Developing your film at home can be a really rewarding process. The entire process of film photography – from the time you release the shutter to when you’re holding the final print in your hand (or in Lightroom) – is a creative one, and bringing your development home gives you a lot more creative control over your final product.
These instructions are for black and white only! However, if you develop your color film this way, it won’t ruin it; it’ll just come out black and white.
What you need
Here’s a minimal setup that’ll get you started:
- Developing tank with reels
- Large graduate
- Small graduate
- Reusable bottle
- Negative drying clips
- Wetting agent
For the two graduates, I recommend one that’s around a liter with 50ml graduations, and one that’s 100ml with 1ml graduations. The reusable bottle is for your fixer, and should be a similar volume to the amount of liquid your tank requires. The non-disposable stuff (1-6) can be had new for ~$120, or even less if you buy somebody’s old stuff from eBay.
Mix up your chemicals
Most chemicals come in a concentrated form, either powder or liquid. To mix them:
- Check the bottom of your developing tank to see the volume of chemicals you’ll need for your film type
- Mix up your fixer according to the instructions on the package, enough to fill up your tank
- Pour your fixer into its bottle using your funnel and cap it off
- Rinse your graduates and funnel thoroughly; residual fixer may kill your developer!
- Mix up your developer according to the package, and just keep it in your large graduate
The fixer is reusable, so you’ll only need to do this when you need fresh fix every 20 rolls or so (check your bottle).
Spool up your film
This step can differ depending on your tank, reels, and film format. Probably best to look up a YouTube video for your specific case 🙂
You’ll be doing this part completely in the dark, either in a very dark room or a film changing bag/tent. I 100% recommend sacrificing a cheap roll of film and practicing unrolling and spooling your film in the light until you can do it with your eyes closed. It’ll be well worth it!
Choose your recipe
You’ll need to find a developing time for your film/developer combo. If it isn’t in your film’s datasheet or on the box, look it up here in the massive dev chart.
There are really only four necessary steps when developing your film. They are develop, fix, rinse and dry. Everything beyond those is optional, however highly recommended. Here’s an overview of an example process that I would use when developing a roll of Ilford HP5+ in Kodak D-76, and some notes:
The time for this step will vary based on your film and developer combo. Developer is one-shot; after you’ve used it, toss it
There are off-the-shelf stop baths out there that have indicator in them to tell you when your fixer is spent. I’ve found that they don’t work that well, and I just use water for this step
Your fixer is reusable. After this step, pour it back into its bottle
After your film is dry, you can cut it and scan, print, or store your negatives. If you end up with hard water or chemical spots on your negatives, you can wipe them off with high-percentage rubbing alcohol (>70%) and let the negative dry again
Why isn’t there a standard process?
As it turns out, most film shooters shoot color film most of the time, and it’s been this way for decades. Because of this, the development process for color negative film (C-41) is standardized, and the film emulsion is manufactured to fit the standard. This is so that labs can just chuck everybody’s color film into the same tank of chemicals for the same amount of time, and everybody gets optimal results whether they’re shooting Portra or Superia.
Not the case with black and white! There are tons of different black and white films and developers out there, and they all interact differently. Choosing a good developer pairing for your film can be daunting; I definitely suggest perusing some forums before going to your local camera store to buy chemicals. Some films have recommended development times in their data sheets, but usually just for developers made by the same company, like FP4 and Ilfosol.