Print Story HOWTO: develop black & white film at home
By komet (Thu Apr 06, 2006 at 02:17:13 PM EST) proper photography, not this new-fangled digital stuff, cowwqas. (all tags)
With 35mm film cameras now available second-hand for a few £ or even for free, there has never been a better time to get into classical black & white photography. There are many valid reasons for doing so rather than using a digital camera: my personal one is that it's fun and has nothing to do with computers.

If you have access to a scanner with a transparency unit, then you're all set. I don't cover making black & white prints in this article as this requires much more equipment. But by developing film yourself and then scanning it, you already gain a lot more control than sending it off to a lab. Plus, as I said, it's fun.

Do I need a darkroom?

No you don't! All you need is a small area which you can darken totally for the few minutes it takes to load the film into a daylight tank. I have successfully done so by cowering under a continental quilt as well as locking myself into a cupboard, but if you have any area you can make totally dark that's ok. A windowless basement is ideal. Another possibility is to buy a changing bag, which is a light-tight bag with elastic sleeves you can put your arms through.

So what do I need?

You probably already have the following around the house: scissors, a stopwatch (or clock with seconds hand), 3 measuring jugs that you do not use for food (or 1 measuring jug and 2 other jugs), a thermometer, clothes pegs and a laundry line that is at least 5ft above the floor.

You need a 35mm camera, obviously. Any old banger will do. You can also make a pinhole camera, but I don't recommend this until after you have developed a few films.

Get hold of a black-and-white film from a photography shop, and take photographs. You can use any film except the following two: Ilford XP2 and Kodak T400CN; these are designed to be put through colour chemistry. The best films for a beginner, IMHO, are: Ilford HP5 plus or Kodak Tri-X. Both are ISO 400 films, though I suggest setting your camera to ISO 320 at the most (I usually use HP5+ at ISO 250).

You need, at the minimum, the following chemicals, available on eBay or from photographic suppliers: a film developer and a fixer. Ideally also get a stop bath. I suggest getting all chemicals in liquid form to start off (they are also supplied as powders, which give you cancer if you fuck up). Suggested film developers include Ilfosol S, Ilfotec LC, Kodak TMax, Tetenal Ultrafin Plus. You can use any fixer, though a rapid fixer is best. Stop bath is just acetic or citric acid; again, get any make, or mix your own from drugstore chemicals.

You will also need a daylight developing tank. If you photo shop is run by an old gentleman in tweed he probably still has one somewhere; otherwise, go to eBay. Best choices are: Jobo 1510 or a single-reel Paterson System 4. Avoid stainless steel tanks.

Your tank should consist of a film spool, a centre column, the tank itself, a lid that goes on the tank, and a cap that goes on the lid.

developing tank

The spool comes apart after a twist, and consists of two pieces:


Gettin jiggy with it

Take photographs of anything you like, up to and including your wife's rack.

If you can, rewind the film so that the leader is still sticking out, as shown below on the right:

If your film looks as on the left, you will now have to go into the dark with a bottle opener, pop the metal cap off, extract the film leader and replace the cap. What a pain.

Using the scissors, cut off the film leader between perforations, and then cut a small corner off each end, like this:

Now you need to go into the dark. Needless to say, the following photos do not show anything you should ever see in the light.

Lay out the film cassette, scissors and the parts of the developing tank out in front of you so that you can find them in the dark.

By touch, grab the spool and locate the entrance into the spiral groove, and thread the film in:

Now gradually pull the film out of the cassette and push it onto the spool. You can twist the two halves of the spool against each other and use your thumb to grab one side of the film so as to transport the film into the spool, but I find it's usually easy to just push the film on.

When you get to the end of the film, tear it off or cut it with scissors (not all films can be torn!) and thread the film completely onto the spool.

Now thread the spool onto the centre column and put both into the tank, with the wide end of the centre column towards the bottom.

Put the lid on and fasten it with the orange ring around the edge. (This is a Jobo tank; other makes may work a bit differently, but the concept is the same.)

Phew! You can now go back into the light. The film is safely contained within the hopefully light-proof tank.

The chemicals

The chemicals are not harmless, but they are not deadly poisons either. Do not be scared of them, simply use common sense handling them. If a drop gets on your skin, no problem, it doesn't hurt (I know); just wash it off quickly.

Before using the chemicals you need to dilute them. Read the instructions for the recommended dilutions. As an example, Ilfosol S should be used at dilution 1+9, which means 1 part developer, 9 parts water. The Jobo tank holds 250ml (the tank capacity should be stated on the side. Mine says: Rotation 140ml, Inversion 250ml; use the value for Inversion development (aka hand development), which is always the larger number). So you need 225ml of tap water, to which you add 25ml of developer to get 250ml. Other developers as well as the stop bath and fixer will use different dilutions. The fixer may give you a selection of dilutions; I suggest going with the lowest dilution, usually 1+4.

It's important to get the temperature of the developer right. Ideal developing temperature is 20°C or 68°F. Use the thermometer and get the water to the proper temperature (using warm water or ice) before adding the developer. The other solutions are not as critical, but should also be around 20°C. Stir very well and do not cross-contaminate the three solutions.

Check how long the film should be developed. Each film has a different time in each developer. A comprehensive database of times can be found here. There will often be different times for continuous agitation (aka rotation) and intermittent agitation (aka inversion or hand processing). Choose the value given for intermittent agitation.

