Note: This is still in draft format and may end up being a permanent page as I work things out.  i.e. I’m still working on it but thought I’d get it out there.  Also remember I am just starting out in all this so the information is by no means authoritative (if in doubt, ask three people).

If you read the About page then you’ll know that I started off on a mission to learn how to develop film at home having never done anything like this before. To me, film development meant a dark room, a ton of scary looking equipment and a chemistry degree so the first important lesson for me was that the developing process has two distinct parts:

  • Developing the film into negatives
  • Printing the negatives to paper

The second part is the bit that requires the equipment (enlarger) and dark room but the first option of developing the film is pretty low impact. You can do all your “dark room” work in a specially designed bag so it meant that even in my small apartment I might be able to do it. Also, I am used to managing digital photos so scanning negatives to the computer is a better option for me than printing anyway. Things were starting to get interesting.

Developing Films into Negatives

So the basic concept behind it is that the film from your camera needs to spend some time in three different chemicals before being rinsed with water and hung up to dry as a negative.  Thats about it. See not so complicated is it.  The three solutions are:

Developer – You guessed it, this develops the film and will continue to do so as long as the film is in the solution.  So as you can imagine there is a sweet spot where you get the best results.  The amount of time is very much dependant on both the brand of developer you use and the film type you use.  This sounds a bit daunting at first but really it’s just a case of referring to some great online resources to match your developer and film to be shown the correct duration.  This duration is generally between 5-15mins depending on the products you use.

Stop Bath – If you were to take the film out of the developer it will still carry on developing due to residual solution on the film.  The stop solution stops the developing straight away and gives you better control over the developing time.  The film may only be in this for a minute or so.

Fixer – This stabilises the image and removes any excess coating from the film. I have been keeping the film in here for 5 mins

One point to remember is that the temperature of these solutions also effect how they work and generally all timings are based on the solutions being at 20 degrees C.  Some days you might be lucky enough that it’s the natural room temperature, Other times you might need to warm/cool the solutions.  In my first attempt I had to cool them in the fridge.  As you can guess, a thermometer is a key bit of equipment to add to the list.

So that seemed straight forward enough but the film is light sensitive so how do I do all of this without exposing the film to light and ruining it without a darkroom?  Easy, with the use of a dark bag and developing tank.  I used a Paterson Developing Bag which is almost like a thick T-Shirt with no neck hole.  The bottom has a zip and a velcro flap so you can open it up and place everything you need inside before sealing.  The arm holes are elasticated so makes a seal when you slot your arms inside enabling you to work in total darkness.  Only problem with this is that you can’t see what you are doing so it’s takes a bit of practice.

The developing tank is a small cylinder with a lid, under the lid there is a removable funnel that slots into it and under that sits a reel (depending on the tank, it might take more that one reel).  Your film will be wound onto this reel and placed in the tank, when the funnel is clicked back into place the film is magically protected from light while still letting you pour liquids into the tank and empty liquids out.

Probably the trickiest part of the whole process is getting your film onto the reel in the dark bag.  Once you have the knack it’s a simple process. I watched quite a few youtube videos where helpful people had sacrificed film to show you what they are doing outside of a bag.  I also practiced with an old piece of negative and spent sometime going through the process before I tried it on actual film.  You may need the following in your dark bag with you:

  • Bottle opener – to open up a 35mm film canister and get the film out
  • Scissors – to cut the small tab off the end of the 35mm film.

Developing day came and I pooled all my YouTube notes.  I needed to find out how long to develop my film so referred to an online resource at and also downloaded their Massive Dev iPhone App.  The good thing about the App is that it also has a timer to prompt you through the process.  I left one thing out earlier (so as to not confuse things) and this is that the film isn’t just left in the tank sitting on the side during these processes.  You need to make sure that the liquids get to film so you need to move the tank around and the amount of movement does have an effect on the results.  This is called agitation and the websites and apps will tell you what to do.  So for example during the developing stage I agitated (rotated softly) the tank constantly for the first minute and then for 10 seconds after every other minute.

After each stage I poured out the previous solution and added the next and after the third I left the tank running under a constant flow of water for 10mins.   I wasn’t really prepared for the numerous stages of nervousness, relief, and then joy.  Firstly getting the film onto the real for the first time; working out how to get the temp of the chemicals down to 20 degrees; getting through the different stages without the tank falling open; and then the most magical part when you open the tank and see if there is anything there. There was !

This is where you need the final bits of kit in your toolkit and that is something to wipe off excess water from the film, I bought a specific squeegee also made by Paterson.  Then to hang it up you need some clips and something to hang it from.  You can buy products but all you really need is something like a bulldog clip and somewhere to clip it onto where it won’t flop into anything.  A second clip on the bottom will help keep the film straight.

Then what ?
So the next step is to get it scanned.  Here lies a bit of a gotcha, a normal scanner will not by default cut the mustard.  To scan a negative you need a backlight in the lid which normal scanners don’t have. Now if you Google it there are a few hacks out there to get around this including placing an iPad on top with a app that displays a white screen.  This is what I first used.

Best results though will be with the use of a film scanner, either your own, a friends or a local photo shop will offer the service.  Then it’s a case of sharing the results (which is what I’m doing with this site !)

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