Developing Black and White Film at Home for Beginners

By Kate ’22

In the past few years, the ‘old fashioned’ art of film photography has become a modern craze. Many people are beginning to pick up their parents or grandparents old camera and put it to use once again. Film photography is an art of its own, and requires many steps to transform from the snap of the button to the print in your hand. One of the crucial steps to this process is developing the negatives. Negatives are the small squares of exposed film, which contain the image. Negatives can then be enlarged and exposed onto photo paper to create a print. Although convenient, sending a roll of film to a film lab can become quite expensive. Because of this, investing in your own materials and completing the film developing process at home is not only saving money, but is also quite relaxing. 

The materials needed to develop your film negatives at home include: 

  • Film Developing Tank 
  • Monobath Solution 

*This will make the developing process easier as a beginner just trying to begin to understand the developing process*

  • Thermometer
  • Timer
  • Bucket 
  • Scissors
  • Can opener 
  • String 
  • A funnel
  • Film Squeegee

*This is not necessary, but will highly reduce the chance of water droplets drying on the negatives* 

  • Binder clips 

Set-Up

The first step after purchasing all the materials needed, is to find a space with running water to dedicate to the film developing process. These spaces may include a utility sink in the garage, a bathtub, or sink in the bathroom. When a dedicated space is found, make sure to set up everything before beginning, so the process runs smoothly. Find a space where a piece of string is able to be hung, for example, the bar in a shower. Make sure the string is about 5ft above the ground and pulled taut. Then lay out the film developing tank, the exposed roll of film, scissors, and the can opener, in an easily accessible manner. 

The Loading Process

The next step is to turn off the lights in the room and make sure no light is peeping through anywhere. If there is light in the room, the exposed roll of film will become destroyed. Once the room is completely dark it is time to begin the loading process. The first step of this process is opening the roll of exposed film.To do this, catch the can opener on the edge of the roll and pull up. This may be difficult in the dark at first, but becomes easier with time. When the canister is open pull out the film while being cautious to only touch to edges. Then find the beginning of the roll, and trim the edge. This will make it easier to load onto the reel. Once the edge is trimmed, find the reel inside to developing tank and lead the beginning of the roll onto it. A way to make sure this is being done properly is to listen for a click of the ball bearings catching the edge of the film. As soon as the film is caught, load the rest of the film by rotating one hand back and forth. When the whole roll is completely loaded, place the reel back into the tank and secure the funnel lid to assure no light has the chance of contacting the film. 

The Developing Process

With the roll of film secured in the developing tank, the lights can be turned back on. To begin the developing process,  turn on your source of running water and place the bucket underneath. When the bucket fills, place the bottle of monobath solution into the bucket. Keep the water running and use a thermometer to keep track of the temperature. The desired temperature will be listed on the back of the monobath solution. It is NECESSARY to reach this temperature, or else the solution will not work, and the negatives will not develop. Leave the monobath solution is the desired temperature water for about 5-10 minutes, allowing the solution to also come that temperature. 

After this time, remove the lid of the developing tank (do not remove the funnel lid!), and begin pouring in the monobath developing solution. Start the timer, replace the lid, and oscillate the developing tank for 15 seconds and then let the tank sit for 10 seconds and then oscillate for another 15 seconds. Oscillating the tank allows the solution to evenly cover the surface of the roll of film. Repeat this process of 15 seconds of oscillating and then 10 seconds of rest for the time listed on the back of the monobath solution. When the time is up, place the funnel into the opening of the monobath solution and pour the solution from the developing tank back into the bottle. This is possible because monobath solution is able to be used for multiple rolls. 

At this point the roll of film is developed and is no longer sensitive to light, but before removing the funnel lid, it is advised to rinse the film in the tank with water to disperse of any access chemicals still on the roll. 

Time to Dry

Now that the film is no longer sensitive to light, remove the funnel lid and take out the reel. Begin to pull the edge of the film out of the reel and attach it with a binder clip to the string hung at the beginning of the process. When the whole roll is hanging from the string, place another binder clip at the bottom to prevent the film from rolling onto itself. At this point, it is possible to examine the negatives and see the images taken. To quicken the drying process and improve the quality of the negatives, use a film squeegee and squeegee the film knocking off any excess water. Clean up the working area, and leave the film negatives to dry overnight. 

Developing film negatives at home is a personal process, which allows a person to feel more engaged and connected to the work they produce. With the dried negatives, there are multiple options for the next step in the film process. Either take the negatives to a local film store, or scan them all digitally onto a computer. Either way, enjoy learning more about the intensive process behind receiving a film picture, while saving some money!

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