Film Photography: Developing Black and White Film at Home, Part Two

Loading Film and Mixing ChemicalsSee Part One for materials needed to develop black and white film at home.

Loading Film

In order to feel confident loading film onto a reel, you have to practice. This was the single most frustrating thing for me. I mangled an exposed roll even after practicing first with a dummy roll.

After that mistake, I bought a three-pack of cheap Kodak Gold from the drugstore and practiced. I practiced a lot. I didn't even shoot the rolls, just tossed them into the changing bag with my stuff and loaded them. Then I unrolled them and loaded them some more. And just when I thought that I was becoming really proficient, I loaded them and reloaded them several more times. Only then did I try to officially load an exposed roll of film.  This sounds boring and safe, but I recommend practicing the process of loading the reel until you're blue in the face. It will make things so much easier for you in the long run.

The changing bag is your darkroom.

 Picture 2

Picture 2

1) Changing Bag 2) Hewes Reel 3) Adorama Tank with Lid 4) Scissors 5) Bottle Opener

Put all your materials (film canister, scissors, bottle opener, reel, and tank) into the bag. There should be two zippers (essentially, a bag within a bag); make sure everything goes together inside the innermost zipped liner. Zip up both zippers and then you're ready to stick your arms in. Once you are zipped up and your arms are in there, you are in there. It's darkroom time. You won't open that bag again until the film is loaded onto the reel, placed into the developing tank, and the lid is on said tank.

For 35mm film Once your arms are inside the bag with all your stuff, take the bottle opener and pop off the end of the film canister as if you are opening a bottle. I open the flat side of the canister. Then pull out your film. Only touch the film on the edges. The first bit of film won't have exposed images on it, so you have some wiggle room. Keep the film rolled up; don't let it unspool in the bag. This is actually pretty easy.

Now, you'll snip off the leader part of the film. Because you can feel where the leader is less wide than the film, this part is simple. Take the scissors and snip off the leader portion. It makes things easier if you cut it evenly across the film so the new end is straight.

As I mentioned in Part One, I use stainless steel reels. You can find several tutorials for loading plastic reels out there. Your steel reel will either have a two prongs or a clip (slide the film under the clip) to secure the film. I use the Hewes heavy duty reel with the two prongs.



Secure the film by inserting the prongs into the film sprockets. Try to do this as close to the beginning of the film as you can. Once the film is secured on the prongs, hold the film in one hand (I'm right handed, so I use my right) with your fingers resting on the edges. Give the film a light bow by exerting soft pressure on the edges; this allows it to slide into the grooves effortlessly. Turn the reel with your left hand and use your fingers of your right hand to gently guide the film onto the reel.

I watched this bearded gent do it on Youtube. It shows you what I'm explaining.

Once the film is loaded all the way onto the reel, you cut it free from the spool and guide that little last bit onto the reel. Then you put the reel, loaded with film, into your tank and secure the lid. Make sure the lid is on the tank tightly. At this point, you can pull your arms out of the bag and unzip both zippers.  Take your tools and film canister carcass out of the bag with your loaded and capped tank. You're ready to develop your film.  You can even leave the film in the tank until the next day if you want. It's in a light-tight container just waiting for you to add developer.

For 120 film 120 film is actually easier to load. The film is shorter, wider, and I find I never had much of  problem loading medium format film. That said, practice several times loading it in the light before you attempt a real roll. 120 film obviously isn't in a canister, so you don't need a can opener. Just (inside the changing bag) take the tape securing it closed off and unroll it. 120 film has backing paper, so you want to separate the paper from the film. Pull the paper loose and then secure the end of the film under the clip in the center of the reel. It also helps to slightly bow 120 film to get it to slide into the grooves, but it's usually not as tedious to load for me. At the end of the roll, you have to pull the paper off if you haven't already removed the paper. Some people remove the paper entirely before loading it onto the reel, but I just separate it from the film and then pull it off once the film is loaded.

This video shows separating the film from the paper before loading it. (He does maul the film a bit: don't do that.)

Preparing Chemicals

 Picture 1

Picture 1

1) Developer 2) 68 degrees F Tap Water (my version of Stop Bath) 3) Fixer

Chemicals for development should be at room temperature (68 degrees F or 20 degrees C). This is important. Suggested development times are based on room temperature. If your developer, stop bath (water), fixer, and rinse are not a consistent temperature you might run into problems. If your room temperature runs hotter or cooler, you can adjust your development times.

1) Developer

Note that you can't use this developer solution until it cools to room temperature (68 degrees F or 20 degrees C). Prepare it at least a day ahead of when you want to develop your film. 

As detailed in Part One, I'm using Kodak D-76 developer, a powder that has to be mixed in advance. It's a little more labor intensive, but it's much cheaper than a liquid concentrate. One bag of D-76 will make 1 gallon (3.8 litters or 128 ounces) of developer fluid. Since I didn't have gallon jugs sitting around, I chose to work with a half gallon jug (64 ounces). My recipe will be for a half gallon/64 ounce jug of developer. An advantage of D-76 is that it's an all around developer that performs very well with all films. Other developers are more specialized and give different levels of contrast. But this tutorial is just about the basics.

Pour out the developer into a 16 oz measuring cup; you'll have approximately 15 ounces of white powder. I take half of this to mix into this batch, then put the other half aside in a Tupperware container or plastic baggie for my next batch. You now have approximately 7.5 ounces (half of the developer) to mix for your developing solution.

Heat up about 30-40 ounces of water up on the stove or in the microwave until it's approximately 125 degrees F or 50 degrees C. While your water is heating, rinse out your half gallon/64 ounce jug out really well.

Once your water is heated, pour it into your half gallon/64 ounce jug.

Next pour half of your powdered developer into the heated water.

Stir the powder in until you don't see any floating pieces. This takes a few minutes, so be patient. It's important to stir it enough to make sure that there are no chunks of developer floating.

Once your powdered developer has been mixed into the heated water, you can go ahead and fill the half gallon/64 oz jug up the rest of the way with tap or distilled water (room temperature or colder; the colder the better).

This is your Kodak D-76 developing solution. Undiluted, you can develop four rolls with the batch of developer. If you dilute it, as many people do (to be explained in Part Three), you can develop eight or even sixteen rolls out of this batch. 

If this is too much work, you can pay more to get a liquid concentrate developer. For the liquid developer, you simply mix one part developer to four parts water.

2) Stop Bath

I use tap water at 68 degrees F. You can use stop bath and it's not very expensive, but I don't see the need. Other people might tell you to use it, but I have seen absolutely no difference in my negatives between stop bath and water. You'll find plenty of arguments for both sides online. Decide for yourself.

3) Fixer

I use Ilford Rapid Fixer. To mix up rapid fixer you simply take one part fixer and four parts room temperature water and mix it together. I use a half gallon/64 ounce container for this.

That's it! You have all the chemicals you need ready to go. Next time, we'll measure out our chemicals and actually develop film.