How To Develop Black and White Film at Home by Amy Berge

Shoot It With Film Amy Berge BW Developing
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How to Develop Black and White Film at Home on Shoot It With Film
How to Develop Black and White Film at Home on Shoot It With Film
How to Develop Black and White Film at Home on Shoot It With Film
How to Develop Black and White Film at Home on Shoot It With Film
How to Develop Black and White Film at Home on Shoot It With Film
Shoot It With Film Amy Berge BW Developing

Written by Amy Berge

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.

Develop Black and White Film at Home by Amy Berge: Shoot It With Film

Deciding to Develop My Own Film

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.

Develop Black and White Film at Home by Amy Berge: Shoot It With Film

How to Develop Black and White Film at Home

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.

Develop Black and White Film at Home by Amy Berge: Shoot It With Film

Supplies:

Links are included to the product I use.

  1. 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)
  2. Funnel to put the fixer solution back in the bottle (item 6 on this list). (Amazon: Plastic Funnels)
  3. Stirrer (Adorama: Chemical Stirring Paddle)
  4. 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.
  5. Syringe for measuring developer (Adorama: Photographers’ Formulary 12ml Micro-Mixer Measuring Plastic Syringe)
  1. Bottle for storing the fixer solution, which can be reused for a couple dozen rolls. (Amazon: Kaiser 500-1000ml Accordion Bottle)
  2. Thermometer to try to get your temp as close to 68º as possible. (Adorama: Photographers’ Formulary 12″ Glass Thermometer)
  3. Fixer (Amazon: Ilford Rapid Fixer, Adorama: Ilford Rapid Fixer)
  4. Developer – There are lots of options for this, but I use HC-110 dilution b. (Adorama: Kodak HC-110 Black & White Film Developer)
  5. Photo-flo – (Adorama: Kodak Photo-Flo 200)

Not pictured are a few items you’ll need to get the film on the reel:

  1. 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.
  2. Church Key – For opening up the film canister. (Amazon: Chef Craft Bottle Opener)
  3. 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)
  1. Clips for drying your film (Adorama: Stainless Steel Film Clips, Amazon: Trusty Binder Clips)
  2. 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.
Develop Black and White Film at Home by Amy Berge: Shoot It With Film

Developing Process:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  1. 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.)
  2. Pour in the fixer mixture. Agitate for the first minute, and then every minute thereafter agitate it for 10 seconds.
  3. Funnel the fixer mixture back into the bottle for reuse.
  1. Your film is now ready to see light! So feel free to open it up at this point.
  2. Fill up the tank with water and dump out a handful of times (I am not temperature specific here.)
  3. I then leave the film under running water for 10 minutes to be sure all the chemicals are washed away.
  4. Pour in a couple drops of photo-flo and dunk the reels up and down in it until you see bubbles.
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. Allow to dry overnight, and the next day you’re ready to scan!

Helpful YouTube Videos:

  1. 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
  2. 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 I hope this leaves you feeling empowered and encouraged!

Develop Black and White Film at Home by Amy Berge: Shoot It With Film

So, so much good info! Thank you, Amy! Amy is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out her other articles here, like Develop Color Film at Home and B&W Film Stock Comparisons.

Please check out Amy’s work on Instagram and her website, and if you have questions about how to develop black and white film, leave them below in the comments.

Amy Berge

Amy Berge is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as Develop Color Film At Home and Olympus Stylus Epic Point & Shoot Film Camera Review.

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Blog Comments

Amy this is amazing and SO helpful! I can’t wait to put this into practice. And your images are just lovely. <3

Thank you!!! I’m so glad you found this helpful! You’re going to fall in looooove with it!

Amy YOU ROCK! I did it in High School too and sometimes I didn’t wind the film very carefully and then the chemicals didn’t hit the film and I’d get SPLOTCHES on my negatives. Is that ever an issue? Or is that just a squirrelly high schooler problem? I was probably busy thinking about BOYS haha

hahahahahaha! Typical teen ;). That hasn’t happened to me, but probably would have in high school if I kept developing my own negatives. (the one roll I did develop in high school got a huge fingerprint on it because I touched my wet negatives. Dumb.). If you’re tugging too much to get the film on the reel, it’s time to start over. (I still re-reel it a lot out of paranoia. If the negatives are reeled so that they’re touching, it’s something you’ll feel as you ratchet them on.). And the splotches could have been because you got bubbles on your film? That’s why I tap the tank after every agitation; gotta pop those bubbles! I really think adult-you will do quite well.

Hey! What do you use for enlarging print process?! And how do you discard of the chemicals at home. That’s always been the one thing stopped me from doing this at home

I scan my 35mm negatives on a Noritsu LS-600 and do any post processing in Lightroom (I’d LOVE to have my own enlarger…maybe some time in the future!). For medium format I scan on an Epson v600; scanning black and white on a flatbed is pretty darn easy. Color is finickier. Chemicals can be dumped down the drain since you’re working in such small batches. The developer gets dumped after each use and the fixer gets dumped after every couple dozen rolls…not only is it a small batch but since the silver is pretty exhausted it’s even less toxic. (If it makes you feel better, the bottle even states it can be disposed of down the drain. I was nervous too so I checked the bottle and asked around to see what standard procedure is.). Let me know if you have any other questions!

Thanks so much! I can’t afford a scanner like that right now, so I am looking into Enlargers. This was so helpful to have the list with the links. 🙂

Thanks so much! I can’t afford a scanner like that right now, so I am looking into Enlargers. This was so helpful to have the list with the links. 🙂

Thanks for this!! Appreciate the links so much!!! Does red light affect the film? Or does it have to be completely black?

Hi Hannah! I’m glad the article was helpful! And good question, it must be completely black to work with the film. Photographic paper is far less light sensitive than film, so it can handle the red light (think of how photographic paper is exposed to light for seconds, whereas we typically expose film to light for a fraction of a second.). A changing bag will do that trick if you don’t have a darkroom!

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