We’re back with the second installment in our continuing feature on developing black-and-white film at home, and it’s time to get down to business. Are you ready? Let’s make sure.
You’ve read Part One, yes? You’ve gone through the list of of what you’ll need and gathered everything into a nice, tidy kit? You’ve hit the town with camera in hand, shot some film, and now you’re just wondering what’s next?
Good! Great work. Now the fun can begin.
We’re about to guide you through your first run of what will undoubtedly become a fantastic obsession and an unmatched creative outlet. So set aside an hour of your evening, gather up those glorious canisters of exposed possibility, and let’s get to work bringing some images to life.
We’ve written a full article here with step-by-step instructions, but we’ve also included a video at the bottom of the page for those of you who might need some supplementary visuals. Take a look, and have fun.
The first thing to remember is that developing film is easy. Many people are intimidated by the idea of developing film or using chemicals at home. But don’t worry; the chemicals are non-hazardous and a successful development is as simple as baking cookies. Follow the recipe and you’re good.
That said, developing film can become very complicated if we start paying too much attention to the vast number of opinions about the subject! There are countless products, chemicals, and techniques that can be used, and much has to do with personal preference. This guide won’t cover everything or get into the nit-picky stuff, but it will cover the basics. By following these steps, any beginning developer will be able to take an exposed roll of film and turn it into a perfectly developed negative.
So let’s get to it.
Preparing Your Tools and Chemicals
Before we do anything, you’re going to want to splay out your components in an intelligent and logical order. Start by laying out your changing bag, opened development tank, spirals, and film to be developed. You’ll also want to lay out your scissor, film canister opener and film leader retriever.
Now that the tools and materials are laid out, it’s time to prepare your chemicals. Determine the capacity of your development tank, as this will determine the volume of developer, stop bath, and fixer you’ll need to mix. Once you’ve done that, simply read the bottle or literature that came with your chemicals and mix the proper ratios in the proper volume.
Pour the chemicals and water into your vessels and give them a stir. Be sure not to cross-contaminate your chemicals by using the same beakers, funnels, and stirrers for more than one chemical. You should now have three beakers arranged in an order of use that you’ll remember.
Working temperature for many developers is approximately 68ºF/20ºC, but yours may differ. Whatever the required temperature, fill a basin with water that measures a couple of degrees higher than the target temperature. Place the vessels of mixed chemicals in the bath of warm water and let them acclimate.
Preparing Your Film
As your chemicals are reaching optimum working temperature, you’re going to get your film ready for developing. If you’ve never done this before, it’s helpful to practice on an expendable roll of film before taking the plunge with images you can’t afford to lose.
First, use the film leader retriever tool to retrieve the film leader. Once it’s pulled from the light-trap opening on the film canister, withdraw the film just a few inches. Cut the leader off vertically with a scissor. Do this for all of the film to be developed.
All subsequent steps in the process must now be conducted in total darkness to avoid exposing the film, so whether you’re using a changing bag or a light-tight workspace (closet?) you’ll need to be able to do the following entirely by feel.
In our case we’re using a changing bag and stainless steel spirals, so we’ll be assuming the same for you. But there are also ratcheting, plastic spirals that are arguably easier for beginners. Whichever type you’re using, practice makes perfect.
Place your scissor, the film developing tank, and spirals into the changing bag in an order that you’ll be able to recognize by touch. Close the bag to make a light-tight working environment. Now insert your arms into the bag and grope around for your first roll of film. Next, locate a spiral, and simply insert the cut end of the film into the retaining clip at the center of the spiral being careful not to touch the backside of the film. We’ll now begin spooling the film onto the spiral.
By applying light, even pressure to the sides of the film we’re able to form it into a slightly bowed shape. This allows us to rotate the spiral and allows the film to naturally return to its unbowed state, which smoothly inserts the edges of the film along the gaps in the steel spiral. It’s a tricky process, and that’s why we suggest practicing first with a roll of expendable film before jumping into the dark. With a few dry runs, you’ll get the hang of it. Within just a half-dozen attempts most people are able to spool a roll of film onto a spiral with commendable fluidity.
Once you’ve gotten the film loaded on the spiral, find the scissor within the changing bag and carefully cut away the film canister. Be cautious and avoid cutting off your finger. If you did happen to cut off your finger, discard it and continue.
The spiral is now loaded with film, so drop it carefully into the developing tank. If you’re developing more than one roll, go ahead and repeat the process until all of your to-be-processed film is loaded into the tank. Seal the tank with the lid. You should now have a light-tight developing tank that can be safely removed from the changing bag and brought into the light.
Developing the Negative
Good job. You’re ready to start developing.
If you’re not there already, move to a location with running water and a sink. Get your timer ready. You can use any number of timing devices; a watch (with a second hand or chronograph function), a dedicated dark room timer, or any number of apps. I would not use a sundial.
You’ll need to determine the proper development time for the film and chemicals you’re using. The most valuable online resource for this information can be found here. Input your film and developer and it’ll spit out your recipe. Convenient!
Set the timer for the required development period as specified by the manufacturer. Our development time for a roll of TX400 using Sprint Systems developer was twelve minutes. Open the sealing cap on the top of the developing tank. Don’t confuse this with opening the development tank itself, as this will expose your negatives to light. The sealing cap is the smaller cap that’s on top of the tank lid, and it allows fluids to be transferred into and out of the tank without letting in light. Through the opened sealing cap, pour in the mixed developer smoothly, but quickly. Start your timer.
Seal the tank cap and invert the tank a number of times for the first minute of development. This process is commonly called “agitation” and it’s among the most important steps in the development process. Agitation facilitates complete and even development by flowing developer across every frame of the film. Different developers call for different methods of agitation, but often the process consists of continuous agitation for the first minute of development, followed by ten seconds of agitation for every subsequent minute.
Continue this process until the recommended development time has elapsed, and then remove the sealing cap and pour out the developer.
Next, pour in the mixed stop bath. This chemical stops the development process and is less time-critical than development. Seal the tank and agitate for one minute straight. If your particular stop bath calls for a longer period, follow those instructions. But after one minute of agitation and one minute of rest, I pour out the stop bath and pour in the fixer.
This chemical makes the image permanent, and the fixer I use requires the film be submersed for about three minutes. I agitate for the first minute, and then ten seconds for each subsequent minute.
Once the fixation is complete, pour the fixer into a storage bottle for future use (or discard, if you don’t care to save it). Your film is now safe to see the light of day. Open the development tank and let running water flow through the negatives as a final wash. The proper method is to extend a rubber tube to the bottom center of the spirals and let the water bubble up and out, but I just put it under the running tap and it seems to work. The final wash should last between five and ten minutes.
When this has passed, remove the spirals from the tank and unfurl the film from the spirals. Attach film clips to both ends of the film and hang the film to dry. At this time, use a squeegee, sponge, or lint-free cloth to remove excess water. Be careful to apply as little pressure as possible to avoid damaging or scratching the negatives. Now, let the negatives hang until dry, a process that can take up to an hour.
When the negatives are dried, cut them into sections of six and insert them into filing sheets to stay organized, prevent dust collection, and avoid scratches.
Guess what? You’ve just developed a roll of film. Easy, right? You bet it is.
But what are you going to do with all these negatives? Sure, developing negatives is fun, but what’s the point if you can’t look at them on a screen or on paper? Worry not- in our next installment of this feature we’ll show everything you need to know to convert those gorgeous negatives into digital files and tangible paper prints. And as much fun as making negatives can be, wait until you try your hand at the next step.
And here’s the full video for those interested.
If you’ve got any questions let us know about it in the comments section. We’ll try our best to help out.