Friday, February 4, 2011

Developing Black & White Film at Home - Part 2

Develop Black & White Film At Home

blog by Michael Raso

In the last few weeks there has been an explosion of interest in home development from listeners of The Film Photography Podcast. After 16 months and 27 episodes I'm surprised that it has taken this long for us to launch the "Darkroom Corner" segment led by FPP co-host Duane Polcou.

Darkroom Corner was launched on episode 26 of The Film Photography Podcast.

I've even jumped on the bandwagon and just ordered a home development kit from Freestyle Photographic. It's been a long time since I've developed my own BW negs so the recent input from FPP listeners has been very, very helpful. Plus, when I have a question, I just shoot an e-mail out to one of the FPP listeners for a quick, speedy response.

The Film Photography Podcast has become a really awmazing community of folks over the last year and what better way to start a creative project than with film friends!

Here's links to the FPP home development blogs:

Developing Black & White at Home

Coffee Break - Develop BW at home with Caffenol

Both blog contributions by Darren "Pancho" Riley

Today's edition, contributed by long-time FPP listener Dan Domme is a detailed step-by-step of the home development process. Thank you, Dan. I hope this entry is as helpful to others as it's been helpful to me!


The Transporter
Image by Dan Domme - developed in Rodinal

Greetings, FPP listener! You say you’re interested in developing your very own black and white film! Of course, there are guides out there for developing your own film, some even penned by our own FPP listeners. But when it comes to learning something new, it never hurts to have more fresh perspectives. I’m Dan Domme, and I’m writing this guide just so you’ve got all the information at your disposal before you start developing 35mm or 120 film. I think that you’ll have a lot of fun developing, and it can be a real money-saver as opposed to shooting color. Note: in my instructions that follow, I will keep referring to a Paterson Super System 4 Tank, which is what I use to develop my film. If you decide not to use a steel tank, your plastic tank may vary.

Step 1 - Equipment Checklist

Unless you have the required equipment, you could risk ruining your film before you get a chance to develop it. I’ll list everything you’re going to need here, with the giveaway items marked with an asterisk:

- developer - I prefer to use a liquid developer, since powders can produce flying particles when you mix them, but that’s just me.
- stop bath
- fixer
- a pitch-black room or a light-tight changing bag. I’d recommend a bag if you can get one.
- developing tank, plastic or steel. More about plastic vs. steel in a second.
- appropriate reel for the tank. - plastic for plastic and steel for steel.
- graduated cylinders or other measuring device, about 700-800 mL. (I'd recommend eventually getting one for each chemical you use.)
- a reliable timer, such as a stopwatch
- 2 or more chemical storage bottles (usually black or dark brown plastic, get one for each chemical other than wetting agent, and don’t get one for the developer if you’re working from a liquid rather than powder.)
- black clamp-style paper clips or equivalent to hang strips for drying.
- a thermometer (dial or digital) is also highly recommended.
- hypo wash (optional but not recommended)
- wetting agent (optional, recommended if you have hard water)

Notes: virtually anyone’s fixer will suffice, and if you’re going to buy stop bath, I’d recommend “indicator” stop bath, which changes color when its pH gets too high to be useful. For developers, I prefer either Kodak HC-110 or Agfa Rodinal, which is currently available as Adox Adonal. Both are liquids. D-76 is a powder developer, which is also a great choice for a newbie. I use Zonal Pro stop bath and fixer, but Kodak also makes great stop bath and fixer.

Before buying tanks and reels, here are some key differences. Steel tanks generally take less chemistry per roll than plastic, and they don’t have to dry completely before you use them again. However, it can be more difficult to load, according to who you speak to, and you need different reels for each size of film. I use plastic for the following reasons: they’re just as easy to load as steel; they are less susceptible to temperature changes; they don’t have to be flipped to agitate, and you can fill and drain the tanks faster. It’s also less likely that you’re going to put an image-crippling kink in your 120 roll film if you use a plastic reel.

