but having to go to somewhere with internet makes it awkward to action what is being read! Any responses/criticisms welcome!
There was no mention of how to get the film out of the canister before loading the reel. Maybe it’s not so obvious to some people and maybe you have some advice to avoid scratching the film.
In answer to the most recent post: the best way to get the film out of canister is to take a standard bottle opener to the bottom of the canister, hook it on the rim and pull straight up.
Lift off the cap and take the film out. As far as stop bath is concerned: don’t waste your time with it for roll films. After you’re done developing, pour out the developer and put your tank under running water (at 68F/20C) for two minutes. Then fix…then wash…then use Photo-Flo (or, even better, Fuji Dri-well). There are a few cardinal rules about film processing: Your work area and your equipment must be clean and dry; your temperature must remain constant; your chemistry must be fresh; don’t worry about chemistry, as it is cheap…don’t re-use it, and don’t worry about pouring it down the drain (unless you’re running a commercial lab); don’t over-agitate your film (unless you’re really going for grain); and be sober…have your fun after you’re through (there’s nothing worse than fixing before developing…great sorrow will ensue!). Discipline and Dedication in your film processing equals great fun during printing. The better your negatives are, the less time you’ll have to spend contending with dodging, burning and wasting time with dust and pinholes (speaking of dust…here’s a radical idea…before printing…thoroughly clean your enlarger….lens, bellows and condensor…the works).
Nice article! Congratulations on making it simple. So many people over-complicate processing when it’s actually pretty easy. For temperature, a degree or two either way makes no visible difference. For time, 30 seconds either way makes no visible difference. Sure, you can get really fussy about it all, but for a beginner I think this article is perfect – it builds confidence that processing can be done at home without stress.
I develop B+W film… but I wonder, is there some way to mark the film, before it is developed so I know which roll is which… Right now I have a series of 3 rolls (not much I know) that are in order (time wise) but I would like to know after developing which was the first roll I shot, 2nd roll, 3rd…
I have tried scratching a number into the leader going into the developing tank but it ends up being very faint…
Do you have/know some equipment for the 110 mm Film?
The 110 mm doesn´t fit in those reels that everyone has. Or there´s some kind of trick?
Great article! I am looking into shooting film again and your article is encouraging. Thank you!!
The simple and precise article, Jeff! Well done! Just a update and suggestion to any newbies reading my comment here! For chemicals, just go to B&H and order DF96 monobath powder kit worth $16.99 for 1 litre chemistry! Its super simple kit to develop B&W photos no need for separate developers or fixers or stop bath! Just pour and develop! Personal tip > if you are from outside the US and your country COULD charge duty/customs! Just make sure to order nothing else than this kit so you cannot be charged for customs duties! Because its size is just 200 grams or something! But if you add more items you will be ripped off by authorities! Believe me! Cheers!