How I process B&W film (Part 3 of 3).

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[For Part 1: Equipment Required, please click here.]

[For Part 2: Preparing the Solutions, please click here.]

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Part 3:

Step-by-Step film processing.

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Processing B&W film is easy!  Essentially, there are two goals:

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1:  Develop the film.

2:  Fix the film.

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That’s it! 

Of course, several steps are required to accomplish the above.

What follows, therefore, is a detailed step-by-step guide on how I process my black-and-white film.

[The entire process requires approximately 30 minutes (excluding drying time).]

Enjoy…

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Step 1: Prepare the changing bag.

In the changing bag, place the film cassette, cassette opener, scissors, reel, funnel top, and tank:*

[*Note that I don't include the lid from the Paterson 35mm System (see illustration in Part I: Equipment Required) because it is unnecessary.  The funnel top seals against light, so the lid is redundant (and I find it a nuisance to work with anyway, since it is finicky to snap-on).]

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Following placing the items in the changing bag (which looks like a big T-shirt), zip the bottom closed and place your arms in the sleeves.  Once you’ve done this, light cannot enter the bag.  Voila!… instant “darkroom”.

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Step 2: Remove the film from the canister and load into the reel.

Using the film cassette opener (which looks like a bottle opener) open the top of the film cassette.  Pop out the film.

[Remember, this is all being done blindly inside the changing bag.  It may sound difficult, but it's surprisingly straightforward.]

The next step involves cutting the leading (narrow) first bit of film so that the roll of film may be properly loaded into the reel:


After the leading section is cut off, insert the new edge into the reel (where there’s a “start” point of accepting grooves) and gently unroll the remainder of the film as you push it along the grooves:

Once you’ve placed the first part of the film strip inside the reel, resistance is encountered.  At this point, grip the two halves of the reel in each hand and begin twisting them back-and-forth relative to each other.  There are ball-bearing ratchets inside the reel that “catch” the film and pull it inside; the process ends when the entire film strip is entirely wound inside.

[This step — above all — is the most finicky, and requires practice outside of the changing bag when you first attempt it (that is, you should sacrifice a roll of unused film that does not contain treasured images from your child's birhtday, etc!). When you've completed this step, the difficult part is over and the remaining steps are easy.]

Now take the reel with film wound in it and place it into the tank.  Finally, place the funnel lid on top and screw it closed.  The film is now safe from light, so you may unzip the changing bag and remove everything.

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Step 3: Developing.

Take the Developing Solution you created in the first Tupperware container (please see Part 2: Developing Solutions) and pour it into the funnel, which will direct it into the tank (where it comes into contact with film wound around the reel).

The next few steps will require a stopwatch/timer.

Place the “agitator” inside the funnel top:

[Note: For the remainder of this article, it will be understood that the agitator is placed and removed from the funnel as liquids are poured in and out of the tank].

… and twist the agitator back-and-forth 5 times.

[By doing this, the film reel is spun back and forth and this ensures that your film is adequately bathed in the developing solution.]

Repeat the back-and-forth twisting cycle at the start of each minute for a TOTAL 5 min (if you’re developing HP5 Plus 400)   or    5 – 5.5 min (if you’re developing Tri-X 400).*

[*if you would like to look up the development times of other films, check out this very helpful site.]

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Step 4: Wash out the developer (tap water).

Pour the developer out and run tap water into the funnel until the tank is full (you will see the water emerging out of the funnel when the tank is full).

Twist the agitator back-and-forth continuously for 1 min.

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Step 5: Fixing.

Pour out the wash.

Take the Fixing Solution you created in the second Tupperware container (please see Part 2: Developing Solutions) and pour it into the funnel.

Twist the agitator back-and-forth 10 times.   Repeat the back-and-forth twisting cycle at the start of each minute for a TOTAL 4 min.

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Step 6: Washing, washing, and more washing (tap water)!

[Note: no timer is required for the remaining steps... you can relax!]

  1. Pour out the fixer solution and run tap water into the funnel until the tank is filled.  Twist the agitator back-and-forth 10 times.
  2. Pour the water out, and fill again with tap water.  Twist the agitator back-and-forth 20 times.
  3. Pour the water out, and fill again with tap water.  Twist the agitator back-and-forth 40 times.
  4. Pour the water out, and fill again with tap water.  Twist the agitator back-and-forth 40 times.
  5. Pour the water out, and fill again with tap water.  Twist the agitator back-and-forth 40 times.

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Step 7: Final wash with Distilled Water -Wetting Agent solution.

  1. Start running hot water from the tap at full blast to create steam (this gets rid of those pesky dust particles in the air so that they won’t land on your freshly developed film).
  2. Pour out the last round of tap water wash from above.
  3. Take the Distilled Water-Wetting (“Final Wash”) Solution you created in the third Tupperware container (please see Part 2: Developing Solutions) and pour it into the funnel.
  4. Twist the agitator back-and-forth 40 times.

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Step 8: Drying.

Pour out the final wash, and take the film reel out of the tank.

Carefully unspool the film strip from the reel, and hang it on a clothesline using film clips (please see Part 1: Equipment Required).  I usually place an additional film clip at the bottom edge of the film strip to prevent it from curling up from the bottom as it dries.

Wait 2 – 3 hours and your film will be dry and ready to scan!

[Do NOT squeegee the film (even with your fingers) because you will most certainly scratch it.  Be patient!!!  If you are in a hurry, you may cut your film strip into multiple sections (I usually cut them in groups of 6 because that's the size my scanner slides hold)... the smaller pieces will dry quicker.]

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That’s how I process B&W film!

If you haven’t yet tried processing your own film I hope after reading this you’ll give it a try :).

Thanks,

—Peter.

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Thanks,

Peter.

30 thoughts on “How I process B&W film (Part 3 of 3).

  1. Mark says:

    Hi Peter; Thanks for this…I can’t wait to try it! Should the solutions every be re-used? Are they safe to dump down the drain? There goes a pile of money on B&W film!

    All the best,
    M.

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi Mark,

      I prepare the mixtures from the stock solutions each time I process film (it only takes a minute), as explained in Part 2 of the series. And yes, I do discard them down the sink with running water to further dilute them.

      Let me know how your first attempt goes… it will be “interesting” I’m sure, but don’t get discouraged… after a while, you’ll be able to do this without thinking about it.

  2. agplatt says:

    A very interesting and well written series.

    I’m looking forward to trying this some time. I bought all the equipment in Sweden but then left it there. Not sure what I can get here in S Africa.

    • Prosophos says:

      Thanks Guy!

      I’m surprised to learn that you haven’t yet tried this, knowing how passionate you are about photography.

      I’m also glad to learn you’re OK… it’s been a while, my friend.

  3. Andrew says:

    This is similar to the methods I use but I don’t use the agitator…..just never seemed to work right for me so I put the top on and do the inversion method. I love developing my own film and have been doing so for almost two years primarily with medium format (same method) but also an occasional roll of 35mm. It’s satisfying on a whole different level than digital, the only thing I found is that I hardly enjoy shooting digital anymore!

    • Prosophos says:

      Thank Andrew. Film images speak to me in a way that cannot be readily replicated in digital. But then again, digital has its own charm, so – ultimately – I am happy to have both at my disposal.

  4. jasonehowe says:

    Something I’ve found to be quite useful when using the Paterson tanks – after you cut of the film leader proceed to slightly snip of the corners of the film at 45′. This will considerably reduce the amount of grief you have winding the film on to the spool.

    Cheers

    Jason

  5. André says:

    Hi Peter,
    thank you for this article. As I’m a child of the digital world that is completely new to film, I really appreciate that kind of information and shared experience.
    After reading all 3 parts one question immediately came to my mind: what’s next? How do you scan your film?
    I would really like to read a part 4 (and maybe 5) about scanning your film. I know that topic is huge, but a short overview would be really nice. :-)

    • Prosophos says:

      Glad you found these useful André! You’re correct, a subsequent post on scanning would make sense. However, I need to find the time to do that, so as soon as I can, I will post something.

  6. André Luis says:

    Really nice post man, like André said, I wait for a part 4 about scanning process as well, and even more, what about an article about how to make prints and dodge and burning process.

    Cheers mate

    • Prosophos says:

      Thank you André. Yes, the requests for a scanning article have been numerous, and I am very happy people are finding these articles useful… that was my hope.

    • Prosophos says:

      Thank you André. I’m glad you’ve found these posts useful… that was my hope. As far a scanning article, please see my reply above.

  7. Some friend of mine gave me the link for this tutorial, as i am starting to develop films by my own,

    It would be great, if you could do an part 4, introducing to film scan

    many thanks,

    LR

  8. Instead of a stoping bath with some citric agent, you just use tap water,
    by any reason?

  9. Jeff says:

    Hi,

    I am also returning to film developing after a long time away.

    I am curious… why no stop bath?

    Thanks in advance!

    P.S. great write-up!

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for the nice comment.

      In answer to your question, the stop bath is not needed. I mix my solutions (as I outline in the articles) each time I process and just do a simple wash with tap water in between the developer and the fixer steps.

  10. Gary says:

    Excellent! Also, one can leave the film leader out when rewinding, and thus mount it on the developing reel in daylight before placing it in the lightproof bag and ratcheting the rest of the film onto the reel.

  11. JT says:

    HI Peter,

    Great tutorial! Trying my hands on Film and the only thing that is stopping me previously is the though of cost per development and you have put it in perspective that it might not cost much.

    There is however 1 missing puzzle:- How much time does one need to develop 1×36 film.under the normal conditions. (I guess excluding the drying time of 2-3 hours)

    Thank you very much.

    BTW I really love your pictures – the creaminess of the bokeh and most of all your composition.

    • Prosophos says:

      Thanks JT,

      Excluding the drying time, it takes me less than 30 min to process… sometimes 20 min.

      Hope the articles have been helpful.

      Peter.

      • JT says:

        Hi Peter,

        that was a very quick reply and informative. Now I can’t wait to try, if only the items are readily available in my country….need to do something about the average 28-31 degree C here in Singapore.

        Keep producing great inspiring photos……cheers

  12. Osscat says:

    You missed one very important point – sometimes bubbles can form on the film surface during developing leaving holes in the developed emulsion’

    Before adding the developing solution, I recommend that the film is washed in water with a drop or two of wetting agent added, this should of course be at developing temperature 20C.

    This ensures an even distribution of developer across the surface of the emulsion – the only proviso is that one should agitate the spool gently for a slightly extended period – an addition of 15 to 30 seconds development time may need to be added (make tests to suit personal taste of density)
    :)

  13. […] having experimented with B&W (Thanks Peter!) growing tired of the damage that most machine processors do to my negatives, I decided to try my […]

  14. […] Not only is this one of my favorite rolls so far (for its classic look) but this roll is also a testament to those who claim that film is too time-consuming (Yes, Greek-ish guy: I’m lookin’ at you…) […]

  15. Kevin says:

    Peter,

    I know this is an old post, but was curious if this was all done at room temperature 68F)? I’m in the desert southwest USA and my room temp is 75F, where I’d probably cut down on the development time. Do you try and maintain your temperature?

    I’ve been doing stand development, and temp doesn’t matter so much. I tried stand with Rodinal and HP5+ and didn’t like it compared to Tri-X. Thought I’d do something different, like standard development with HC-110. Seems a lot less grainy, but maybe due to post-processing after scanning?

    Thanks for your advice!

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