Film Photography: Developing Black and White Film at Home, Part Three

Actually Developing Please refer to Parts One and Two for guidance on materials, preparing chemicals, and loading film.

For Part Three, we'll assume that you've prepared your chemicals and loaded your film. It's easy and fun from here on out.

The stainless steel tank I use can hold both 35mm reels (one or two reels at a time) and 120mm reels (only one reel at a time). The tank holds 500ml of fluid. I use 500ml of fluid regardless of what type of film I'm using. I could get away with using less with 35mm film, but the chemicals aren't expensive. This way I know all of the film is being covered with fluid.

Get your premixed developer and fixer out along with three measuring cups or measured containers. If you refer to the picture above, you'll see that I have:

1) a two cup (550ml) measuring cup for my developer 2) a four cup (1100ml) measuring cup for my water (acting as a stop bath) 3) a two cup (550ml) measuring cup for my fixer

I like to keep them in this order, which is how the chemicals are introduced to the film: developer first, water or stop bath second, and then fixer third.

Remember, your solutions need to be at room temperature (68 degrees F or 20 degrees C). If your house is warmer or cooler than this by more than a few degrees, you can measure out your chemicals into their containers and place them in a cool or warm water bath to adjust the temperature to room temperature.

Pour 500ml of your developing solution into the first measuring cup.

Pour 1000ml of water (tap if you have good water, distilled if you don't) into the second measuring cup (the large one). You'll do two rinses in this so you need twice the amount of liquid.

Pour 500ml of your fixer solution into the third measuring cup

Your picture should look like mine above.

Now, you need to figure out how long to develop your film. Bookmark the Massive Dev Chart; it will be your developing bible. Enter the name of your film and the name of your developer, hit search, and you'll get something that looks like this:

In this example, you are using Kodak Tri-X 400 and Kodak D-76 Developer. You shot the film at 400 ISO and you are using a stock solution (the recipe I showed you in Part Two). So, Kodak TriX 400 in D-76 at 400 (or even pushed to 800 ISO) for 35mm film should be developed for 6.75 (this is 6 minutes and 45 seconds, or 6:45) minutes. If you are developing 120 film it's the same time. Notice if you use a diluted solution of D-76, or pushed the film more than a stop, you develop the film longer.

1) Solution

Set your timer for 6:45 minutes (6 minutes 45 seconds) and remove the little cap on your tank lid. Do not remove the lid, just the cap! As long as the lid is on, your tank is still light proof. Carefully pour your developer into the tank. Once the developer is in the tank, start your timer. You will agitate the tank for the first 30 seconds of development time and then for 10 seconds every minute thereafter.

6:45 – 6:15

For the first 30 seconds of developing, slowly invert the tank several times. I slowly turn the tank over in my hands back and forth. Trying to picture the fluid washing over the film from all angles. This is called agitation. Everyone has their own style of doing this, but the general idea is to make sure the developer coats every part of the film surface.

6:15 Stop agitating the tank and lightly rap it on the counter a few times as you set it down. This gets rid of any bubbles that may have formed.

6:15 – 5:15 Let the tank rest on the counter.

5:15- 5:05 Agitate: pick up the tank again and gently turn it over for 10 seconds. After ten seconds, stop agitating the tank and lightly rap it on the counter a few times as you set it down. (See the pattern yet? I do this after every agitation.)

5:05 – 4:05 Let the tank rest on the counter.

4:05 – 3:55 Agitate for 10 seconds, rap on counter to remove bubbles.

3:55 – 2:55 Let the tank rest on the counter.

2:55 – 2:45 Agitate for 10 seconds, rap on counter to remove bubbles.

2:45 – 1:45 Let the tank rest on the counter.

1:45 – 1:35 Agitate for 10 seconds, rap on counter to remove bubbles.

1:35 - 0:35 Let the tank rest on the counter.

0:35 – 0:25 Agitate for 10 seconds, rap on counter to remove bubbles.

0:25 – 0:00 Let the tank rest on the counter.

I'm being very strict with this timing for you in this example. In reality I just pick a time every minute and agitate to make it easier. You'll get comfortable with the process as you do it a few times. Consistency is the key, but exact seconds aren't really necessary.

When your timer goes off, take off the cap (not the lid) and pour the spent developer down the drain. This is harmless to plumbing. Some people reuse developer a couple of times; I don't.

2) Water acting as Stop Bath

Next pour 500ml (half) of your water into the tank and place the cap back on the lid. Invert the tank several times to rinse the remaining developer off of the film. Remove the cap (not the lid) and pour the water down the drain.

Repeat with the remaining 500ml of water.

I always rinse twice just to make sure the developer is off the film.

3) Fixer

Then, you fix your film. I fix film for anywhere from 4 to 5 minutes; some people fix longer and some shorter. From my research and experience four minutes is a good amount of time for fixing. If I've already fixed several rolls in that batch of fixer, I will extend my fixing time to 5 minutes.

Set your timer for four minutes.

Take the cap off (remember, don’t take the lid off!) and pour the 500ml of fixer into your tank. Put the cap on the lid and start your timer.

For the first 30 seconds, you will agitate your tank just like you did during development. Invert the tank slowly for 30 seconds and then rap on counter to remove bubbles.

From 3:30 – 2:30, let the tank rest.

At 2:30 on the timer, agitate the tank for 10 seconds and then rap on counter to remove bubbles. For the next 50 seconds, let the tank rest.

At 1:30 on the timer, agitate the tank for 10 seconds and then rap on counter to remove bubbles. For the next 50 seconds, let the tank rest.

At :30 on the timer, agitate the tank for 10 seconds and then rap on counter to remove bubbles. For the remaining 20 seconds, your film will be resting.

When the timer goes off, pour the fixer back into your fixer container. Remember fixer is reusable. Do not pour the fixer down the drain. It probably won't hurt your pipes or the environment in small amounts like you will use, but spent fixer is toxic. It's not cool to toss it down the drain. You can take it to a developing lab and they can dispose of it for you safely. There are ways to remove the silver in spent fixer, so do your research if you want to dispose of on your own.

At this point, you can remove the lid to your tank. The developed and fixed film can now safely be exposed to light.

Now you have to rinse your film. Rinsing times can vary, but I rinse my film for at least 10 minutes. Place the reel with the film still wrapped on it into a shallow container in the sink. Turn on the tap and adjust the water temperature to room temperature. Aim the heavy flow of water into the container holding the film on the reel and just let it go. I will slosh the reel around in the container, walk away for a little bit, then come back and slosh it around some more. You want to rinse all the chemicals off of the film. It sounds tedious, but don't skimp on this step. Rinse, rinse, and rinse for at least 10 minutes. You want a steady flow of water to flow over the reel.

As you are rinsing, get a clothes hanger or something and put a clothes pin or other clip on it. You need something that can hang from the hanger and clip onto the end of the film. Put your hanger on something high enough to keep the film off of the ground and away from surroundings.

I hang mine in the kitchen from a track light bar, but you can hang it in the shower on the shower rod.

After you've rinsed your film for at least ten minutes, you can turn off the water and unroll the film. This is the exciting part. It *still* excites me every time. Carefully unroll the film. Make sure you don't bump it into anything, even your clothes. You don't want fibers, hair, or dust getting on your wet film.

Attach the end of the film to the clip that's on the hanger and then put another clip on the bottom of the strip to weigh it down. This helps keep your film from curling so much.

Step back and admire your negatives. Pause and enjoy this moment. Then leave them alone while they dry for a couple of hours. This is hard, but you want to make sure they are completely dry before you touch them.

After they dry, you can cut and sleeve them or scan them. Scanning is another lesson best given by someone else.