I found lots of posts about developing film at home, but it felt like they left out some details. I’ll, inevitably, also leave things out, but I’m going to have a crack at writing a comprehensive guide to getting as far as having a dry, clean, developed film, and throwing it into a scanner.
Step 1 was gathering all the equipment I needed. It seemed daunting initially, but it turns out that I didn’t actually need that much stuff. Links to products are just as examples, and are close (or exactly) what I’m using.
There’ll also be a short section on what I plan on doing next to make life a bit easier.
A Paterson Tank needs around 300ml of each chemical per film. The DD-X and Rapid Fixer both need to be diluted 1+4 (1 part concentrate, to 4 parts water). Doing some maths, you get 60ml of concentrate, and 240ml of water, to get to 300ml in total of developer.
The IlfoStop is 1+19, so to make 300ml you need 15ml IlfoStop and 285ml water.
The Photo-Flo is 1+199, so to make 300ml I need a splash of Photo-Flo and the rest in water – this is really not critical. It does, however, get a bit bubbly if you use too much, so I try to go easy on it.
Step 2 – I’ve been out and taken some photographs, and I’m back.
I get water to the right-ish temperature (a bit over 20°C is good) and mix my chemicals with that water and pour from the measuring cylinder into clearly labelled bottles. I then dry my work-space and get ready for the trickiest bit.
When I rewind your film from the camera, I listen closely to hear when the film has rewound to the point where it’s disconnected from the winder, but hasn’t gone so far that it’s gone all the way back into the cassette. This makes life easier, because I can start it on the spool in daylight.
I cut the end bit off the film to square it off, and feed it onto the spool until it’s gone past the ball bearings that are in the reels.
This spool goes into the changing bag together with the centre post, the tank, the tank lid, and your scissors. I’m sure it’s not necessary, but I always have both spools in the tank when I develop, even if it’s just one film in the tank.
Now’s the tricky bit. I stuff my hands into the zipped up changing bag, and find all the bits. I unspool the film from the cassette and onto the spool by turning one side of the spool back and forth, while also unwinding the film from the cassette. When I’ve reached the end, I snip it off with the scissors, wind on the rest of the film so it’s all the way on, and assemble the tank and make sure I lock the lid on properly. I say this, because one time I didn’t, and the lid came off during the developing process and it wasn’t ideal.
Everything comes out of the bag, and it’s time to measure the temperatures of the chemicals. The most important one is the developer – the others are less important.
I’ve been pretty lucky and have managed to hit 19 or 20°C each time, so haven’t needed to compensate too much with the timings. Referring to the developing time chart for the film, I get the time required for developing at 20°C, then use the compensation chart to calculate the actual time required at the actual temperature. Today I did an Ilford HP5+ 400 film, which, at 20°C with Ilford DD-X needs 9 minutes. My DD-X was at at 19°C, so needed 10 minutes with temperature compensation.
The next bit, when I did it the first time, felt quite stressful. It feels like there are a lot of things to do in a short amount of time. I ran the steps through in my head a few times, as practise, and it worked out fine. The hardest part was definitely unspooling the film and getting that done neatly.
I start the timer as I pour the last bit of developer in to the tank. I then put the second lid on the tank and invert the tank 4 times, then gently tap it on the desk once or twice to make sure that any bubbles trapped in the spool come out. Every minute I invert the tank four times, tap the bench with the tank, and spend the next 50 seconds preparing the next step.
I start pouring the developer out in the last 10 seconds of the count-down, and once it’s all out, I pour in the Stop Bath. This only needs to be in for about 30 seconds, but I do make sure I swish it around thoroughly. Then I pour in the fixer which needs to be in for 3-5 minutes. I don’t know how important it is to invert this, but I make sure I do, just to make sure I get nice even coverage with the fixer.
When the time is up with the fixer, I start rinsing the film. I pour water, from the tap, into the top of the tank and let it pour for 5 to 10 minutes. It doesn’t need to flow fast, but I make sure I do a few tank-fulls of clean water first, and then leave the tap running for the 5 to 10 minutes. Then I pour in the Photo-Flo solution, give it a swish about, and pour it out.
NOW! It’s time! I can open the tank up and inspect the film. I open the spool up to remove the film, and carefully hang the film up to dry, taking care not to touch it until it’s completely dry.
I would really like to get an immersion heater to keep the chemicals at the right temperature – I think that’s going to be my next investment. And maybe a more sensibly sized measuring cylinder.
Once the film is dry, I slice it into groups of 6 frames, and scan them with my Epson Perfection V330 Photo scanner. Making sure the glass is nice and clean. Removing every piece of lint is not easy, and I tell myself that the odd bit of lint adds character. Or something.
I developed a film today, and I don’t think I made any glaring mistakes. I didn’t kink the film as it went onto the spool. The whole film fit on the spool, so I didn’t need to do a random snip of the film partway along. The lid didn’t fall off the Patterson tank before the fixer had gone in. I didn’t scratch the film by impatiently running my fingers along it to speed up the drying process.
So, I’m improving from a physical technique perspective. I think that I’m also improving from a black and white film photography perspective. I’m seeing the contrasts better before I take the picture. I’m seeing what will work a bit more. Or at least I think so.
I’m very excited about this photograph, taken at Arthur’s Seat on Mount Lofty. Photographed with an Olympus OM-1, on Ilford HP5 Plus 400 film, and developed with Ilford DD-X at 1+4 dilution, for 9 mintues at 20°C.
A few weeks ago I wrote about doing wet photography again. I’m now two films in, and it’s as good as I remember it. My films aren’t working out perfectly. I’m making mistakes. A lot of them. Bad metering. Bad film handling. Bad dropping-the-film-out-of-the-Patterson-tank-during-the-developing-process. Bad walking-into-the-still-wet-film-leaving-lint-everywhere.
But, it doesn’t matter. I’m finding it incredibly relaxing. Incredibly fulfilling. And that’s exactly what I need, and exactly what I was hoping for. The last time I developed a film by hand was in year 10, and all the smells bring me right back to those hallways. Those buildings. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
If you’re a Fediversian, you can find me on my PixelFed instance. If you’re not, you should consider getting a Mastodon account at the very friendly aus.social, from where you can follow me here (@email@example.com), my Mastodon account (@TechnicalKO@aus.social), and my PixelFed instance (@KO@photos.karloskar.org). The other good place to find my photographs (other than right here!), is at Flickr.
I will do a post on my workflow, and general setup, once I’ve streamlined it a bit more.
It’s no secret that I like technology, and I do, if I’m going to be absolutely honest with myself (and what better a place for that than in a place where about 56.1% of the world’s population can read it), think that I’m quite good at it. Quite good at software, and also quite good at hardware. Last week I repaired a motherboard on a motion controller, and it booted right up after many hours with a soldering iron and replacing components.
But I’m also tired. Maybe verging on exhausted.
Tired of “instant”. I’m tired of the process of taking a photograph is see, snap, review (probably redo these three steps a few times), then post, hashtag. After that it’s largely forgotten, with the exception of collecting notifications from bots.
This ties in with me dumping my Fitbit. Dumping Facebook. Dumping Instagram.
So, what is my plan?
My plan is to go analogue for photographs. Not exclusively, but significantly more than I have in the last…20 years.
I bought my first digital SLR in 200…and…5…I think. Since then I’ve been chasing crisper, less noise, and faster. Better lenses. Better/bigger sensors. The last camera I bought was a Canon 5D, and I have used that camera extensively. But the trap of reviewing, even on the back of that crappy LCD on the back, gets me nearly every time. I don’t sit back and trust that I have done the right thing, trusted my gut and taken a passable photograph.
So, now – to the plan. The plan is to not only start shooting film again, but I’m going to develop my own film, too. At this stage I’ll develop to film and probably scan the shots I want to do something with, but there’s nothing (except space in the laundry) that will prevent me from getting an enlarger, paper,some trays, some more chemicals, and printing my own.
I asked my old photography teacher from high school if he had any developing tanks left, and not only did he have a Patterson tank, he also had a Minolta XG-1 with lenses and a flash that he wasn’t using any more. So I now own that, and I’m very pleased.
I’ve bought some film, and have taken a few pictures. But I don’t know if they’re any good until I develop them, and today I organised the equipment I need for that, beyond the tank. I ordered the developer, stop bath, and fixer from B&H in New York (for about $40 less than it would cost to buy locally – including shipping from the US). I ordered a couple of volumetric flasks for mixing chemicals, and some storage bottles. And a portable darkroom bag for loading the film onto the spools and into the Patterson tanks.
I really enjoy night photography. I like the standing-around-ness of it, while you wait for your exposure to finish. I like the way the world looks different in an over-exposed night-light. I like the ethereal look of anythign that’s moved.
This photo was taken at f/7.1, at ISO 400 with an exposure time of 106 seconds. Fisherman unknown.
A hundred metres or so from the beach at Port Willunga is the shipwreck of the Star of Greece. She sunk in 1888 after 20 years of service. 18 crew perished, and 16,000 bags of wheat destined for Great Britain were lost.
If the tide is way out you can see one of the masts sticking out of the water, which makes it easier to find from the beach. You can see the approximate area of the wreck if you look for the small dark patch of water north of the reef (very large patch of dark water) in amongst the sand. If you have a look at Google Maps beforehand you can get a feel for where you should look.
I went out there yesterday and visibility wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely worth a visit. I brought our little GoPro Hero Session with me, and took a couple of snaps of the wildlife.
I’d like to dive the wreck-site next time, and spend some time piecing together what’s left, and what’s what. In the meantime, please enjoy the vague descriptions of the photos below.