If you photograph using film, you may know that you can cut out the middleman and learn how to develop film yourself. All you need are a few chemicals and some patience.
In this article, we will not only tell you how to develop film but include links to all the products you will need to get it done.
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Why Develop Film at Home?
There are many reasons why knowing how to develop film at home is beneficial. The first factor is the creativity of the process. There is nothing better than coming home after a few rolls of film and doing everything yourself.
Cost can be a factor too. When I was a photography student, developing a roll of film cost around $7. Nowadays, with the rise of digital photography, that price has increased.
By developing at home, you buy semi-large quantities of chemicals. These are much more expensive than using a service, but those chemicals can develop many rolls. This makes it cheaper in the long run.
On top of this, developing film at home allows you to change and tweak your recipes. Push and pull processing is possible, and you can use any developing chemical you want.
You can even try caffenol if you so wish (using coffee as a developing agent).
Without large and sophisticated equipment, you can develop 35 mm and medium format film at home.
Large format film requires a different process, and it’s complicated.
What You Will Need
Preparing the Film
- Changing bag
- Film Spools (comes with the developing tank)
Developing the Film
- Developing Tank
- Measuring Beakers
- A thermometer
- A stopwatch
- Developing agent*
- Stop bath* / Water
- Developing Formula App or printed Version
- Wetting Agent*
There are many developing agents and fixers, across many different manufacturers. This will need experimentation to see which you find works best with your film choice.
A stop bath can be water instead of a specific ‘stop’ chemical. It’s what I use and I see no problems with it.
A wetting agent helps to dry your film better. This is not absolutely necessary, but it will help stop streaks and water spots on your film.
Drying the Film
A drying cabinet is a great piece of equipment, especially if you are developing your film at home. Having your drying film shut away keeps dust from sticking to it, making cleaning easier.
You maybe decide to use a squeegee with rubber parts. These can scratch your film, as the rubber degrades over time.
I recommend the sponge version.
Preparing the Film – Darkroom
Make sure you have space for all of the equipment you will need, laid out. This step needs to be completely in pitch black. Light will affect and ruin your film.
The developing tank needs to be separated into its parts. I find the following order to be the most useful.
First, have the lid of the empty tank on the left, followed by the empty tank, the funnel, then the center spool holder and the white negative holder.
Have the scissors close by.
I find it best to have your film in your hand before you turn out the light. This way, you know where it is.
NB: Two things to think about here. Trim the film leader to a straight edge as that will help you load the film into the holder more easily. If the film is inside the canister, use the film retriever.
The process is simple. We need to roll the film onto the white holder, put the centerpiece through the middle, place it in the tank correctly and screw in the funnel. Simple.
NB: The tank will hold two 35 mm films or one medium format film. For medium format film, you will need to change the size of the spool (see below -Changes for Medium Format).
Before you start, it is worth knowing how the film fits into the spool. In the middle of the white spool, you’ll find a ‘gate’. These are two triangles of plastic opposite each other.
When you hold it in front of you, the ball bearings need to be behind the gate.
Another thing to think about is to take off any watches that have or emit light. This light can affect your film, especially in the darkness.
- Pull out the film by its edge. You need enough to start rolling it into the spool.
- Hold the spool in front of you, having the big circles on the left and right.
- Feed the film through the gate and past the ball bearings. You’ll know this step works by feeling the film is in fact under the plastic. There shouldn’t be any overly excessive ‘crunching’ sounds.
- When you are sure the film is in properly (both sides are in and the film stays), you need to take both sides of the spool in your hands.
- Turn the right side while holding the left side still. This motion will roll the film on the spool.
- Do this until the end of the negative roll. You may have to stop now and again to help it out.
NB: The film may collect or get stuck. The trick here is not to force anything. Forcing the film will make it crease, making the developing of the film problematic.
If any problems arise, pull the film out and start again. This is better than damaging your film.
- After the film has been loaded completely, you need to cut it from the canister. Ensure the film is completely finished before you do this. You don’t want to be left with half a film.
- Place the center spool through the center of the white spool. If you are using two spools, they will both fit on the centerpiece.
- Place the spools in the empty tank. One end of the spool is bigger, which needs to go at the bottom of the tank.
- Screw in the funnel at the top of the tank. The bottom of the funnel needs to fit inside the top part of the center spool column.
