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Tips for using a Film Developing Tank

Following on from the previous article titled Processing Film in a Developing Tank it seems useful to supply a short list of random tips that should make the process more understandable to anybody wanting to give it a try. Hopefully, my mistakes can save others from repeating them.

  1. After each developing session I tend to wash the spool in soap and water then dry it in a fresh breeze because any residual chemical or miniscule dampness causes the film to stick when feeding onto the spool.
  2. A handy place to develop film is in the bathroom. Before a developing session run a hot shower for five minutes to capture dust. Then wipe down surfaces & quick damp mop the floor to collect the dust.
  3. When loading the spool: use your fingers to drag the first part of 120 film into the spool for about 4 centimetres… the first part of the film has no images.
  4. Consult a developing chart from the chemical manufacturer for mix ratios and corresponding times (ie. Ilford’s Film Processing Chart). Note also, these are starting points not fixed and fast rules.
  5. Exact chemical ratios: buy a medicine measuring cup or a purpose designed photographic measuring cup for preparing your chemicals.
  6. Measure the temperature of your chemicals with an oven thermometer (sit the jugs in a baking dish so you can add ice or boiling water to the dish to attain the exact chemical temperature – I place the thermometer in the developer).
  7. Be precise: the three ways you can affect film development are time, temperature and strength of the developer. Precision is your control.
  8. Consistency is also key to control: the more consistent you can make the developing process the more you will be able to predict the resulting negatives.
  9. There is ‘good enough’ developer and there is ‘the best’ developer. Choice of chemical can be as important as choice of film – economically and for the quality of the negatives.
  10. You can pull process over-exposed film and push process under-exposed film so understand your options while shooting (ie. 100 ASA film shot inside a building can be pushed 1 or 2 stops to either 200 or 400). The effect of pulling film in development is lower contrast and the effect of pushing film in development is higher contrast and grain.
  11. The developer stage of processing film negatives is a lot more sensitive & unforgiving than the stop bath or fixer stages.
  12. A portable film drying cabinet prevents a large amount of dust from reaching wet negatives.

Once you have a strip of dry film negatives (usually the next day I open the film drying cabinet) there are several choices. The most romantic is to create prints in a darkroom. However, you could purchase a high quality photo scanner to enable the creation of digital files from your analogue negatives. It means you can take those files into an image editing program and treat them as any other digital product.

Most of all, I hope people read these tips and give shooting and processing black and white film a first attempt. It’s neither hard, nor overly expensive. And the satisfaction of creating analogue photographs is another world entirely to the easy graft of contemporary digital photography.

I’m finding the closer I can get to creating ink on paper the more challenging and satisfying photography becomes.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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