When I was a junior in high school, I took a photography class which kick-started my love of film and photography. Being a true late 90’s teen, analog was our only option, so in class we learned how to develop black and white film and spent our days in the darkroom making our own enlargements. The darkroom holds some of my BEST high school memories of being with friends and creating, all while listening/singing to some sweet alternative music on the radio.
But that’s the problem; we ONLY wanted to be in the darkroom, enlarging our prints and hanging out, and we did not want to “waste” our time developing our film. Being stuck in the classroom with our hands in a changing bag and putting film on a reel was for suckers. So how did we develop our film, you might ask? Well, after doing it by hand once (because it was an assignment to at least do it once), many of us would take our film to Ritz Camera and for $3 we got our developed film and a contact sheet. I was so relieved I never had to develop my own film ever again.
You can see where I’m going with this.
Fast-forward almost two decades, I’m shooting film again and wanting to get back to my black and white roots. But sending film out for black and white developing is not cheap. Black and white film is unlike C-41 (color film) in that the time to develop black and white film varies based on film type. All C-41 gets processed for the same length of time, so it gets run through machines in batches and is cheaper to develop. I desperately wanted to shoot black and white, but was honestly terrified to take the plunge. I remember it being kind of tricky and a major nuisance when I did it in high school (that one time,) and now I was going to VOLUNTARILY develop my film? After turning to some friends in an online community for help, I got a suggested list of supplies, watched some YouTube videos, and off I went to sink or swim. I made it my New Year’s resolution for 2017 to develop my own black and white film, and within the first few weeks, I had already developed my first roll.
Guess what? It’s embarrassingly easy to develop your own film. Apparently Teen-Me was super wack and should’ve stopped being lazy.
Developing my own black and white film has been SO freeing! I don’t have to send it out to a lab and be held captive; I can develop it the same day I finish up a roll; and I can push a roll of film if I want to! I shoot as much as I want because my costs are low! So, yeah, it’s pretty much the best.
If you’re on the fence, DO IT. It’s not as scary as you think it is. Not even half as scary. And you will love the freedom it gives you.
Developing Your Own Black and White Film
I couldn’t write about how awesome it is to develop black and white film without giving you the information to develop your own! Sooooooo I am including my materials and my process below!
First off, I need to address this common question: do I need a darkroom? No. Unless you’re doing enlargements, no darkroom necessary! You just need a changing bag to get your film on the reel and in the tank. Once it’s sealed in the tank, it’s safe from light and you can do all the rest in a lit room.
I swear to you, getting that darn film on the reel is the hardest part of the whole process. If you have a spare roll lying around, use it to practice getting film on the reel in daylight.
Links are included to the product I use.
- Plastic Beakers – I got the kind where the levels are raised and not printed on. I feared something printed on would wear away too easily. (Amazon: SEOH Plastic Beaker Set)
- Funnel to put the fixer solution back in the bottle (item 6 on the list). (Amazon: Nopro Plastic Funnel)
- Stirrer (Adorama: Chemical Stirring Paddle)
- Developing Tank (Adorama: Paterson Photographic Universal Tank) – There are a lot of theories about the best tank, but this one works great for me. *** Paterson tanks have a reputation for being leaky. Note: they are NOT leaky, but you have to know the trick. Once you put the cover on the tank, burp it by gently lifting up a little flap of the lid until you hear the air escape. Once you do this, your tank is now tight and won’t leak. ***
- Syringe for measuring developer (Adorama: Photographers’ Formulary 12ml Micro-Mixer Measuring Plastic Syringe)
- Bottle for storing the fixer solution, which can be reused for a couple dozen rolls. (Amazon: Kaiser 500-1000ml Accordion Bottle)
- Thermometer to try to get your temp as close to 68º as possible. (Adorama: Photographers’ Formulary 12″ Glass Thermometer)
- Fixer (Amazon: Ilford Rapid Fixer)
- Developer – There are lots of options for this, but I use HC-110 dilution b. (Amazon: Kodak HC-110 Black & White Film Developer)
- Photo-flo – Apparently you can use a drop of dish soap instead of this, but I haven’t tried it. (Adorama: Kodak Photo-Flo 200)
Not pictured are a few items you’ll need to get the film on the reel:
- Changing bag (Adorama: Large Changing Bag) – Why their photo has an ENTIRE CAMERA in the changing bag is beyond me. Note: you should take the roll OUT of the camera before putting it in the changing bag.
- Church Key – For opening up the film canister. (Amazon: Chef Craft Bottle Opener)
- Scissors – Which you probably already have, but I like to use a small, blunt pair inside the changing bag because I’m clumsy enough in broad daylight when I can see what I’m doing. (Amazon: Westcott Kids Scissors)
- Clips for drying your film (Adorama: Stainless Steel Film Clips, Amazon: Trusty Binder Clips)
- You’re also going to want to download the app Massive Dev Chart. It’s my guide to the times needed for each film. It also has a built-in timer as well as a brief rundown of the process to develop black and white film.
Here’s my process in a nutshell to develop black and white film. Processes can vary, but as long as you’re consistent in your steps, you’ll have consistent results. The times for developing and fixing will vary based on film and on chemicals. The Massive Dev Chart will tell you exactly what times you need for those steps.
- Put the film on the reel in the changing bag. Make sure the tank is closed before opening up the bag. Check out this video for help.
- Using 68º water, agitate the film for a minute and dump out in the sink. (This step is debatable. I like to get my film to the right temp and rinse away anything unnecessary.)
- Pour the developer mixture into the tank and agitate for the first minute. Every minute thereafter, agitate for 10 seconds. Be sure to tap the tank on a surface to pop any bubbles that have formed after each round of agitation.
- Dump out the developer, and fill your tank with more of the 68º water to rinse off excess developer. (On Massive Dev Chart, this is called the stop bath. I have always used water for a stop bath and have never had an issue.)
- Pour in the fixer mixture. Agitate for the first minute, and then every minute thereafter agitate it for 10 seconds.
- Funnel the fixer mixture back into the bottle for reuse.
- Your film is now ready to see light! So feel free to open it up at this point.
- Fill up the tank with water and dump out a handful of times (I am not temperature specific here.)
- I then leave the film under running water for 10 minutes to be sure all the chemicals are washed away.
- Pour in a couple drops of photo-flo and dunk the reels up and down in it until you see bubbles.
- Take the film off the reels and squeegee with two fingers. (You can buy a squeegee, but I’ve heard too many horror stories of film getting scratched up this way, so I just use my hand.)
- Clip to some sort of line. I strung some string in my basement that I clip my film to. I also put a clip at the bottom so the film dries straight.
- Allow to dry overnight, and the next day you’re ready to scan!
Helpful YouTube Videos:
- This video will help you get the film on a reel. *Note, this video says to turn off the lights. Please just use a changing bag. Most of us don’t have rooms in our house that are truly pitch black and you will end up getting light on your film
- This video and this video will help you with the process to develop black and white film.
I am finding more and more people who are interested in developing their own black and white film, and my goal is this leaves you feeling empowered and encouraged!
So, so much good info! Thank you, Amy!