- Ensure it fits properly, and if it does, you are free to turn on the light.
Changes for Changing Bag
If you are using a changing bag, you’ll need to place the above objects in the bag beforehand. Close the zip, and then place your hands inside.
It is worth going through the motions before you take the film out of its canister. After you take the film out, you can’t open the bag. Doing so will ruin your film.
NB: In a pinch, you can place your opened film in the empty tank with the center column and funnel. This will light protect it for you to fix any problems in the light. However, it might scratch your film.
Changes for Medium Format
For medium format films, you’ll need to extend the white spools to fit the film. To do this, take the spool’s large circles in your hands. Twist one clockwise, and the other counter-clockwise.
This should separate the two halves. You’ll notice some notches inside the center parts where the two sides connect. The outermost notch is for medium format film.
Place the two parts together and then twist. Use the same method as above but reversed to place them back together.
Developing the Film
Now that you have a completely tight light tank, it is time to add the chemicals. The basic idea is that we add the developer to reveal the image.
We then add a ‘stop’ bath to stop the developing process. Next comes the fixer. This ‘fixes’ the negative and makes it light resistant.
Only after all of these three steps can we take the film out of the tank. Taking it out before would ruin the film.
NB: The main thing here is to know how long you need to develop your negatives for, and what concentrations to use. All chemicals come in a concentrated form, so you’ll need to add water.
To know the developing times and concentrations, you need to use a Development chart (Dev. chart) or Development app.
These will tell you all the information for each of the chemicals you are using, for any type of film.
For example, this is a list of films and developers you can choose from:
For example, if you choose Kodak TMax 400 as a film type, you are presented with many options, depending on what developer you are using.
If you choose to use the Kodak T-Max Developer, there are many ratios and development times to choose from.
By shooting the film at 400 ISO, you have eight options. The developing time will change depending on the dilution and the film type (35 mm or medium format).
I recommend going for the largest dilution. This means you use less developer, and it gives you the smallest film grain.
NB: There are more ISOs for this list, which might be confusing. How can we develop a 400 ISO film at ISO 800? This is where push processing comes into play.
By choosing the first option from our table, the dilution ratio is 1+19, which will give us 36.5 minutes. This is a long time to agitate and develop.
If you are looking for something faster, choose the 1+9 dilution at 20° for a 20 minute developing time.
|Kodak TMax 400||TMax Dev||1+19||400||36.5||36.5||36.5||20C|
|Kodak TMax 400||TMax Dev||1+7||400||12||12||12||20C|
|Kodak TMax 400||TMax Dev||1+9||400||25||25||25||18C|
|Kodak TMax 400||TMax Dev||1+9||400||20||20||20||20C|
|Kodak TMax 400||TMax Dev||1+4||400||6.75||6.75||6.75||20C|||
|Kodak TMax 400||TMax Dev||1+4||400||5.5||5.5||5.5||24C|||
|Kodak TMax 400||TMax Dev||1+7||400||8.25||8.25||8.25||24C|||
|Kodak TMax 400||TMax Dev||1+9||400||13.75||13.75||13.75||24C|||
Following the order, you need to measure out the developer. I find it easier to mix the water and developer into two different beakers.
This way, you can’t be confused with adding small amounts of chemicals and getting the ratio wrong.
For the 1+9 dilution ratio, we first need to know how much liquid we need. The tank we are using needs 500ml to cover both 35 mm films. For medium format, we only need 300ml.
The maths are as follows. 500 ml divided by 10 gives us 50ml. 50ml of the developer is to be mixed with 450ml of water for the best concentration.
Mix them together. Have your stopwatch ready, and start it as you pour in the developer. After adding it all, place the lid on and agitate it for a full minute.
NB: The optimal temperature for this process is 20°. Room temperature is 21°. So, leave your chemicals out for a while before you use them.
Use a thermometer to ensure the correct temperature. A few degrees either side of the optimal can cause a big difference in your negative’s development.
Agitation is needed to keep the developer moving around the film. This needs to happen for 10 seconds every minute. After each agitation, you will need to tap the tank on a surface twice.
This removes any bubbles that may have formed on the negatives from the developer. These bubbles will stop the development of parts of your negative.
To agitate, I recommend moving the tank in a circular motion by holding it in your hand(s) and moving your wrist. Some people turn it upside down, but heavy agitation like this can affect film grain.
