Developing Film Negatives

Recently getting involved in film photography, it was such a big deal for me to develop my film negatives for the first time. The process is quite interesting and actually easy once you get the hang of it, anyone can do it; you just need to be patient, pay attention to detail and the more you do it you can master it and it is enjoyable and fascinating in my opinion. You can also develop your films at home and it involves different steps and processes so here is what I have learnt from developing film negatives.

Preparing

There are processes and equipment you will need to produce your black and white film negatives, so for preparation you will need:

  • black and white negatives
  • developer, stop bath, fixer
  • developing tank
  • thermometer
  • timer
  • film developing reel
  • bottle opener
  • film wetting agent

Before developing your film start by preparing your chemicals which are your developer, stop bath and fixer. They need to be mixed in with clean warm water around 20C or 68F, make sure and read the instructions and use your thermometer to check the temperature.

Once you have mixed your chemicals get all of your equipment; developing tank, film developing reel, bottle opener, scissors and film negatives into a room where no light can get in and lay out all of your equipment in a logical order so you’ll be able to locate them in the dark because in the next process you need to be in the dark.

Setting your Film

Once you have found a room where no light can get in (or you can use a darkroom film changing bag) and you have laid out all of your equipment, turn off the light! This is crucial there must be no light, if the film negative is exposed all of your precious shots will not come out which will be a waste of time and money, you do not want that to happen so make sure you turn those lights off! Just in case put a sign on the door saying ‘Keep Out’.

Anyway, if you have everything you need you can switch the lights off. (If this is your first time setting your film in the dark you can practice loading the film on the reel with an old or wasted film in the dark or with your eyes closed, it becomes easier once you practice). Once the lights are off, open the end cap of the cartridge with a bottle opener and take out the film, use your scissors to cut the leader of the film and insert it into the reel and rotate the sides of the reel which will wind the film in and then cut the end of the film with scissors. Now place the reel into the developing tank and once it is tightly sealed you can turn the lights back on for the rest of the process.

Development

The next step is to develop you’ll need your already prepared chemicals, your tank with the film and timer. The instructions for the developing times for mixing the film and chemicals should be on the bottle or the box. Pour in the developer into the tank then close it. Turn on your timer and start to agitate the tank by turning it upside down, tap the tank to dislodge any air bubbles and you do this for every 30 seconds for about 8 minutes. The developer is used to make the image appear.

Once that is done you pour out the developer (do not reuse) and put in the stop bath which needs to be agitated for about 10 to 30 seconds and don’t forget to tap the tank to dislodge the bubbles. The stop bath is used to bring the development to an end but it is actually optional so if you are going to develop your negatives at home you can just use a developer and fixer. If you are using a stop bath it needs to be yellow if not it is not going to work.

After you have drained out the stop bath pour in the fixer. Set your timer and agitate for 10 seconds and repeat this for about 5 minutes or a bit more (check the instructions), again do not forget to dislodge the bubbles by tapping the tank. The fixer is very important because it makes your image permanent so it can be exposed to the light, if it is not used your image will go black. When the timer is done you can drain the fixer and put it into storage for reuse. Leaving the film too long in the fixer it will bleach the highlight details.

Finishing Process

The final step is to wash the film to get rid of the chemicals, use clean water at 20C or 68F and invert the tank about 10 times. Drain the water, and put in the same temperature water and repeat, change the water again and do the same process. Fill the tank once again with water, add a few drops of wetting agent and you can invert for a few seconds or leave it in for a few minutes then rinse out. The wetting agent prevents water spots it helps the film to dry quickly and evenly.

When you are done, take out the reel from the tank and carefully unwind the film, apply a peg on the top and bottom of the film to weigh it down then hang it up somewhere dry, clean and dust free and you are done! You can now have a look at your newly developed negatives and prepare them for printing.

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