Photo tips

Intro to developing black and white film


There are a lot of new folks discovering analog/film based photography. It isn’t that difficult to develop film at home. In fact, all you need are a few pieces of equipment and you are up and running in no time.

By developing your own film,  you can pull and push film, change the developing temperatures, try different developers, and change the way you develop the film. Most of all you save on the cost of sending out your film to be developed, and the time waiting for it to get back. I shot a roll of 120 this afternoon, and it is hanging  (almost dry) and ready to print. Don’t be afraid, you can do it. Here are a few things to get you going, and few tips for you as well.

  1. You do not need a darkroom to develop film. Use a changing bag or a portable darkroom to load the film onto the reels. I use a Photoflex Changing Room. It stores flat, but pops open like a small tent. There are sleeves for your arms, and everything goes inside. The whole thing fits on a card table, and I can put film on reels or in sheet tanks in a bright room without any issues. I am on my second changing room after 20+ years. They last a long time.
  2. Start with plastic reels and tanks for 35mm and 120. These tanks have a little ball bearing that helps you feed your film onto the reel. Steel reels are more difficult, but I like them better (personal preference). Just do not drop steel reels on the floor! They will bend and be difficult to load afterwards.
  3. Pick one film and one developer. Don’t make it complicated. Once you get one combo done, you can branch out into other films. Start with a forgiving film like Tri-x, T-max, HP5 and the like. Any 400 ISO film should be a good place to start.
  4. Use low odor and low environmentally impacting chemistry. I grew into photography with D76.It is a fantastic developer, but I wanted something more environmentally friendly. I now use the LegacyPro line of developers and low odor fixers. I also use water as a stop bath. Always have.
  5. Find used equipment online. You can buy new, but there is plenty of used equipment floating around out there. Try the auction sites, Etsy, Craigslist and even some garage sales. All of my darkroom equipment is used. Some is over 30 years old. Which leads me to #6:
  6. Keep your darkroom equipment clean. Wash your tanks, reels, pitchers etc after every use. They will last a lifetime.
  7. Buy a few more essentials: A graduate, two brown plastic one gallon storage bottles, a darkroom thermometer, a timer (any timer will work), a stir stick/paddle and some Photo Flo and you are ready to go. Use a string to hang your film on to dry. I stretch mine between the curtain rod and a tripod, pulled taught. I use regular wooden clothes pins with tape over the ends to hold the film and bulldog clips for weights at the bottom.

That should be a good start. I have some tips that I would like to add on, which will be in part two of developing black and white film. Stay tuned….

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