How to Process black and White film. Step by Step!

We often feel that processing a film is complicated when it is not. The necessary equipment to develop black and white film is very inexpensive, and if you are disciplined, the results will be great.Attention, it is necessary to have a dark room (could be your bathroom) and it has to be completely black in order to extract the film, wrap it around developing reels and make it light safe in the developing tank. To develop the black and white film, we need standard equipment found in every home or that can be purchased for a small fee just about anywhere:

  • Scissors
  • A bath thermometer. There are thermometers designed specifically for photo labs, but you can use a thermometer for a baby’s bath, that will work as well.
  • A stopwatch or a simple timer.
  • Opaque plastic milk bottles that protect milk from light, so it will protect your chemicals from  light as well!
  • Rubber gloves (It’s better to manipulate the chemicals with gloves and goggles).

Then you will need a little more specific hardware, but don’t worry, they are not really expensive: 

accessories to develop film. process film

  • A developing tank, Patterson or another brand. If you want to work with 120 or 220mm films (medium format) you will have to use a bigger developing tank.
  • A developer, the choice of the developer is important, we will come back to this later on.
  • A fixer, non-hardening if possible.
  • A stop bath
  • A wetting agent. (This is useful, but so far, we can do without)

HOW TO DEVELOP BLACK AND WHITE FILM?

 PHOTOGRAPHIC CHEMICALS:

To process a film 4 distinct stages are necessary:

THE DEVELOPER BATH:

Un-oxidized parts of the film will disappear from the film. Only the oxidized parts, which have come in contact with light will remain. Therefore the unexposed parts will be black, the weakly irradiated parts will be a transparent gray colour, and parts that have not been irradiated will be transparent. Thus with this we obtained the negative film. But attention, the film is still sensitive at this stage. A little bit of light on the film at this stage and everything will became black on negative or white on the photo.

THE STOP BATH:

It stops the action of the developer. This can be done in two ways:First by chemical stop bath: A developer becomes inactive if the pH is reduced. Stop chemical baths are highly acidic which stops the action of the developer, and prepares the film for the fixer bath which is done in Ph acid.The other technique is to abundantly rinse the film with water. So we let the water flow in the tank for about one minute.

THE BATH FIXER:

Fixer, as its name suggests, fixes the image to the film. After that, the film will no longer be sensitive to light. The fixer will transform the chemical composition of the emulsion, which means that the oxidation on the film will stop.

RINSING

This time, the film is definitely insensitive to light, but so far, it’s necessary to remove all the chemicals, particles, and the traces of limestone. A wetting agent can be used at this time to facilitate the task. Allow it to dry, cut it, archive it, it’s done.

THE DEVELOPER BATH, THE KEY TO SUCCESS.

Everything is played in the first stage. The result depends on several things:

  • The choice of developer
  • Bath temperature, giving rise to the duration of the bath.
  • The ration of dilution of the developer.

HOW TO CHOOSE A DEVELOPER?

The developers could be classified in three main categories:

  • The versatile: They give good results in any situations, whatsoever without dilution, diluted, on pushed films or very slow films. It’s the case for those developers: Ilford ID11, Kodak D76 and Kodak T-max.
  • The grain reducers: they are used for slow films at 25, 50 or 100 ASA for long developments. The result is a very significant grain refinement. It’s the case for those developers: Perceptol developers Ilford or Kodak X-tol.
  • Specialists of fast films: those films are used with the cell set at much higher sensitivities. For example, a T-max 400 used at 3200 iso. The result is a very strong and pronounced grain, and a high contrast in the image. Some developers allow an optimal quality and contrast of the grain’s definition. This is the case for: Microphen developers Ilford or Kodak X-Microdol.

In 80% of cases, developers like Kodak D76 or Ilford ID11 are quite adequate. By the way, their chemical composition, set up time and bath are all the same.