Step 2 - Chemical Preparation

First and foremost, make sure you check the instructions on the chemicals you buy. Usually they're pretty straightforward, but if you have any questions, do the magic series of steps to find your answer: (1) Use “Da Google” to see if you can find an answer. Usually links to threads on or are helpful if they’re not overly technical. (2) Don’t be afraid to ask the FPP group on Flickr - we all try to be as friendly and as helpful as we can! (3) If you’re still stuck, try asking over at - if you tried your research and take your time when writing your question, I’ve found everyone to be quite helpful, even if there are a lot of different opinions. But anyway...

Mix up the stop bath and fixer and store them in your chemical bottles. When mixing the fixer, make sure you mix for the film dilution, which is stronger, rather than the print dilution. If you’re choosing to use hypo wash, which I have not used before, then you may have to dilute it and store it as you would the stop bath and fixer. You can dilute and store Kodak’s wetting agent, but I only put a few drops in my final round of rinse water. As always, check the instructions for your chemicals if you’re not sure.

If you're using HC-110 or another liquid developer from concentrate, you will likely not need to use a chemical storage bottle for it, since you'll be dumping it down the drain afterward. Stop Bath and Fixer should be re-used until they’re exhausted. I believe hypo wash may be reusable, and the wetting agent should also be reusable if you’re deciding to mix it all at once. Check all the instructions.

Step 3 - Loading the Film

Here's where the fun begins. You might want to take a second to see if your reel is adjustable, such as the Paterson Super System 4. The reels for that system are sold as 35mm, but you can twist them apart to unlock them, readjust the size, and use them for 120 film. Make sure your reel is set to the appropriate size before tossing it in the changing bag (or turning the lights out!)

If you’re working with 35mm film, clip the thin part of the leader so that you’re starting with the full 35mm width of the film, and round the corners just a little bit. If you don’t have access to your leader, then you’ll have to do these steps in the darkroom or changing bag, which can be a hassle. I’ve found I can just pry the felt opening apart to get to the film, but be careful about sharp edges! Other people use a bottle cap opener on one end of the 35 mm canister.

In your changing bag, put your film spool(s), your tank, and your reel(s). Then zip it up and stick your hands in the sleeves. (If you're in a darkroom, just make sure the room is now completely dark.) For 35mm film, I just pull all the film out of the canister, careful to handle it by the edges, and clip it at the canister once I can’t pull any more out. For 120 film, what I do is slowly unravel the spool. for a while you will only be unspooling paper, but soon the film layer start to unroll. Start collecting this into a roll, using your fingertips to hold it along the edges. At the opposite end of the film, there is masking tape attaching the paper to the film. I detach this from the paper and fold the sticky side over so that it forms a tab on the end of the film. Make sure no sticky parts are exposed, or else you might get some gunk on your film. In either case, now you have a complete roll of film in your hands.

Plastic reels load from the outside in. There are some tabs on the reel which I call thumb rests. You feed the first inch or so of film (the end without the tape) past these tabs and the ball bearings in the reel. Then, you can twist the reel back and forth, with your thumbs on the thumb rests to prevent jamming, to automatically feed the film into the spiral. If you have some extra 35mm or 120 film you don’t mind wasting, it’s VERY helpful to try this in the light first.

Steel reels are different - they load from the inside out. At the center of the reel, there is a spring-loaded clip (or even two teeth to grip the sprocket holes on some 35mm reels) which you use to hold one end of your film. Then, holding your film straight, but ever-so-slightly curved, like a celery stick, rotate the reel so that it gently pulls the film from your hand. Typically I hold the reel in my left hand and the film in the right hand.

Once you've loaded the reel, put it in the tank. Plastic reels usually go on a center post, which forms a light seal with the funnel top, and then covered with a lid. Steel tanks have the light trap built into the lid. Once the tank is closed up, you're safe from light and can take the tank to the kitchen sink.

