A Film Shooter’s Guide to Film Part Three: Developing
Cosh is back. In part three of this great series he is going to explain to us the finer points of developing for yourself. So get your beverage ready and have a good read.

Black and white film gives that classic look which you really can’t emulate with digital. Sure, you could run out and buy a bunch of plugins and presets for Lightroom and Photoshop to make your D800’s photos look like they were taken on cheap film – the plugins that add scratches for that ‘vintage’ look are hilarious – but why not just shoot film?

Actually shooting film opens up all sorts of avenues for your regular photographer. Pretty quickly you realise that you can have a ‘full frame’ camera that will produce fantastic photos for a lot less than $500 and that digitising your negs is cheap and easy. For the price of my 5DII and 35 lens (when they were new) I could have paid for all three of my main film cameras, my scanner, my computer, and all of my developing gear.

Let’s face it guys, film just makes sense: unless you’re sending your stuff to a lab.

Labs are funny things. You should support your lab if they’re cost effective, but most of them aren’t. The lab I use for developing Velvia do a top quality job, but if I want to send them a roll of 135 Tri-X they’ll charge me $15 and take three days to get it back to me. For that price I can get a bottle of Rodinal and develop more than 50 rolls with.

I know what you’re thinking. At this point you’re thinking “Hey bro, don’t be a tool. You’re paying for a specialty service! These things take time and time is money.” Well the good news is that the development process is something I teach to 12 year olds: this shit ain’t hard.

So without any further gasbagging, I’m going to teach you how to develop those rolls of black and white film. I’ll be going over two different methods and analysing the pros and cons of each. The two methods are what I like to call standard and stand. The former is for exactitude and precision, the latter is for people who are out taking photos.

Stand development with Rodinal is what I normally do at home. It’s reliable, doesn’t require you to be anal-retentive, and allows you to develop a bunch of different films all at once. It does generally produce a bit more grain, can be tricky with pushed/pulled film, and can also result in a slight loss in sharpness. You’d think that this would deter most people who are serious about their gear from using it, after all it seems silly to use a method that produces more grain with less sharpness, but you’re forgetting that grain is awesome.

Grain is not noise, it is grain. It looks gorgeous. There are limits to this statement (Delta 3200) but if it weren’t true then Ilford never would have made HP5+. Grain adds more than it detracts from black and white photos, why else would people actually buy filters to digitally add grain to their awful photographs?

As for the sharpness, you won’t notice unless you’re taking your Schneider glass out to test its lpmm resolving power: in fact I’ve taken my own Schneider Super Angulons out to test and while the difference is noticeable, it’s no something that bothers me. Sharp photos are still sharp, and a slight reduction in sharpness on the negative will go unnoticed if you’re composing, exposing, and scanning properly. Besides, if you’re shooting street photography you should be as far removed from the pixel peeping ideologues as possible; we all know interesting beats sharp hands down.

So without any further gasbagging, here’s how to stand dev. You’re going to need a few things straight away. We’re going to be going full Baloo here (just the bear necessities) and developing a roll in a way that might seem laissez faire in approach but which really isn’t because laissez faire is a term in economics, dummy.


A tank. Get a Paterson or a Jobo tank. Get one that takes at least three reels at a time. This way you can develop 120 film when you realise you need medium format.

Reels. This is what your film goes on. You will put some scratches in your first few rolls and you will kink the roll a few times. That’s normal. You’ll get better with practise.

A bottle of Rodinal. Rodinal is hardy and reliable. I buy R09 One Shot from Maco Direct. It has a shelf life of around 6 months but I’ve been using my bottle for nearly three years now. This is your developer, it makes an image appear on your negative. It’s really lovely.

A bottle of Fixer. The fixer fixes. So it goes. The fixer fixes the image to the negative, so that you can go and actually look at it under light.

A mixing jug with measurements marked up to 1L. You can use either plastic or glass but not cardboard or obsidian.

Scissors. Get some small ones because you only ever need to cut 2.4mm of anything with them.

A canister opener. These things are pretty great for ripping the bottoms off of film canisters. I use a bottle opener because usually I have a beer at the same time.

Some form of measuring tool. I use a 10cc syringe but that may not be ideal if you don’t want your Mum to visit and think you’re on drugs when she sees it. Most people use a short measuring column.

A light-tight air-tight bottle for your fixer. I use black concertina bottles. They’re cheap and excellent.

And that’s all you need. There’s some other stuff that will be handy to have though:

A change bag. This is a fully light tight bag that you put your film and your tank into which allows you to put the film onto the reel. It’s handy when you’re developing on the surface of the sun and can’t find any shade, or if you don’t have a dark room. With films up to 200 ISO I have developed in my bathroom with the light off. There’s enough light in there for me to see once my eyes adjust, but apparently not enough to damage low speed film. With high speed film I use a professional blanket that my Nanna knitted and I throw it over myself so that I can sit on the floor in the dark. Nevertheless, the dark bag can be handy. But it also gets sweaty in there so get some…

Gloves. Not those silly cotton gloves, they’re a pain. Get some food handling latex gloves. The right ones should cost something like $5 for a box of a hundred and have “Powder Free” written on the box.

