So you want to develop your own black and white film? Great choice! If you’ve never developed film before, the task can seem a little frightening, but rest assured, it’s really very simple. If you have developed film before, Bravo! It would still be a good idea to refresh your memory and follow along with this tutorial to get back into the swing of things. Once you learn the process, you can develop your own color negatives and e-6 slides as well, but starting with bw processing is the natural progression.
First things first, it is incredibly important to read through the ENTIRE process several times before tackling this. I don’t mean to scare you or be overly zealous about this, but if you dump fixer into your tank before developer, you’re going to have a SERIOUS problem. With that said, just read through the tutorial, watch the video a couple times and then give it a shot. After going through it a few times, all you’ll need is a keen memory, or the D-76 cheat sheet that I’ve provided.
The biggest misconception about home film developing is the thought that one needs a darkroom or a massive amount of cash to set this up. That just isn’t the case. A very nice total setup will only cost you around $100. After that, all you have to replenish is developer ($5) every 15-20 rolls and fixer ($5) every few months.
Paterson Universal Tank W/One Reel #115
Plastic Graduate 500ml
Paper Towels (Not Mandatory, but very nice for keeping countertops developer free)
1 Gallon Datatainer x2
Film Changing Bag
Timer (Stopwatch, phone, egg timer, etc.)
Feel free to try out any developer on the market, I just choose D-76 for the low cost and excellent results. There are a ton of developers out there, but D-76 is a great place to start.
*Note: With other developers, your developing time and temperature will change.
LOADING THE TANK
Alright, so you’ve exposed your roll of film, you’re stoked out of your mind and can’t wait to see the results.
Gather up your film changing bag, tank, reel, film cartridge, scissors, and bottle opener. Unzip the film changing bag, and place your tank, reel, film cartridge, scissors, and bottle opener inside the bag. Now zip up the bag and make sure it’s fully zipped and the velcrow is fastened. Put your hands inside the bag through the arm holes up top. Find your roll of film and the bottle opener. Remember this is all done blind, but it gets much easier with practice.
Using the bottle opener, pry open the film canister and take out the roll of film. Find the end of the film leader and cut off the section that is thinner than the rest of the film. This should only be a couple inches max. Load the end of the film (with the edge freshly cut), into your film reel. If you’re using a plastic reel you’ll find the loading area by the plastic nubs. Lead the film 3/4 of the way around the reel and then twist the reel back and forth to load your film. Once you reach the end of the film, cut the film free from the spool using your scissors.
Open your tank, load the reel in and close the tank tightly. Now you can unzip the film changing bag and remove your tank.
Now that your tank is loaded and your chemicals are all sitting neatly by the sink, you have to be pretty pumped.
Look at the bottom of your tank and find out the recommended chemical volume for your film format.
(ex. Shooting 1 roll of 35mm requires 375ml in my tank.)
Whatever the number is, divide it by 2 and pour that amount of developer into your large beaker. Now pour that same amount of water into the beaker.
(ex. 187.50ml Developer + 187.50ml Water = 375ml Total)
Take a temperature reading for the mixture and whatever temperature this is, that will be your developing temperature
(Refer to your developer’s literature to see the time for a specific temperature and film combination. This guide is using Kodak D76 and Kodak Tri-X as a reference)
Pre-soak your film for 1 minute with running tap water.
Pour the developer into the tank and agitate (invert the tank with the lid on) for the first 30 seconds continuously. After the initial agitation, agitate the tank for 5 inversions every 30 seconds. Make sure that you’re mixing the developer around enough to get fresh developer on every area of the film. Once you get to the time specified by your developer for the film and temperature combination, pour your developer out.
(Assuming that you’re using D76, which isn’t too corrosive for pipes.)
Allow running water to rinse your film tank for 30 seconds. Don’t open the tank yet.
Pour in the same amount of fixer that you used to develop the film. Agitate after a minute, and then agitate the tank intermittently. After 5 minutes, pour the fixer back into the bottle.
You can buy special hypo clear for this step, but dishwasher soap does the same thing. Put a single drop into the and fill it up with running water. Let it soak for 2 minutes, then dump it down the drain.
Fill your tank up with water and invert the tank 5 times. Pour the water out and repeat, this time inverting 10 times. Pour it out again and repeat by inverting the tank 20 times.
Pour an extremely tiny amount of PhotoFlo into the cap and pour it into the tank. Fill the rest of the tank with water and let it stand for 30 seconds. Pour the PhotoFlo out and remove your film. “Squeegee” the film using your fingers gently. Hang it up in the shower or somewhere that is relatively dust-free. Let the negatives dry, then marvel at how cool you are for developing your own film, and rub it in to all of your friends who shoot digital.