TwelveSmallSquares

The film photography & darkroom work of David Kirby

How To: Develop Your Own Black & White Film

Lot's of people seem to think that you need a darkroom to develop your own film.  You may be surprised to learn that this isn't the case.  Read on and I will explain how it can be done with a few simple tools...

Equipment:

Stopwatch/timer,

Film changing bag (the biggest you can afford),

3 x 50/100ml measuring cylinders,

2 x plastic water bottles,

2x plastic jugs (just some cheap supermarket ones will do),

Developer (there are so many to choose from.  Do some research online - Kodak D-76 or Ilford ID-11 are good starting points.  I like to use Rodinal as it lasts forever and you only use very small quantities).

Stop bath  (I use Ilford Ilfostop)

Fixer (I use Ilford Rapid Fix)

Wetting agent (I use Kodak Photo-Flo)

Developing tank and at least 1 reel (I use a Paterson system 4 tank)

Accurate thermometer (needs to be able to read 20oC)

Film hanging clips

Background

I'm not going to discuss loading your film onto a reel, there a plenty of videos on youtube for that kind of thing.  I will say that it's good to practice with some old negatives just getting the film onto the reel with your eyes closed, but for now let's assume you've done that inside your changing bag and loaded the reel into your tank.  Once this is done you're now ready to start developing.

First you'll need to mix up your developer.  Now, Rodinal is very versatile as you can mix it in different concentrations which will produce different results on your negative.  The most used ratios are 1:25, 1:50 and 1:100, sometimes 1:200 is used.  The smaller the ratio the bigger the contrast that will be produced e.g. 1:25 will produce more contrast than 1:50.  The ratio means that for every 25/50/100ml of water you have you add 1ml of Rodinal.  So if your tank takes 500ml of solution and you want a 1:50 ratio you will mix 10ml of Rodinal with 490ml of Water.  personally I like to use 1:50 most of the time as it gives great results, if I want more contrast I can just print at a higher grade in the darkroom.

So, measure out your Rodinal using one of your measuring cylinders and pour it into one of your jugs.  Measure out the water (you can use the same cylinder) and add that to the jug and then mix it (you can use your thermometer to do this).  Once you have mixed your developer you repeat with your stop bath and your fixer.  There is a fixed ratio for these and this will be printed on the bottle of each chemical, usually 1:19 for stop and 1:9 for fixer.  Remember, all chemicals should be kept at a steady temperature of 20oC.  Once you have completed this step you should have 3 jugs, one with developer, one with stop bath and one with fixer.

Next you will need to find out how long you must develop your film for using the ratio of developer you have chosen.  The best source for this information can be found by carrying out your own film speed testing but as we're just starting out look on your film packaging for recommended times or on the massive dev chart which can be found here.  Basically you tell it what developer you're using with what film and it will tell you the times other people have used to develop for certain ratios.  For instance if I want to develop some Ilford HP5+ shot at 400iso in a 1:25 mix of rodinal the chart tells me that for 120 film i should develop for 6 minutes.  You will need to keep an eye on temperature.  20oC is ideal so you may need to warm your chemicals a little if you're developing in a cold room  If you're a few degrees off then follow this link and at the bottom of the page you will see a link to a temperature compensation chart.  Use this to determine developing times at alternative temperatures.

Procedure 

Ok, our chemicals are all mixed and we have got all our times together.  Now to begin.  Some people prewash/soak their film, some don't; both get good results so its really up to you.  I personally don't but if you decide to then wash your film in several changes of water for about 5 minutes.  The water will probably come out a purplish/blueish colour - don't be alarmed!  This is just the anti-halation layer coming off the back of the film.

After 5 minutes has passed and you have poured out the last of the water you are ready to pour in your developer.  As your pour in your developer angle your tank about 45 degrees as this reduces air bubbles getting in and sitting on your film.  Put the lid on and rotate the tank vertically 3 times whilst turning it horizontally (this makes sure the whole of the film gets a quick covering of developer).  Tap the tank firmly on your worktop to release any trapped air bubbles and then leave the tank alone.  When 1 minute has passed give it 3 more rotations and a little tap.  Repeat this for the length of time you have been told to develop for.  I should tell you here that the more you agitate, the more grain you get so it's best to stick to about 3 agitations over the space of 10 seconds or so every minute until development time is up.

After your developing is done you can pour the liquid from the tank down the sink (if using a one-shot developer like Rodinal, some developers can be kept for multiple use) and pour in your stop bath.  Ilfostop only needs to be in the tank 10 seconds so once you've got the lid on agitate the tank for 10 sec and then pour the liquid out back into your jug, DO NOT DISCARD IT because you can reuse it.

Now its time to add your fixer.  Pour it into the tank in the usual way and you need to constantly agitate for 5 minutes (note, 5 minutes is for Ilford Rapid Fix - if you buy another fixer follow the guidelines provided by the manufacturer).  After 5 minutes pour your fixer back into your jug.  Again, this can be reused so DO NOT DISCARD.

Now it is time to wash the film so add 500ml of clean water and agitate constantly.  After 1 minute pour out the water and add some more fresh and repeat agitation.  Do this for at least 5 minutes, preferably 10.  An alternative is to sit your tank under a tap with a moderate flow for 5 minutes or so.  It uses more water but if you're on a fixed rate for you water bills then you may as well!  On your last wash you will need to add a tiny amount of wetting agent.  Kodak Photo-Flo is highly recommended.  Add 2ml of it to your final rinse and agitate gently for about 20-30 seconds.  Pour the liquid away and open up your tank.  You should have a fully developed negative.  Remove the film from the reel and hang it up to dry using your clips.  Pour your stop bath and fixer into your plastic bottles and store them away ready for your next development.

So to put it in more of a bullet point form:

  • Developer (Agitate for around 10s - 3 inversions at each minute of development), times from massive dev chart, film packaging or personal speed test
  • Stop Bath - 10 seconds
  • Fixer - 5 minutes (constant agitation)
  • Wash - 5 minutes (constant agitation)
  • Wetting Agent - 20s
  • Hang to dry

And that's it, once dry you should have a nice negative with a good, clear background.  If your film backing is still a little cloudy then re-fix and wash it. 

If you have any questions then feel free to comment on this page or email me and i'll get back to you with whatever assistance I can offer.

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