Christopher John Ball Fine Arts Photographer and Writer

Developing Black and White Film - A Short Introduction by Christopher John Ball.

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Whilst it may seem that digital has made film redundant many serious photographers are coming back to the medium or looking to try it for the first time. If you are one of them then this short article will give you some tips on how to process your first film

  • In complete darkness - load your film, put it into the tank and close it securely. You can't open the tank again, in the light, until you are ready to wash the film.

    cutting the leader off the film prior to developing opening the film cassette in the dark loading the film onto the spiral in the dark loading the film onto the spiral in the dark 2 loading the film onto the spiral in the dark 3

    35mm film

    120 Roll Film

  • Once you have loaded the film onto the spiral, and closed the tank, you can turn the light back on and proceed in the development of your film.
  • Check the temperature of your chemicals. They should be at 20 C, this is the usual recommended temperature set by manufacturers. Conveniently this is also room temperature.
  • Set your timer according to the instructions with the developer. If your developer is not at 20 C you will have to alter the development time. There will be a chart, supplied with the film or developer, to help calculate these changes. You may find it easier to use a water bath to raise, or lower, the temperature of the developer. For small tank processing try to keep the temperature between 18 and 22 degrees centigrade.
  • Make sure you have arranged all your chemicals, apparatus etc. within easy reach.
  • Start your timer.
  • Pour in your developer, put the lid back on and seal it tight. Gently tap the tank on the work surface to dislodge any air bubbles - then agitate for 10 seconds. If you don't do this you will get areas of your negatives that have not had the full development time and these will appears as lighter area's of the negative.

    developing tank

  • Agitation is important to keep fresh chemistry in contact with the film surface. It is generally performed in one of two ways. Either by inverting the tank ( turn it upside down ! ) 4 or 5 times at the start of each minute, or rotating the spiral inside the tank for 10 seconds at the start of each minute by rotating the centre spindle. A tool to help with this would have come with the tank .

    agitating the film by inverting the tank

  • About 10 seconds before the development is due to end start to slowly pour out the developer
  • Pour in the stop bath and agitate for about 30 seconds then pour out.
  • Pour in the fixer, agitate continuously for 30 seconds then every minute for the duration of fixation.
  • When fixing has been completed pour it out.
  • Take off the developing tank top and place the remainder of the tank under a cold water tap. Wash the film in running water for at least 30 minutes.
  • If using wetting agent add a few drops to the wash at the very end .Wetting agent is used to aid the drying process by preventing drops of water from forming on the film surface which can cause " drying marks". Only use a few drops of the agent as to much can cause problems by leaving marks on the film surface.
  • Take the spiral out of the tank and shake of excess water. Carefully pull the film free of the spiral and hang it to dry somewhere warm and dust free.
  • A word about film squeegees. The best advice I can give is do not use them. If you have purchased one of these please throw it away. They can cause untold damage to your negatives. If a piece of grit, from the water, is on the film - using the squeegee can scratch the negative because this grit will be dragged down the film and cut into the emulsion.
  • When the film is dry cut it into strips and file in negative file sleeves. Don't cut them into individual frames but strips of 6.
  • For accurate process times/temps etc. always consult manufacturers instructions.
  • Remember photographic chemicals are poisonous . Be extra careful if you are working in a kitchen. Any utensils you use preparing chemicals can only be used for that purpose. If working in the bathroom make sure no chemicals come into contact with face cloths, towels etc. as they can cause skin problems.
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