Step 4 - Development Times

What you need to figure out now is how long you're going to develop your film. Different speeds, films, and developers all have different times, and it can be a real hassle keeping them straight.

So go here: - This is the Massive Development Chart, and it has most of the possible combinations of films and developers. Select what film and developer you have on the left hand side, and you'll get a table that probably shows you different dilutions and ISOs. You can mix your dilution down to either conserve your developer or create subtle tonal effects. In general, though, more dilute developers give you more pronounced grain. Select a dilution and ISO combination, and read the time (in minutes) from the 35mm or 120 column - they should be the same 99% of the time. Also, check to see if there are any notes to read in the last column. If there are no notes, assume constant agitation for the first minute, and 10 seconds every subsequent minute (more on this later). (5 seconds of agitation every 30 seconds should also work)

Stop bath times are usually 1 minute with constant agitation, and fixer times are usually 5 minutes: constant agitation for the first minute, and 10 seconds every subsequent minute. Hypo wash usually takes 2 minutes or so, and I use wetting agent for a minute, both with constant agitation. Needless to say, a timer really helps.

Step 5 - The Chemical Process

Measure out your required chemicals in your 3 graduated cylinders, which I have labeled in Sharpie marker as "Develop," "Stop," and "Fix." If you don’t have three graduated cylinders, use one to measure, and transfer the contents to large cups you’re not planning on using for drinking. It is important to have all three liquids ready to go, since this is a time-sensitive process.

Paterson tank volumes are printed on the bottom of the tank. I think it’s 300 mL for a roll of 35mm film (600 for 2 rolls) and 500 mL per roll of 120 film. Steel tanks hold 8 or 16 oz, depending on whether it’s a 35mm or 120 tank. Note that a steel 120 tank will also take 2 35mm reels.

Open the tank while keeping the light-tight part of the lid on. Patersons have a thin black plastic Tupperware-like cover. This is the only thing you should remove... anything else will expose the film to light. For steel reels, only take the smaller part of the cap off.

Pour the contents of the developer cylinder into your tank, strike it lightly against a counter to dislodge air bubbles, and then start agitation - if your plastic tank came with a small black plastic wand, you should be able to stick it in the center hole and twist back and forth gently to agitate. This is quicker than trying to put the lid on as quick as possible after the chemicals go in. Otherwise, replace the cap tightly, and slowly turn the tank upside down and right-side up. Go slowly, about one inversion every two or so seconds. I've found it's not terribly important how many twirls or inversions you get in every 10 seconds, just that you agitate for 10 seconds.

Developing converts the silver salt on the film which has been exposed to light into silver. This silver remains on the film throughout the developing process and as long as you have your negatives. This is why areas of the image that have been exposed to more light become darker.

Once the developer step is done, remove the cover, pour it down the drain, and immediately pour in the stop bath. Gently agitate the tank (via the stick or inverting it upside down and back upright again) for one complete minute. Then pour the stop bath back into its chemical storage bottle (a funnel helps).

Stop bath is a simple acid - usually acetic acid, which is the primary component of vinegar. Since all developers are bases - chemicals with high pH’s - stop bath makes the tank very acidic very quickly, making sure that any leftover developer on your film won’t continue to work.

It's not as important to be so immediate with the changing of fluids from stop bath to fixer, since the most time-dependent step, developing, is over. With the stop bath back in its container, you can now pour in your fixer. Treat it as you would your standard developer: one minute of constant agitation, then 10 seconds per minute until you've done a grand total of 5 minutes. Then pour the fixer back into its storage bottle.

During the fixer step, all the silver salts that didn’t get converted to pure silver by the developer are now sucked away into the fixer chemistry. This leaves the film with nothing but stable silver on the plastic film base.