Your agitation should look something like this:
0 – 30 seconds – pouring and agitation
30 – 60 seconds – rest
60 – 70 seconds – agitate
70 – 100 seconds – rest
This process repeats for the entire 20 minutes. After this, you are free to discard the developer.
Before you tip away from the developer, find out if it’s reusable. If it isn’t, you are free to pour it down the sink.
NB: All of these chemicals are safe to pour down the sink, except for the fixer.
There are two ways to create a ‘stop’ bath. You can use water or a stop chemical.
For water, place the tank under running water for 5 minutes. My photography technician had a faster way of doing this, which is as follows:
- Fill the tank. Agitate 10 times. Discard the water.
- Fill the tank. Agitate 15 times. Discard the water.
- Fill the tank. Agitate 20 times. Discard the water. This will have the same effect of washing the developer from your film.
If you are using the Kodak Indicator Stop Bath, then the dilution is 16ml per liter.
Two rolls of 35 mm film are 1/2 a liter (meaning 8ml of solution) and half that amount for medium format (4ml of solution).
If you are using the Ilford Ilfostop Stop Bath, the dilution is 1+19. For 500ml, you only need 25ml for two 35 mm films, and around 15ml for 1 medium format film.
Mix and pour in, agitating for the full minute. Pour it down the sink to discard. At this point, you are still not free to remove the funnel.
This chemical doesn’t smell the best, so feel free to use water to remove it from the inside of the tank.
NB: There is a ‘washaid’ product that can help you cut down on the time it takes to clean the developed film. Ilford’s washaid is a perfect choice.
The next step is fixing the film. This is done in the same way as the previous chemicals. The lford Rapid Fixer is a reusable fixer, so don’t pour it away.
The dilution here is 1:4 for rapid, or you can go 1:9 if you want to maximize economy.
To give you an idea of how many films you can develop, a 5-liter bottle of RAPID FIXER concentrate makes enough working strength solution for 600 x 135-36 black & white films.
1-litre will give you 125 rolls, and the 50mml version will give you around 62. When you have finished with the fixer, don’t pour it down the sink. This needs to go to a specialist shop.
Here, we mix the correct dilution, pour it in and agitate constantly for the first minute. After that, 10 seconds every minute.
Keep the fixer, and then on to the final rinse. Take off the funnel, and have a tap running into the tank for five full minutes.
You don’t need to agitate it, so leave it alone and wipe down your surfaces and equipment.
Wetting Agent (optional)
This step isn’t absolutely necessary, but it will help the drying of your film. This is especially helpful for hard water areas.
If you are using the Ilford Ilfotol Wetting Agent, the dilution is 1+200. So, 5ml for every litre you are using. As you can see, this will last a long time.
Keep some of the water from the rinse stage in the tank and add the solution to it. Agitate the spools by bobbing them up and down in the solution by holding the center column.
There might be a few bubbles, which isn’t a problem. Do it for about 30 seconds. Take out the spools and pull off the film from the spool by its end, next to the gate.
Drying the Film
If you don’t fancy using a homemade drying cabinet, you’ll need a place to hang them. A shower curtain rail is a great place, as the drips will fall in the bath.
Use clips to hold the film. Clip the weighted one at the bottom, as that will keep it straight. Hang it up and turn up the heat if you can.
Use the sponge squeegee to remove excess water. Leave the film hanging until it is completely dry.
Cleaning and Archiving
Take the dry film to a clean, flat area, such as a table. Using white archiving gloves will help avoid fingerprints and grease marks.
You will need to cut the films. A lightbox will help you find the edges of each frame. This is especially helpful for dark images (you won’t be able to distinguish white areas on the negative from the spaces between each frame).
First, look across the negatives. If you can see any watermarks or streaks, it is better to clean them now than after cutting them.
To clean, my professors swore by using lighter fluid and an anti-static cloth. You can also use Isopropyl alcohol 98%+.
For cutting, it depends on the archive sheets you use. Generally, five or six frames for 35 mm and three for medium format. These guides will help when you come to scan or print.
Whatever you do, do not cut them into single frames, as they will be very difficult to scan or print from.
Place the archival sheets in an archival folder, and you’re all set.
We have a great post on push and pull film processing to check out next!