B&W For Noobs Posted on 2017-09-18

Category: other

Despite what people may say, developing Black and white film is easy. Extremely easy. It is ridiculously hard to fuck it up. Aside from loading the film into the daylight tank, there's little you can do wrong if you load the chemicals in the right order. I'll go through everything you need to know from start to finish.

Things I wish I had known

1. You're going to lose at least one roll

The first or second time you try to develop your film you're going to lose the roll by incorrectly loading the tank or mixing the chemicals incorrectly. Murphy's law definitely applies - everything that can go wrong will go wrong. It's okay to fail.

2. You can never have too many bottles for chemicals or measuring cylinders

Whether when disposing of chemicals, storing them or mixing them you will understand the true value of having superfluous equipment.

3. Washing/stopping is the most important yet most underrated step.

There is nothing more frustrating than going through the whole process and having stains on your negatives because you cut corners and only washed or stopped for a minute. Be thorough.

4. Taking your time is invaluable

5. Precision isn't key

Temperature and time don't really matter even if everyone says it. If you're 1 degree off or leave the film in for an extra 10 seconds the film won't combust. The higher the temperature the quicker your development will be, the lower the temperature the more time it will take (kinetic theory). You will just achieve different results. Development can be a cold, calculated scientific procedure. It too, like photography itself, is about achieving the look you want and of course experimentation - absolute precision and accuracy are a complete waste of time in my opinion.


Daylight tank - 2 reel recommended to get most out of chemicals

At least 2 measuring cylinders preferably with handles

At least 4 chemical storage bottles

A pair of scissors

Chemicals and dilution

Developer - any black and white developer will work with any black and white film. I recommend Ilford ID-11 because it is cheap and comes in powder form so is easy to store.

Fixer - as with developer, any fixer will work with any B&W film. I recommend Ilford Rapid Fixer because, again, it's cheap and it is reliable

Follow the instructions on the bottle for dilution.


Let me introduce you to your new best friend - Dev truth chart, all you have to do is roughly follow the times listed for your film and at what speed. A rule of thumb for temperature is an extra 30-60s per 10 degrees you are below. So 5:30 minutes @27c is equivalent to 6 minutes and a bit @20c

For washing, I would recommend at least 3 minutes of filling the daylight tank and emptying.

Loading the tank

Watch this video.

The process

There are 4 stages to the chemical process. Develop, stop, fix and wash.

Develop - this gets the image from the film (still reactive to light, so images would vanish if exposed to light). Pour the developer into the daylight tank. Shake (agitate) every minute or so until you reach the development time for your film. Pour the developer into a disused bottle. The developer is reusable but I tend to stay away from reusing developer as it risks ruining a roll. Your developer will have information on how to store it for reuse.

Stop - stops the development process, washes away all of the developer. Continuously fill the daylight tank with water then pour it down the sink for at least 3 minutes. This will stop the film from further developing.

Fix - makes the image permanent (unreactive to light). After the last wash is poured down the sink, fill the daylight tank with the fixer. Leave for at least a minute with occasional shaking (agitation)

You can now open the daylight tank and pull out your developed negatives.

Wash - remove all chemicals to avoid stains. Put your negatives under a running tap for a few minutes

Once this is complete you need to leave your negatives to dry. One piece of information I wish I had known is that black and white negatives are really sensitive. I'd only shot colour film before and it's hardy - I could run a fingernail across it and it would be sound, black and white will scratch very easily so be gentle. After I've washed my negatives in the sink, I cut them up into groups of 6. If you're shooting on a manual camera you might get more than 36 exposures, so you'll probably have a group of 7 or 8 on the end - that's fine. I then lay them onto a layer of kitchen roll, then fold them up. Anything and everything will stick to your negatives when they are wet. Let them dry then they'll be ready to scan or print.

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