A thermometer. Not essential. Someone smashed mine about 6 months ago and I just use whatever the temperature that my tap puts out. So if you don’t have a thermometer just come use my tap as it seems to be the way to go.

A bottle of Stop. I used to use Ilfostop as my stop, but when you stand dev you’re using such a weak dilution that you really don’t need a chemical stopper.

A bottle of Photoflo. Useful for getting your negatives clean and streak free. Pretty good stuff but not necessarily essential.

The Process:

Load your film onto the reel in the dark. Make sure you cut the leader off evenly. If you’re not sure how to load the film, get onto YouTube. I can write an explanation, but you really need to see this sort of thing for yourself. Alternatively just come to my house again and I’ll show you how to load and give you access to the tap as well. I generally wait until I have three rolls of film to develop. Stand development lets you develop whatever you want. I have developed all types of black and white film with this method (so long as they’re shot at box speed) and I’ve done them in all sorts of combinations. I regularly develop my Tri-X with my Rollei Retro and my FP4+.

Getting the film onto the reel can be hard for a beginner, so get a roll of something crap that you don’t like (Fuji Provia is a good choice as I hate it and you’ll be cool if you do too) and practice loading it onto the reel. Practice it in the dark and in the light. Practice it hanging upside down and inside a centrifuge if you need to. 10, 000 hours etc.

Once it’s on there, here’s one super important thing to remember: put all the reels in the tank together. If you have a five reel tank and are developing one roll of film, put in one loaded and four unloaded reels. The reason for this is that I like to do inversions, and if you invert the tank and don’t have it chock full of reels, one could slide up and out of the developer. Then you lose photos, you waste your chemicals, and you waste your time. If you french fry when you’re supposed to pizza, you’re gonna have a bad time.

So load all that stuff into your tank. It’s not rocket science. Now you need to pre-soak the film. Pour water into the tank and keep it running. Shake it around a little and pour it out. You won’t harm the latent image here, you just wash off any dust on the film that might muck with the dev.

On the base of your tank it will tell you how many mls of liquid you need to develop each roll of your chosen film. For three rolls I use 1L of liquid.

And here’s the best part of the process. You use a 1+100 mixture. So for three rolls I’ll use 10mls of R09. I use those 10mls once only, but it’s so little and so cheap that it’s unbelievably cost effective. So pour out 1% of your total required liquid, then add  99% water: I’ve got 10mls of Rodinal and 990mls of water. Rodinal is tough and I generally just use whatever temperature. Room temperature is fine. If you’re developing in Greenland you might want to use the hot tap a little.

So once you’ve got your developer mixed, you pour it into the tank. Put the lid on and do a few inversions. That means tipping it upside down and then right side up, slowly. Do five or ten of these and then put the tank somewhere for an hour. You don’t need an egg timer for this process.

While the developer is doing its thing, mix up your fixer. This process is different for every type of fixer. For Ilfostop it’s a 1+20 mix. You need the same amount of fixer as you had of developer. So here I’m using 50mls of Ilfostop and 950mls of water. It’s supposed to be 20 degrees but, again, I just use whatever.

Mix up your stop if you’re using stop.

Your next step is to make a sandwich and have a pint. You’ve got about an hour to kill. Watch an episode of Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Once your hour is up you’ve come to the hardest part. Pour the Rodinal out and down the drain. Pour in a waves of cold water like you did during the pre soak. This acts as your stop bath. If you’re using a stopping agent, pour that in instead. Pour in the fixer and leave it for fifteen minutes. The fixer should be done in about five minutes, but I always do fifteen as that way I can’t ruin the process by forgetting how many times I’ve used that fixer. Remember, you can under fix, but you can’t over fix. Leave it for six months in Tibet if you like. Pour out the fixer into a jug, then back into a light-tight air-tight bottle.

Now pull out your properly developed negatives. Bath them in photoflo if you’re using it, then peg them somewhere dust free to dry. It’ll take a few hours.

Now you’re done. All that’s left is to cut the film for archiving, and then wait for me to write an article on scanning.

Next time, we’ll look at the standard development process. It’s not nearly as simple as this process, and that’s why I only use it for really important rolls. Stand development yields consistent results and is the process that I suspect most labs do anyway. But that’s enough chit chat, it’s time for you to get shooting and developing. I’ve also got my hands on a Jobo CPP2 that might help me do a tutorial on c-41 and E-6, but it’s currently in another part of the country.

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Another brilliant one from Cosh. Very informative and helpful. I am loving this series, hope to see more soon.