Film Development Tutorial / by Ivan Marcin

This is a film development tutorial for all the oldschoolers,hipsters,or guys who still like the look n' feel of film like myself :)

There are already some film development tutorials on the web, and there are books detailing the process of film development, but there's little details which are super important. This is the details missed in most tutorials ,and learnt the hard way by developing a lot of film.

Here is Hipster Totoro happy to develop some Black and White film.

  1. This is the 5K view of the film development so you get the idea first:
  2. Shoot a roll of film...Yep. And load it into a safe light canister
  3. Ready the chemicals to develop the image . Developer and a fixer are a must.
  4. Soak the film in developer, then fixer.
  5. wash and dry the film.
  6. Scan it!

For this you'll need: Film, Safe light canister, film developer, rapid fixer, stop bath, scissors,cooking thermometer, and a squeegee or sponge.

First Step: Load the film roll into the daylight safe canister. The key is this step is to do it in complete darkness. 100% dark or the image goes away. I've done this in 2 ways. I first tried to light seal my bathroom taping foam and putting seals in doors and windows. It worked ok but maintaining the seals wasn't really easy. Otherwise just get a dark bag. It's a black bag, light sealed, with 2 holes for you to stick your arms in. Works like a charm.

Canister with the film loaded into It.

As to how to roll it in the carrier, here's a good youtube video on how. The best 2 things I've done here are: always use a dry carrier, and always trim the edge of the film in a round way with scissors. This makes it 20x times easier to load.

Second step: Prepare your developer. The right amount,at the right temperature.

Each chemical has a formula on the package which shows how to mix it. For most developers, pretty much it is mix the powder in a gallon of water. I use stock Kodak xtol developer. I've tried d76, hc-110,tmax, and coffee. Xtol is my favorite because of how it looks, followed by hc-110 which is super easy to use and keep.

(OPTIONAL) The next step is, check your developer chemistry still works! Not necessary but I always do this. Air spoils the chemicals, and with xtol you won't know because the chemicals won't turn brown. The easy way to check this is take a small piece of film and stick it in the developer a couple of minutes. I simply use the left over film edge cut from the roll just loaded. Then, after 2 mins, just put a piece of developer soaked film , and a clean film piece into the fixer chemical. Wait another 2-3 minutes, and If the developer still works the strip will be black(right piece in the photo), otherwise it'll look clear/transparent just like the clean film strip(left piece)

Developer test: undeveloped (left), and developed (right) pieces of film soaked in fixer.

Next is bring the developer to the right temperature. This step is super important. I've tried different temperatures, ballparking it, replacing the a thermometer with the forecast of weather.com, so on. Not recommended.  Developer will work at different temperatures, and you will get an image, but the image quality suffers greatly. Rules of physics are hard to bend. If you want consistently good results ,you'll need a good temperature. I always stick to 20 degrees celsius or 68 fahrenheit.

My developer at room temperature was at 22.1 degrees. If temperature it's too high, I just stick the container into the freezer for a minute or too. If it's too cold I'll just leave it at room temp to warm up or hold it in my hands.

250ml of developer at 20 degrees. I use 250ml per film roll. You could use more but it'll be a waste, and you could use less and risk to not get a good photo.

Next: pour the developer into your canister and develop the recommend time the manufacturer specifies. Film types should be soaked in developer for a certain amount of time and agitated every certain periods depending on the film type. Usually it's in the 7 minutes ballpark ,and agitate constantly the first 7 minutes,and then 5 seconds every 30 seconds. This changes for every film type, so you'll need to look up the times for your film roll. digitaltruth.com is an excellent resource to find developer times for pretty much every film brand. This roll was Agfa APX100. and I developed it at ISO100 by soaking it 6.75 minutes, with 5 seconds of agitation every 30 seconds.

Now the agitation tips.

  •  Too much heavy shaking will result in super high contrast, your photo will resemble a stencil.
  •  Too low or lack of agitation, and you'll get a very dull image, flat , undeveloped, and very sad image.

The way it works for me is to gently flip 180 degrees the canister upside down in a gentle motion. I'll turn it down about 3 times in 5 seconds. After the developing time, just discard the developer.

Pro tip: I also give my film an extra 30 seconds in the developer so light in the photo goes up a bit, unless I did this effect on camera(  shoot an ISO100 film at ISO50).This looks good in black and white.

The next step is the "stop bath". A must, but the chemical is optional. The idea is to only have the film develop the exact amount of time and no more to have consistent results. The stop bath could be either chemical or just plain water, but the chemical will neutralize on spot every bit of developer. Since I switched to a stop bath I haven't had problems of overdeveloped film, film that looks brighter on the top than the bottom and so on. I use ilfostop because it's cheap and reuse it as much as possible. Pour the stop bath as fast as possible, as soon as you throw away the developer.

Don't pull out the roll yet! It still needs to be soaked in fixer as it still is sensitive to light. So then, just pour the fixer into the canister and wait. I usually fix for as long as I developed. around 7 minutes. Over fixing can degrade image quality and will need lots of washing though.

After 7 minutes. Collect again the fixer. Don't throw it! Diluted fixer can be re-used around 10-20 times.

At this point you can see the photos. These are my film rolls right out of the fixer. The idea is to check if the film looks transparent or opaque. Opaque means it still needs extra fixing(too little time or fixer is loosing strength after many uses). If that's the case, just soak the film in new fixer or the same fixer for a longer time.

Then, just wash the film. Some leave it under sunning water 30 minutes. What I do is fill the canister, shake it 10 times and discard the water around 5 times.

The last step is use some Photo-flo or just hang the film to dry. Photo-flo helps water slide down the film and prevents calcium spots to form. It's entirely optional but Photo-flo is super cheap, lasts forever, and worth not having white spots of dried water in the film. It's used by diluting around half tbsp of flo in 200 ml of water.

That's it! just soak the roll in Photo-flo and hang up to dry . One it's dry, just scan the film and voila! image on computer :).

Not as easy as plugging an SD card your computer, but the look and feel makes it worth it. Black and white in film has a look very hard to replicate with digital, it's a relaxing hobby, and shooting film is a good stuff to learn which will improve your digital technique as well.