Now, you'll want to wash that nasty fixer (also known as “hypo”) off your film. Typically, water is all that is needed, but if you want to be super-extra-safe, you can pour hypo wash (at the appropriate dilution) into your tank and treat it as you would stop bath - constant agitation, but give it a bit longer... around two minutes. Note that I don’t do this step myself. Hypo wash is typically used for prints, and even then only on fiber-based papers, which are harder to wash than resin-coated papers. If you’re deciding to use this hypo wash, follow the instructions and pour the hypo wash back into its storage bottle, or down the drain - whichever is appropriate.

Regardless of whether you’ve chosen to do the hypo wash step, fill the tank with fresh water and give the tank five inversions. Empty the tank, then repeat except with 10 inversions in fresh water. Then, do it again, only with 20 inversions. You are now done washing your film. This is known as the "Ilford Method." It is a pretty simple method of washing, and it uses a relatively small amount of water.

Alternatively, you can also use a force-washing hose, which you just attach to your faucet and turn on at a relatively low flow rate. It doesn’t matter how much water is moving over the film, just that it’s moving. This is done for five to ten minutes, depending on whether you are using a hardening fixer, which takes more time to wash off.

Note: If you have hard water - i.e., tap water with a lot of mineral content - you'll want to prevent film spots. This is why you have wetting agent. I use Kodak Photo-Flo, and rather than dilute the whole bottle, I use a drop or two in a final tank full of water. Your wetting agent may be different, so read the instructions. But mix the appropriate solution and treat it just like the stop bath - constant agitation for a full minute.

Finally, disassemble your tank and get to the reel. With a Paterson reel, you can twist the reel apart just like you do to adjust the reel to fit 120 film. If you have a steel reel, just unwind it from the outside.

If your fingers are clean, you can slide your index and middle finger once down the length of the film strip to "squeegee" it dry. They also sell film squeegees. This is especially important if you did the wetting agent step, since your film will have bubbles over it. I use two black paper clips to hang the film to dry overnight - one with an attached piece of dental floss to hang it to my shower curtain rod, and the other used as a weight to keep the film straight. They also sell film clips for this purpose. Just make sure you choose a dust-free environment, or else you might get spots on your negatives. If you’re in a bathroom with a shower, running it before you develop might help eliminate some of the excess dust.

If you need a video guide, I’d recommend video:

The following day, or a few hours later, you can trim up the film strip and then either scan or enlarge your photos. The downside: you need a scanner or enlarger. Or, you can send the negatives to a photo lab that can make prints for you. Just be sure to contact them first to be sure they can make black-and-white prints.

Anyway, there you have it. don't hesitate to contact me on (username yeknom02) if anything I said was unclear or if you have more questions. I hope this was helpful, and please let me know if it was! I hope you have fun developing black and white film!

- Dan Domme
232.365: Hasselblad Self-Portrait


Launched in October of 2009, the Film Photography Podcast is a 90 minute, bi-weekly Internet radio program, exploring a wide range of topics relevant to the experienced and aspiring photographer using film as a medium. Hosts Michael Raso and Duane Polcou enthusiastically dissect and debate the pros-and-cons of film formats, do-it-yourself techniques, digital technologies, and vintage and contemporary cameras and accessories in a thorough, informative and casual manner. Regular features include Camera tests and reviews, “book of the month”, interviews, a listener-generated Q&A, and film-related giveaways.

Produced in the United States, the Film Photography Podcast is broadcast around the globe via iTunes and direct stream from


  1. The use of a squeegee or the fingers on wet film is not necessary and risks damaging the emulsion—particularly in the case of the softer Eastern European films which many people are using. If the film is given a final soak in distilled water and half strength Photo-Flo there will be no spots on the negatives. Adding a dash of rubbing alcohol helps the negatives to dry faster.

  2. Dan is working on me to start up home developing. Polaroid photography has really been spoiling me. I must say that the looks that Rodinal and Caffenol yield are, in most cases, spectacular.They seem to have their own unique looks. -Arthur

  3. I've just started this myself, and used this post as reference more than once.

    Not sure what I'm doing wrong yet, but I seem to be over developing.