BATH TEMPERATURE

This is where things became a little bit complicated. Usually, we always try to develop film at a temperature of 20 °C (68 °F).On your developer’s packaging, you will always find a table showing the duration of the bath according to the sensitivity of your film and the bath temperature.Temperature plays an important role. We try somehow to stay in a temperature range between 18 °C (64°F) and 25 °C (77°F). The colder the water is, the longer the bath duration will be; the hotter the water is, the shorter the bath duration will be.The duration of the bath changes a lot of things. If your developing bath is longer, the grain of your photo will be thinner.Therefore 20 °C (68 °F) is a good temperature. This bath is long enough to refine up the grain, and it is short enough to ensure good grades and good contrast.Always refer to the tables on the developer’s packaging; they are always simple and easy to understand.

DILUTION OF THE DEVELOPER

You can use your developer undiluted; the treatment will be as short as possible. We can reuse the bath up to a maximum of 3 times. If you want to get a thinner grain, it is possible to dilute the developer to increase the duration of the developer bath.It may be diluted in 1:1 ration (one dose of water for one dose of developer), which will double the length of the developer bath.It can also be diluted in 1:4 ration (4 parts water for one dose of developer); this will multiply the length of the bath by 4. I do not recommend this level of dilution because rotating your developing tank for 55 minutes is not very fun.Once the developer is diluted, it can only be used once.

DEVELOP YOUR BLACK AND WHITE FILM: STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

STEP 1 : PREPARE THE FILM

For this step, you need a dark room (cover every light source with masking tape, foam weather stripping, towels or rags), a pair of scissors, your developing tank and yourself winding the film in the reel.In the dark, you will have to get the film out of its canister, cut the ‘tongue’ off your film, wind it on the reel (see pictures below), put the reel on the axis of the tank, put everything in the tank, place the funnel and finally, close the container.

step by step film processing

My advice is to practice before you do it for the first time. Try this in the light and use an old role of film. Do it until you can do it with your eyes closed. To remove the film from the canister, you can use a bottle opener, but be careful, do not touch the film. To catch the film you can use your thumb and your forefinger. Since the end of the film has no exposures on it, it is safe to touch it.After that, close the tank, and you can turn on the light.

STEP 2 : THE DEVELOPER BATH

Pour the developer in the tank (300ml for 35mm, 500ml for a coil 120 or 220, 600 for the two films 35). The total duration of the bath is indicated on the developer’s packaging.

Start the timer, put on the cover as soon as possible, and then beat the bottom of the tank 5 times on the table! This is very important; it removes the air bubbles from the film.

During the first 10 seconds, turn the tank 5 times, one second up and one second down, as shown below:

develop film

You will have to do this movement every 30 seconds. So every 30 seconds, during 10 seconds, one second down and one second up, 5 times in a row.

When the time is up, pour the developer bath into a container (we never throw chemicals in the sink or the toilet, it is extremely polluting), and then proceed very quickly to the next step:

STEP 3 : THE STOP BATH

Unless you are using a Chemical stop bath like ILFOSTOP, let the water flow into the tank’s funnel for one minute and then go to the next step. Make sure that the water is not less than 5 °C (41 °F). Go to the next step.

STEP 4 : BATH FIXER

Pour the desired amount of fixer (Ilford Rapid Fix HYPAM, Kodak T-max fixer) into the tank, put the lid on tight and shake your tank from top to bottom, a broad movement for 5 to 10 minutes (normally after 10 films, you will have very muscular arms). It is best to have a bath fixer between 18°C and 22 °C (64°F and 71°F).

 STEP : 5 RINSING

If you are using a non-hardening fixer (Kodak T-Max, Ilford Rapid Fix or HYPAM) you can rinse your film by saving a lot of water, to do this:

  • Fill the tank with water, close it, turn it 5 times, drain.
  • Fill the tank with water, close it, turn it 10 times, then drain
  • Fill the tank with water, close it, turn it 20 times, then drain.

If you use a hardening fixer, let the water run into your tank for 20 to 45 minutes. The film is now flushed. You can remove the funnel (the film is no longer sensitive to light). Remove the film gently from the reel.You need to wring your film before hanging it to dry:

  • Use a squeegee or
  • A chamois or
  • By forming a clamp with your hand, slide the entire film between your thumb and forefinger.

black and white film processing

Then hang your film to dry into a dust free environment.When the film is dry, it’s over. Congratulation you did it, you know how to develop black and white film !