part1 © 2011 Ross Holmberg. All rights reserved.

Black and White film developing (part 1)

I love shooting film; I love the look of the images, the feel of the cameras, and the focus it demands when you’re out shooting. There’s also something very satisfying about taking the chemical process of your image from start to finish, and pulling the film out of the developing tank to see it for the first time. Developing your own film is an important step in that process, and to immerse yourself in the art of film photography, you really should give it a try. For that reason, I’ll be posting a tutorial in 3 parts here to get you started developing your own film at home.

In part 1, I’ll go through what you need, and we’ll run through the process itself step by step in the following posts. Do keep in mind though, you should consider this process malleable to some extent; everyone does it a little differently, and you’ll find your groove quickly once you give it a try. The text will probably seem a little verbose, but just remember that when you’re actually doing it yourself, all this will fall into place nicely. The videos I’m including should also help to show how the process actually goes in a more succinct way than the text.

First and foremost, let’s go through what you’ll need before you get going:
- Exposed film. Get shooting, take some photos using your B&W film of choice.

- Daylight developing tank. This is a tank that you put your film in for processing. It’s light-tight, but will let each chemical flow in and out freely. It should also seal up nicely so you can invert the tank without spilling any chemicals. Make sure your tank has the light-trap, rubber lid, and centre column included with it.

- Film reel. This is what holds your film nicely in place while it’s in the developing tank. The reels will usually come with your developing tank, so you shouldn’t have to find this bit separately.

- Changing bag. Until your film is developed, you need to keep it away from light. Getting it from the film canister (assuming it’s 35mm film) to the film reel and into the developing tank is a time when you’ll need to make sure the area is completely dark. A changing bag is designed to do this nice and easily, zipping closed at one end, with holes for your hands to get inside at the other. Anything you do inside the bag will happen in complete darkness, so no ill-effects for your films.

- Measuring jug. You need to measure some volumes of liquid, so one of these is very handy. Depending on the size of your tank, different size jugs might suit you better. For a single 35mm reel you’ll be measuring up to about 300mL at a time (double that for 2 reels and so on).

- Thermometer. Ideally, you’ll want to have some control over the temperature of your chemicals, so I’m including a thermometer here for that reason. Some people develop without worrying about this, but for any kind of accuracy in your process, you’ll definitely want one.

- Developer. This is a chemical, usually coming in a bottle. To get you started I’d recommend something like Ilford Ilfosol 3, but any “one-shot” developer (meaning you make a solution, use it once, then throw it away) will work nicely. There are heaps of developers out there to try, and each will give slightly different results.

- Fixer. The other chemical you’ll need, also usually sold in a bottle. Any B&W film fixer will work fine, one of the more common ones is called Ilford Rapid Fixer. Note that fixers are generally not used as “one-shot”, but instead reused several times. After you use it once, you pour it back into a bottle, and use it again next time. 1L of solution will usually fix up to about 20 rolls of 35mm film.

- Wetting agent (optional). A wetting agent is nice to have, and will help your films to dry evenly. If the water supply where you are is good, you’ll probably be fine without this, but I like to use one. A small bottle is pretty cheap, and will last for hundreds of rolls of film.

- Bottle opener. This is to get the top off your film canister, most beer-bottle openers work well.

- Scissors. To cut the ends of your film as it goes on the film reel, and also to cut the film into strips after the process is finished. No special requirements here.


Once you’ve got all the essentials, you’ll need to get the film into the developing tank. We’ll go through that in the next post, so stay tuned.

UPDATE: part 2 is now online.

One Comment

  1. Jon Thornton

    Great instructional videos Ross.

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