How to Develop Film, Part 1
I imagine that if you are reading this blog, you will eventually want to know how to develop your own black and white film. If you need the more succinct reference version (though by no means a substitute for this in-depth post), click here. I promise you, film development isn’t hard and it isn’t expensive. What’s more, if you follow this guide and are methodical, your results will be great! Here’s what you will need:
- Daylight tank with lid
- 35mm film reels (I prefer stainless)
- Chemicals: Developer, Stop Bath, and Fixer
- Optional Chemicals: Hypo-Remover, Hypo-Check, and Foto-Flo
- A dark space to load the reels
- Measuring cup
- Something to hang your negatives from and with (I use a bit of string and some clothes pins)
- A running tap with both cold and warm faucets
- Film, you fool; film!
In order to process your film, you will need to get the emulsion out of the lightproof cassette. This is why the first part of the development process begins in the camera, just after you have exposed your last frame. Here, I only turn the camera’s rewind lever until I feel the tension give way. This ensures that while the exposed film is safely inside of the canister, the film leader remains on the outside. With the leader sticking out, I can later pull out the filmstrip while the excess remains inside of the tidy, little cassette. Some people may caution against this for fear of scratching the emulsion, but I find that so long as the lightproof felt in the cassette slot is clean, you may pull the film through it without issue.
If you accidentally wind the film completely into the cassette, don’t worry. This is easily corrected but you will have to open up the cassette lid in the dark (I’ll speak more about darkrooms later). A bottle opener will do the trick. I recommend only pulling the spooled film out far enough to reset the leader through the cassette’s outlet slot. Then, push the remaining film and spool back into the cassette to keep things organized. Do not reintroduce the film to the light at this point as your cassette is no longer lightproof.
Use scissors to cut off the leader as straightly as possible. Although you do have some room for error, by making the cut too crooked, the film will be more difficult to feed onto the reel. If you did not rewind the leader into the cassette, do this step in the light.
Your goal in the next stage is to load your film onto stainless steel reels. Via a spiraling guide that holds the film edges, these reels keep the emulsion wraps separated so that chemicals can reach every surface once inside of the developing tank. Loading the reels is a bit tricky at first, but once you have done it a few times, you will be able to do so without a hitch. I recommend sacrificing a roll of the cheapest film you can find in order to practice the next step in the light. Once you’ve seen the method, it is much easier to recreate in the dark where everything is completed by touch.
You must load the reels in whatever constitutes your ‘dark room.’ A lightproof bag or windowless bathroom will suit your purpose just fine. In a pinch, you can even hide beneath a thick blanket with the lights off. Once inside, give your eyes a few minutes to adjust so that you can see any light leaks. It doesn’t take much to fog your film. Remember, safelights are for prints, NOT film.
There are two methods to secure the now-leaderless film to the reel center. One is a spring-loaded clip that will pinch the film between itself and the center of the reel. These can be a bit crotchety and prone to error. I recommend using the more foolproof type that has two prongs on the center bar. Simply slip the prongs through the film sprockets at the end of your filmstrip and you are ready to load.
The trick to loading your reel is to cup the film slightly outward by applying gentle pressure along its edges (only the edges) with your thumb and forefinger. Do this while rotating the reel in the opposite hand in order to feed the film from the cassette into the reel’s spirals. During this step, it is crucial that you keep the film aligned with the reel so that it will feed properly. If the film is fed incorrectly, you will hear the crumpling sound of emulsion folding. When this happens, stop immediately and undo the film to about a foot before the point where you first heard the noise, then restart with a little more caution. When all of the film has been removed from the cassette, sever the empty canister by cutting or ripping the emulsion near the slot. Your 36 exposures should just about fill the entire reel.
Now you can place the reel into your daylight tank. This wonderful contraption allows you to load the film in the dark, close the lid, then bring everything out to work in the light. The tank’s main lid has a small cap on top with a dark trap beneath. This trap allows chemicals to pass, but not light.
While these tanks come in many sizes, the most popular will hold two 35mm reels or one 120 medium-format reel. If you use this tank, be sure to place both 35mm reels inside, even if you have only loaded one with film. This will keep the loaded reel from moving about during development. Next, close the lid (make sure it’s on tight) and you are ready to return to the light.
Look for the second part of this tutorial soon!