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. 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 back then, 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. Many of us would take our film to Ritz Camera and for $3 we got our developed film and a contact sheet.
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. The days of developing b&w film for $3 a roll is long gone.
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, making it cheaper to develop.
I desperately wanted to shoot black and white film and develop it at home, 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, and now I was going to VOLUNTARILY develop my film?
After turning to some friends in an online community for help, I gathered up some supplies, watched some YouTube videos, and off I went to sink or swim.
Guess what? It’s embarrassingly easy to develop your own film!
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.
I can also push a roll of film if I want to! (You can read more about pushing film here.) 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.
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.
Do You Need a Darkroom?
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.
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 this list). (Amazon: Plastic Funnels)
Developing Tank (Amazon: Paterson Photographic Universal Tank) – Paterson tanks have a reputation for being leaky, but if you put the cover on the tank and burp it by gently lifting up a little flap of the lid until you hear the air escape, your tank will be tight and won’t leak.
Not pictured are a few items you’ll need to get the film on the reel:
Changing bag (Amazon: Film Changing Bags, Adorama: Large Changing Bag) – Why Adorama’s 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.
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)
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 at home. 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 YouTube 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!
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