Beginner's Guide to B&W Processing
I have found that there are many photographers out there asking questions about who does what and how and what should I get. Well, I was asking those questions a year ago and now I am answering them. And I thought this would be a good place to put my processes out for anyone who would like to view them.
I will be going over a process of developing 100TMX Kodak TMax and also 400TMY Kodak TMax as the development times are published identical for the chemistry I will be using. Developer will be HC110, Diluation 'B' which is mixed 1 part developer to 31 parts 68F/20C water (1:31 mixing ratio). Stop Bath will be Kodak's Indicator Stop Bath which is mixed 1 part stop to 63 parts 68F/20C water (1:63 mixing ratio). Fixing agent is Kodak's Kodafix which is mixed 1 part fixer to 3 parts 68F/20C water (1:3 mixing ratio). Other films and chemicals can be substituted with the necessary mixing ratios and submersion times and those times are available through manufacturer's dicuments and at the massive dev chart online. But the order of procedure is pert' near universal.
But before we go, a disclaimer if you will, DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED BY THE LONG LIST OF TECHNICAL THINGIES TO DO. The learning curve on processing your own film is like zero to insane so don't be afraid to dive on in and do it. Any questions, the good folks here at APUG will be more than happy to answer to the best of their ability. SO, without any further ado . . .
Exposure allows the silver halide crystals to chemically react in proportion to the amount of light received locally in a negative or a slide. As black and white negative film processing is the simplest in procedure we will focus here on this process.
Different chemicals are used for a specific duration of time and in a specific order to release the unexposed portion of the silver and to transpose the latent image into a negative image within the emulsion. Black and white film requires, first, an alkaline-based developer to convert the exposed silver halide crystals into black metallic silver that remains after processing to create the negative image densities. To halt the alkalinity of the developer we next introduce a strong acid commonly referred to as a stop bath. As the name indicates, this chemical’s purpose is to stop the effects of the developer. After a short stopping bath we then place the film into a fixing agent whose purpose it is to rinse away any remaining undeveloped silver halides from the emulsion. Once the fixing agent has done its job we then must rinse all of the residual chemicals from the film by rinsing it in water. Then a drying agent may be added to speed up drying or the film may simply be hung up to dry naturally.
Before developing your own film you will need to get some supplies and also have a room that can be made completely lightproof, preferably one with running water, though this is not absolutely necessary. A list of gear that is required is located at the end of this article. The first thing to do, and most important, is to practice loading film onto the spools. Improper loading can lead to ruined negatives due to uneven development. It is even possible to have portions of film completely undeveloped because one loop of film was resting against an inner loop of film thus preventing any chemicals to reach that surface of the film. So it is best to gain a certain facility of loading film before attempting to do so in the dark. First try loading the film many times while watching what it is you are doing and then with your eyes closed until you can consistently load the film correctly.
Loading film onto the developing reel must be done in complete darkness. This is the proper way to load film. First you need to separate the film from its spool. 35mm film is in a canister. Take a common can opener and gently pry the flat end of the canister off and pull the film free. Unroll it in your hand being careful not to touch the flat surface of the emulsion more than absolutely necessary until you reach the inside edge of the film. With your scissors, cut the film from the spool squarely. With 120-roll film, unroll the paper backing until you feel the edge of the film with you fingertips. Then while unrolling the film you will need to separate the film from the paper backing, keeping the film in your hand, again careful not to excessively handle the flat faces of the film itself. When the film is completely unraveled you will find it is held to the backing with a piece of tape. First remove the tape from the paper backing and discard it. Then remove the tape from the film ever so gently as not to bend the film.
Next hold the film between your thumb and index finger in one hand and take the developing reel in the other. Feed the edge of the film into the clip located in the center of the reel. Once secure and centered, start rolling the reel away from the film while applying slight pressure between the thumb and finger so as to bow the film slightly allowing for ease of loading. Be sure to check for slack in the loaded film every half of a turn or so. If you can slide the film in and out about a quarter of an inch freely then it is loading properly and you may continue. If the film won’t budge and is tight then it has likely skipped a track in the spool and you need to unroll the film back to the point where it is loaded improperly and correct the problem. You may then continue. When you get to the end of the film make certain that the film edge is centered so that it does not rest against the inner loop. This will not create bad negatives on the inner loop but will prevent some of the silver from being washed away during fixing and require additional time for this phase and a re-rinsing of the film. Then you must gently place the reel into the tank and seal the lid. At this point you may now turn the lights on and leave them on for the duration of the procedure.
Now it is time to prepare the chemicals. Follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for mixing processing chemicals and remember to do so in a well-ventilated area and to use protective wear at all times. Ideally you might employ protective goggles, a rubber apron, rubber gloves and shoes with slip free soles. If working with stock solutions you will now be mixing 16 ounces worth of each chemical for use in your 16-ounce developing tank. If you are using working solutions then all you need do is mix the solutions by inverting the containers a couple of times and then measuring out 16 ounces of each for your use. Most chemicals may be reused and will either change consistency or color to indicate that their usefulness has expired. Again, refer to your manufacturer’s literature as to such indicators. Or you may choose to use your chemicals only one time which is commonly referred to as ‘One shot’ processing. Once your chemicals are ready and the film is loaded it is time to get your gear ready for the actual processing.
Line your chemicals up in order of use: Developer, Stopper, Fixer, Photo Flo. I always find it useful to have a list of chemicals in order of use and the duration of use handy in a largely printed list for easy reference. Get out your timer and set it to zero. Get your water running and give it a couple of minutes to be sure that the temperature is steady at the normal processing temperature of 68 degrees. I find that the best thing to do is to fill the tank with your liquid, place the cap on the tank and THEN start the timer.
The first stage that I use is optional. I use a water presoak to bring the film and tank and reel(s) closer to processing temperature. Other photographers think that a water presoak can prevent developer from getting into the film as quickly as it should, however I have never had a problem with under developed negatives as a result of using the water presoak. I fill the tank (holding it close to the edge of the basin and at a slight angle so that if an air bubble forms in the fill hole I can readily rap it against the edge of the basin to dislodge it), place the cap and then start the timer. I agitate throughout the presoaking stage and leave the water in the tank for one minute. Agitating is the act of inverting and then reverting the tank to get fresh liquid across the entire surface of the film. Except during continuous agitation, two or three sharp raps of the tank on your counter or working surface should be done to dislodge any air bubbles that might be adhering to the surface of the film due to the agitation.
When the timer gets to one minute turn it off, take off the cap and pour out the water. It might appear to be grayish at this point but that is OK. It is the water having been stained by the film.
Now empty the bottle containing the developer into the tank. Replace the cap and restart the timer. For developing TMax (both ISO100 and ISO 400) in HC110 Dil.-‘B’ the required developing time is six minutes. But don't take my word for it, read your databook like a good little photographer. For the first thirty seconds constant agitation is required (roughly ten gentle agitations). When agitation is complete rap the tank twice and set it down. For the remainder of the developing stage agitate the tank twice after every thirty seconds. Agitate one last time just before reaching the end of the time allotted for the development stage. When the developing stage is complete turn the timer off, take off the cap and drain the developer from the tank.
Now take the bottle holding the stop bath and empty it into the tank, replace the cap and start the timer. Most black and white negative film processes call for a stop bath phase in duration of thirty seconds only. So agitate the tank once, rap it and set it down. After the thirty seconds stop the timer, remove the cap and drain the stop bath from the tank.
Now take the bottle containing the fixing agent and empty it into the tank. Replace the cap and start the timer. Fixing is required for roughly twice the amount of time it takes the film to clear, meaning for all colored material to be rinsed from the film. After two and a half minutes you can remove the cap and inspect the film to see if it is clear, if so then double your time for the fixing stage. If there is still some blue residue on the film then more fixing is required to remove it. I have found that in my process that the film is clear between two and a half minutes and three minutes so I fix for five and a half minutes. Excessive fixing can bleach the film but if you keep the times relatively short then you should have nothing to worry about. Agitate occasionally during the fixing phase, perhaps once every twenty to thirty seconds or so. When the fixing stage is done the turn off the timer, remove the cap and pour out the fixer.
Now we need to rinse the chemical residue from the film in water. I use the 5-10-20 method and the best way to describe it. Fill the tank with 68 degree water. Replace the lid. Agitate the tank five times and drain the water. Refill and agitate the tank 10 times. Drain, refill and agitate the tank twenty times. Drain the tank.
You’re done. No further stages are required. I, however, use Photo-Flo to speed up the drying time. You could also use a drop or two of regular dishwashing soap. Take the whole cap off, fill the tank slowly pouring a few drops of the drying agent into it. It will sud up. Put the cap on, start the timer and agitate it continuously for one minute. Then rinse the solution from the film.
Now remove the film from the reel and hang it from the clip on your string or wire and place another clip on the bottom of the film to prevent it from curling up or swinging into another object or hanging roll of film. Do not forget to THOROUGHLY rinse your workstation and equipment to remove all chemicals and allow anything that is wet ample space and time to dry. With moving air my film is ready to be cut and stored within an hour.
So as not to put your film to undue risk of being ruined I would like to advocate a practice run or two through your processing sequence. My first roll had one loop of film touching another and thus prevented a small amount of the film from being processed. As simple and straightforward as this process is there is absolutely no reason why a photographer who has practiced and is sure of their procedure should achieve results other than perfection. No reason whatever.
And now for a short and, relatively inexpensive list of gear that you will need for your endeavours. You might find you have some of this gear already or a good substitute or perhaps unecessary altogether. But this is a start.
-Developer stock solution (needs to be mixed) or …
--Developer working solution (ready to be used)
-Stop bath stock solution
-Fixing agent stock solution
-3- gallon jugs (for storage of working solutions of chemicals)
-3 or more 8-ounce glass amber bottles (for storage of stock solutions of chemicals)
-Film drying agent (for shortening drying time)
-A practice roll of film (to practice loading film into the developing tank)
-16-ounce lightproof developing tank (available in either stainless steel or plastic)
-1-120 roll film developing reel
-2-35mm roll film developing reel
-A pair of scissors
-A can opener
-A 32-ounce graduated measuring cup
-A 250 mL graduated cylindrical measure
-2-graduated measure syringes
-A plastic funnel
-3-16-ounce containers (to hold chemicals for processing)
-Instant dial thermometer (for regulating water temperature)
-30 or 60-minute timer that measures in seconds and minutes
-Wire or string (for hanging film to dry)
-Stainless steel hanging clips or wooden clothespins (for hanging and holding film straight)
-Negative archival storage sheets
-Bag of Pretzels (for those of you who will be hard put to resist those urges to step outside for your oral fixation)
If you decide to work with stock solutions in your chemicals then you won’t have need for the gallon jugs as you will probably be mixing the chemicals on an as needed basis. However if you are going to keep plenty of stock on hand , regardless of whether or not you are using a working solution, I would still suggest using the amber bottles for chemicals storage.
A darkroom has only one requirement. It must be light tight. Absolutely. You can have a dedicated darkroom that serves this function on a full time basis. You can convert a bathroom or kitchen to this purpose. You can even use a changing bag and a closet with a slop bucket. A darkroom should be able to fill your personal needs. I would like to point out that I think running water and proper air circulation to be a must when considering a darkroom. And if you are going to be doing processing as well as printing you should have enough room or at least a means to keep your wet and dry processes separated.
Good luck and thank you.
Last edited by Christopher Walrath; 05-25-2008 at 07:08 PM. Click to view previous post history.
I would like to take this opporunity to thank all of you for reading this article. I hope I was able to help some of you.
It would be helpful to standardise the system of measurement.
The international standard is Metric, so Litres, not Gallons/Ounces etc would make the most sense. Same goes for thermometers metric Celsius is more appropriate. Using older Imperial/US sizes can only lead to confusion & mistakes particularly when the US short measure gallon is significantly smaller than an Imperial gallon.
Measuring cylinders and jugs should all have dual scales because some developers etc are still sold in US measure, while most are metric.
Also a note that Developing tanks and reels should be bought as sets, they aren't often interchangeable between makes/types.
Thank you for the note, Ian.
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A very useful guide for those setting out into black and white film processing.
I'm interested on your thoughts about pre-soaking, it's not something I do but what do you find the benefits to be – more even developing. Do you think it is more important when using shorter developer times (say, under 6 minutes)? I believe that some films should never be pre-soaked as it removes a required chemical on the surface of the film (it escapes me which film that is). Are there any developers that react badly to pre soaking? And what about rotary processors, still a good idea to pre-soak?
Be good to hear what you think.
A note on the pretzels: WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS WELL BEFORE AND AFTER EATING.
Before - chemical contamination, not a good idea to be ingesting this stuff
After - greasy fingerprints
My thought, other than the 'more even developing and 'resists air bubbles staying on the film' arguments is that it brings the film and the container up to processing temperatures and brings in developing accuracy just a wee little more.
And the bath really brings out the tang in the pretzel mustard.
Oh, and thanks for the notes. And the reads.
Thank you so much for this article. It helped me get on the path of processing negs myself. Everything is great but I want to note one thing: when you mention Photo-Flo, you say to rinse it from the film afterward. I did this the first time and it canceled out the Photo-Flo step, and water beaded up on the film and left spots. I read more posts and realized that Photo-Flo should be added to the final rinse, and it allows the water to sheet off the film. This worked much better. I think rinsing it off will render the Photo-Flo step useless.
Thanks again for the great article!
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah.