Last week we visited the art of Street Photography. For purists, shooting street usually means rolls and rolls of black & white film shot on a rangefinder. If you’re lucky enough to have a reliable lab who does developing for your black and white film, then you’re sorted. Most of the time to save time, they just do any emulsion in the same batch and same timing at room temperature. After this series, you’ll know why that is not a good thing. Fewer and fewer labs do black and white processing anymore simply because of how labor intensive it is to do properly and even with all of that, usually there are only perhaps 1 or 2 days a week when the lab will accept Black & White film.
So, if you shoot a ton of Black & White, why not develop the film yourself? Today, we are going to look at what you need to develop your own black and white film at home. Next week we will look at exactly how to develop the film from canister to hanging up the developed strip to dry.
Article Continues After The Jump!
First of all let me debunk some myths you may have about developing at home:
1) You don’t need to convert a room into a darkroom to develop black & white negatives, only if you are looking to do wet printing.
2) It’s relatively inexpensive to develop your own black & white film (again unless you are looking to wet print)
3) While you do need to monitor temperatures of solutions quite accurately, with Black & White film, it’s a lot more lenient than say Colour or E6 methods. There is a greater leeway with minute temperature differences.
4) While definitely not something you want to drink or bathe in, the chemicals for B&W film development are reusable (except for the developer) and are safe to flush down the toilet or sink. Doesn’t hurt to wear white gloves though.
So if we’ve gotten those out of the way, lets start with the hardware you will need to start playing mad scientist in your bathroom.
Firstly you’ll be needing a developing tank to do any amount of developing. The popular brand for the developing tank that I know of is the Paterson tank and it will come in different sizes, from 1 spool inside to 4-6 spools for those who really develop a heck of a lot of film at once. Each of these spools are also adjustable to accommodate 120 film as well. As a rule of thumb, tanks with a metal spool instead of a plastic one with the ball bearings are WAY harder to spool so I suggest getting the plastic ones, after all you’re going to have to spool your film blind. (More about that next week! ;))
Next you’ll be needing a light tight changing bag in which you’ll be removing your film from the canister and spooling into the reels and into the tank. The changing bag has 2 arm holes for you to put your arms in to manipulate your film blind. Yup, you’re going to need to be VERY good at spooling and assembling your tank blind! You can probably pick one up at stores like DG Color or Keat Cameras.
Next you’ll need a measuring cylinder to measure out your chemicals, ideally you should get one that can fill your developing tank’s size of liquid. You will also need a mercury thermometer to make sure your developing solution is up to temperature. If you can get a very long one all the better. If dealing with a liquid based developer, you’ll need a syringe sans the needle to measure out the concentrated developer for working solution. A 10ml syringe should be more than enough.
Next up, you’ll need containers to store Fixer and Stop Bath. Ideally they should be opaque and air tight to ensure your solution doesn’t spoil. If it can’t be obviously seen, make sure you label fixer and stop bath accordingly. It’s also recommended for you to have rubber gloves and lots of dedicated cloth to mop up spills. the chemicals aren’t going to burn a hole through your floor, but they are still chemicals in the end.
You will also be needing a stopwatch or your mobile phone for timing your development. If you have an iPhone or android, there actually is an app for that (It’s called Massive Dev Chart BTW). Also if you can, you’ll also need clips to hang your roll of film to dry, there are specific clips for these, with weights on the end to prevent rolling, but if you can’t regular bulldog clips with weights are ok as well! You’ll also want some archive sheets if you are scanning your own film, as it gets messy quite quickly when it comes to storing film strips.
Hardware wise, that’s all for now. Let’s move on to the chemical aspect of developing.
There are a couple of chemicals that you’ll need to do your developing at home. First of all, you’ll need developer. Developer comes in many shapes and forms, from powdered to concentrate. The easiest i’ve come across is from Kodak called HC-110 and is pretty easy to mix into working solutions as it starts as concentrate. It can be kept for a pretty long time and will go a long way. From Kodak there is also D-76 developer which comes in a powder but for that you’ll actually need to KEEP working solution after making it in a bucket. Other popular developers are Ilfotec, TMAX developer and the sought after Rodinal. Each developer has its own timings and characteristics as well as way to create working solution. For the purpose of next week’s article, we’ll stick to HC-110 and its method. Besides, HC-110 is the easiest to get locally I think.
Next you’re going to need a Stop Bath, which essentially stops all developing by the chemicals on the film. This is used after developing so it will give an even developing rather than have residual developer on your film. Some people say that water is enough, but why take chances, its not super expensive. Personally I use Ilfostop, which is made by the guys over at Ilford.
After the stop bath, you’re going to need a very important chemical called the fixer. This fixer is used to “seal in” your film and make it able to be taken out of a light tight environment. It provides a “fix” for your film so you can actually rinse and leave it to dry without re-exposing the film negative. For this purpose, I use Ilford’s Rapid Fixer. But as with the previous 2 chemicals, there is a whole range you could use. This chemical is essential and can’t be substituted.
Out of these 3 chemicals, you can recycle and keep the Stop Bath and Fixer. Store them in a cool place and try not to drink them.
Next up if you have the money, you can even get a hypo clearing agent (wetting agent) with makes sure your negatives don’t dry with water marks and dry evenly. Personally again, I use one drop of Mama lemon dishwashing soap in water in my rinse cycle to clear up my negatives, besides, it smells awesome.
Well that about does it for what you need to get for developing black & white film. If you’re wondering about availability, and where to get such things, you can try stores like DG Color or Keat Cameras or alternatively you can visit our forum or the photomalaysia forum to see if anyone is selling. If you are planning a trip to Singapore, you can get all of the above at Ruby Photo at Peninsular Plaza, where I usually get all of my stuff.
Stay tuned next week for part 2 of this article and find out how you actually use all of this stuff to develop your own film!
If you have any questions, drop a comment on the Facebook link or tweet me @luc_sohow!