Now, the development process can begin. Pour the developer solution into the tank and start the stopwatch. Quickly put the cap onto the tank.

Now you need to do something called "agitation". Do not be misled by this horrible word: it should be as non-violent as you can manage. Hold the tank as above and slowly rotate it so that the cap ends up on the bottom. Then slowly rotate it back to the upright position. This is one agitation and should take 3 seconds.

In the first 30 seconds you need to agitate constantly, which means repeating the above about 10 times (but don't worry if it isn't 10 times; stop after 30 seconds). Put the tank down on the table top. Subsequently, you should agitate 3 times at the start of each full minute.

When the development time is up, uncap the tank and discard the developer (pour it back into the measuring jug) and immediately pour in the stop bath. The acid halts development and prevents the entire film from going black. Put on the cap and agitate for about 30 seconds. If you don't have stop bath, use plain water and agitate for 60 seconds.

Now pour the stop bath back and pour in the fixer. Again, agitate for the specified length of time (for rapid fixer usually 1 to 2 minutes), then pour out the fixer.

Your film is now developed, but you need to wash. Fill the tank with tap water (as close to 20°C as you can manage), cap and agitate 10 times. Dump the water, repeat with 20 agitations. Dump the water, repeat with 30 agitations. If you haven't grown bored, repeat with 40 and another 40 agitations. (The more you wash, the better, but 5 changes of water is more than enough.)

Now, open the tank and take out the spool. Shake it violently to remove as much water as possible. Then, twist it so that the two halves come apart. You can now carefully remove the film and hang it up to dry. Hang it on a clothes line with a clothes peg, and attach about 4 further clothes pegs to the bottom to keep it straight.

After a few hours your film will be dry. Cut it up, scan it, and post to Husi. Enjoy!


You can throw the developer and stop bath down the toilet without harming the environment. Do not reuse developer, at least not at first. You can keep the stop bath for about 10 films with no trouble. The fixer should not be overused: the capacity should be documented on the bottle, I suggest discarding it after 10 films. The used fixer contains silver, so you should not dump it down the toilet but dispose of it properly.

Be sure to rinse the tank thoroughly. And by the way, if you get hooked and want to develop the next film right away: don't. It's impossible to thread film onto a wet spool.

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HOWTO: develop black & white film at home | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
voting +1 FP by 256 (4.00 / 3) #1 Thu Apr 06, 2006 at 02:21:19 PM EST
but would have voted +2 if the pictures in this story had been in black and white, home developed, and scanned.
I don't think anyone's ever really died from smoking. --ni
true of course by komet (2.00 / 0) #2 Thu Apr 06, 2006 at 02:25:30 PM EST
but the pictures aren't exactly fine art.

<ni> komet: You are functionally illiterate as regards trashy erotica.
[ Parent ]
i don't see what this has to do with laundry. by rmg (3.50 / 2) #3 Thu Apr 06, 2006 at 03:03:53 PM EST
then again, i only looked at the pictures. can ya help me out here?

[t]rolling retards conversation, period.
+1 FP, mostly by LinDze (4.00 / 1) #4 Thu Apr 06, 2006 at 05:01:02 PM EST
I use an inside closet for loading film. Unless youre using some high speed stuff you dont have to worry too much about light leakes.

Whats up with the Steel Tank/Spool hate? It takes a little practice but personally Ive never ruined a roll with good spools. Avoid the clippy ones, of course, theyre garbage but the "prong" types, like Hewes, are excellent and last forever.

Also a few notes on dark room chemicals. Do not wear nice clothes when developing. Any splashes will leave brown chemical burns/stains that can not be removed. Most people are fine developing without gloves but you can develop a sensitivity over time.

-Lin Dze
Arbeit Macht Frei

Steel tanks by komet (4.00 / 1) #5 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 12:47:10 AM EST
I don't hate them at all, but I do believe they are not the best way to get started if the only instruction you are getting is from some random guy on the Internet as opposed to someone who can show you face-to-face.

<ni> komet: You are functionally illiterate as regards trashy erotica.
[ Parent ]
Getting at the film by DullTrev (4.00 / 1) #6 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 01:30:09 AM EST

As I'm sure you're aware, you can also (or certainly you used to be able to...) get a strange metal and plastic contraption which can extract the end of the film, with the benefit that you can do this in the light.

you're right by komet (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 02:56:38 AM EST
they can extract the film, but more often they expose it to light or cause the cap to pop off accidentally. I never use them. Of course, nowadays I can cut the film leader in the dark.

<ni> komet: You are functionally illiterate as regards trashy erotica.
[ Parent ]
*shrugs* by DullTrev (4.00 / 1) #9 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 03:52:38 AM EST

I've never had any trouble with them, but I guess YMMV.

[ Parent ]
You probably don't fog the film by komet (4.00 / 2) #10 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 04:11:58 AM EST
because you're so dull.

Christ, that "joke" sucked.

<ni> komet: You are functionally illiterate as regards trashy erotica.

[ Parent ]
Avoid stainless steel tanks. by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #8 Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 03:03:56 AM EST
Why? I used a stainless steel tank and reel for years in B&W developing and never had a problem.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

+1FP by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #11 Mon Apr 10, 2006 at 05:55:13 AM EST
Takes me back to my art college days. Jesus, I used to hate developing film.

It's political correctness gone mad!

HOWTO: develop black & white film at home | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback