How To: Develop Black & White Film
Developing film is not as hard as you think!
- Roll of exposed black and white film (35mm or 120 format)
- Developing tank and spool
- Darkbag/changing bag
- Film canister opener (optional)
- Beaker to measure ~250ml (per roll)
- Source of running water
- Black and white film developer (Kodak D76 used here)
- Black and white fixer
- Film squeegee
- Chemical neutralizing agent
First we have to get the film out of the canister (or off the spool for 120 film)
Place your roll of film, developing tank, film spool, tank cap, and scissors inside the darkbag and close both zippers.
For 35mm film, there are a few different ways to get the film out of the canister. They are all equally effective so you should choose the method you like best.
The first option is to use a film canister opener to pry off the end of the canister. Once this is done you can easily unroll the film from the internal spool.
The second option is to pry open the canister with your thumb where the film would usually come out off. Peel the metal back a decent amount and rotate the spool.
This is demonstrated here in the light, but must be carried out in the changing bag where no light can reach the film.
Once the film itself is accessible, cut the leading end of the film off to make it easier to get it started on the developing spool.
Feed the film onto the spool, being careful to only touch the edges of the film and not the face of it. Doing so can leave fingerprints or stains on the film.
Depending on if you are using a plastic or metal developing tank, the exact way the film is reeled onto the spool may differ somewhat.
Keep in mind the development process is identical for 35mm and 120 films. The only difference is the spool used (and most plastic spools can do either. Super conventient!)
If possible, it helps to practice spooling a few times in the light with a junk roll of devloped film.
The very end of the film will have to be cut off of the internal spool of the film canister (or the tape will have to be cut for 120 film).
Once spooled, assemble the development tank and you’re ready to prepare your chemicals!
A convenient feature of black and white film is that it can be developed at a few different temperatures.
Even more convenient is that this range of temperature covers your average room temperatures! Look up the appropriate times and temperatures for your developer and film combination here.
First, measure the amount of mixed developer prescribed by the development tank. For one roll of 35mm or 120, this should be around 250ml.
Next, use your thermometer to find the temperature of your chemicals.
This temperature is important for two reasons:
This temperature needs to be maintained as closely as possible throughout the development process for best results.
This temperature will determine the time you need to expose the film to the developer for.
IMPORTANT: The developer time is the only time value that will differ between films and developers, all other steps are standardized.
Development times vary based on the film, developer used, and dilution of the developer though any black and white film can be used with and black and white developer.
A simple web search for your film stock is a good way to find information on the development specific to you. You will want to use the listed “Inversion” times.
Most manufacturerers provide helpful .pdfs of many fil, developer, and temperature combinations.
Once you know your time, you are ready to develop!
When film is exposed to developer, the chemicals essentially wash away certain microscopic layers of the film to reveal the exposed frames.
To start, pour the measured amount of developer into the development tank, cap the tank tightly and start your timer.
Agitate the film for the first ten seconds and then for the last ten seconds of every minute.
Agitating means shaking/turning the tank end over end to move the chemicals evenly over the film.
After each 10 seconds of agitation, give the container about three strong taps against a flat surface to minimize bubbles.
After development time has elapsed, pour the developer out into a container with a lid (not one you use for food!)
You can either use a neutralizing agent and then pour the used developer down the drain or take the used developer to a local chemical treatment facility where it can be properly disposed of.
Here we can pour the developer down the drain because our sink drains to a large limestone neutralizing tank where the chemicals become safe and will not harm any animals or ecosystems.
Your kitchen sink does not have this!
5 Minute Wash
The next step is nice and easy. Leave the development tank uncapped and under running lukewarm water for five minutes to wash away the remaining developer.
It is recommended to dump the water out after each minute, though not absolutely required.
Make sure to try to maintain the same temperature through this step, keeping the water roughly the same temperature as your developer.
During this time, you can measure out the fixer you will need for the next step. You will need the same amount of fixer as you did developer (~250ml)
At the end of five minutes, dump out the water into the drain.
Fixer will completely stop the chemical changes occurring in the film from the development process.
Pour the measured amount of fixer into the development tank and start your timer for 10 minutes.
The agitation pattern for fixer is the same as for developer: the first ten seconds right after pouring in the chemicals and then the last ten seconds of each minute, followed by three strong taps.
Fixer is reusable until it expires, so don’t dump it out! Pour it back into its container using a funnel at the end of the 10 minutes.
10 Minute Wash
This step operates the same as the first wash, though it takes 10 minutes instead of five.
Leave the tank under running water again for 10 minutes, dumping out the water every minute or so.
At the end of the 10 minutes, dump the water out and refill the tank most of the way with water.
You are now ready for the last step of development.
Photo-Flo is essentially soap that will wash away any remaining unwanted residue on the film.
Pour one quarter of a cap-full of Photo-Flo into your development tank.
Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, followed by three strong taps.
Your film is now ready to take out!
Open the development tank and remove the film from the spool. It will have soapy bubbles from the Photo-Flo on it and this is normal.
Wet the squeegee and clamp it gently around the end of the film just below your hand.
Two passes with the squeegee is usually good. You don’t want to do more than two passes or you risk scratching the film.
Hang the film up in a film dryer if you have one. If you don’t, hanging it up with a clothespin and leaving it to dry works just as well.
Once the film is dry, it is ready to be cut and sleeved for protection.
Use the scissors to carefully cut between frames. The number of frames per strip you cut depends on the film and protective sleeve sizes.
A light table is helpful at this step, though not necessary.
The film is now ready to be scanned digitally or printed using an enlarger.
Enjoy your awesome photos even more knowing that you processed the film yourself!