Developing your own film has become a bit of a lost art, but if you’re interested in developing your own black and white 35mm or medium format film at home, the process can be surprisingly simple. Once you acquired the right equipment and practiced the trickier steps, having access to at-home film development can enhance the satisfaction and efficiency of your film photography.
So, what exactly does it take to develop black and white 35mm or medium format film at home? Keep reading as we discuss the advantages of developing your film, as well as what equipment you’ll need and how to make sure your pictures turn out perfect every time.
What Are the Advantages of Developing Film at Home?
Setting up at-home film development can seem like a daunting task, especially when you start to tally up the prices for the equipment you’ll need. But, if you’re seriously interested in film photography, having the ability to develop at your home can be reasonably cost-effective in the long run.
Additionally, it will allow you to get your hands on your developed photos much faster. Although film photography is starting to trend once again, its popularity has certainly taken a hit with the widespread adoption of digital photography. This means there are fewer chemical film developers on the market than there used to be, so it is possible that sending your film out by mail for development may be your only option depending on where you live. This is especially true for color film where developing at home can be tricky because of the precise steps that need to be taken. However, black and white film is easy to develop at home for beginners because it doesn’t have to be processed as precisely as color film and there are still many good black and white developers available.
Assuming that you already have a good quality film camera (like this Canon AE-1 Program on Amazon.com), the most expensive items you’ll need will all be purchased at the beginning of setting up your darkroom. Once you have the basic set up, you’ll only need to purchase black and white film and film developing chemicals. The chemicals used to develop film do not cost much and have a fairly long shelf-life if stored properly. Some of the processing chemicals can even be reused (like the stop bath and fixer), which will also save money.
If you plan on developing film often, doing it yourself can save you the recurring costs of around $10 to $20 depending on postage) of dropping your film off or mailing in your film to be developed. See this guide comparing places online to get your film developed. One company I recommend is TheDarkroom.com. At the time of writing and according to their website, TheDarkroom.com charges about $20.95 to develop one roll of 35mm or medium format film (with shipping) including enhanced-level scans (without tax), it generally takes 3 – 6 days for your film to be processed and your digital scans to be uploaded to the web. It also takes about a week for you to receive your negatives in the mail.
Developing your own negatives not only costs less over time, but it also spares you the long wait to see the finished negatives and/or photos. And, you’ll have a skill set that’s becoming rarer to find, something that you may find useful if you decide that you want to pursue film photography for a long-term hobby or even a career.
How Long Does It Take to Develop Film?
From start to finish, the entire film development process can take anywhere between 3 – 8 hours including processing and drying depending on variables like humidity, size of the negatives, chemicals used, and development process. However, that amount of time is a bit misleading because your pictures are only “developing” during the first 10 to 15 minutes or so.
The rest of 4 – 8 hour processing time is taken up by the rest of the chemicals that includes stopping the developing process, fixing the film negatives so they aren’t damaged by light, washing in a wetting agent like Photo-Flo, and washing the film in running water. The final step is the part of the process that takes the longest, which is drying the film. The film is dry when you can touch the start (the film leader) or the end of the film negative with your finger and thumb. If it feels dry and smooth when touching it, then the film is dry. However, the drying process can take anywhere between 2 – 5 hours depending on humidity and other variables.
Waiting the full amount of drying time is important because wet film is very fragile and susceptible to damage like scratches and fingerprints. Wet film also won’t lay flat for scanning like dry film does.
An Overview of the Process For Developing Black and White Film
We’ll be going over each of the steps of developing black and white film in more detail, but first, let’s discuss a brief outline of the overall process so you can better follow along when we list the equipment you’ll need to purchase.
Each step of the process involves washing the film in various solutions in a specific order. Remember, the film is light-sensitive and needs to be handled in complete darkness when loading into the development tank. Usually, this is accomplished by working in a room with the lights turned off, without windows, and with the door-edges taped to keep the extra light from coming in. I recommend using gaffers tape like this on amazon.com for taping doors because it is thick enough to stop light from coming through and it won’t leave behind a sticky residue or damage your walls.
NOTE: If you haven’t ever loaded a film tank before, then I suggest you try the steps below with the lights on and with a blank roll of film first so you can get a feel for what needs to happen. It is best to do this with a blank roll of film so you don’t ruin your images. Once you feel comfortable loading a tank with the lights on, try it with the lights off to get the feel of it before trying it with a exposed roll of film.
First, the enter find a darkroom with no light whatsoever. It is important there is no light at all because it will ruin your film. If the film is 35mm it should be removed from the canister but if it is medium format then the paper backing should be removed. The film should be loaded onto a developing tank reel (I recommend this Patterson Film Developing Tank on Amazon.com because it can do both 35mm and medium format) that is set to accept that size of film you have (it will be smaller for 35mm and wider for medium format film). The reel allows all of the film surface to be exposed to the various solutions that it will be washed in order to develop it. Also, if you loaded the film properly on the film reel then it shouldn’t be touching. Place the reel with the film loaded on it into the film developing tank.
Once you have the tank correctly put back together with your film loaded in it, the film is safe from light and you can turn the lights back on and continue the process.
Next, follow these general steps:
- Mix the chemicals by following the directions on the packages and have them ready
- Pre-soak the film with water in the development tank with 68 °F (or 20° C) water
- Pour developer solution into the tank for a specific amount of time, based on the temperature of your developer solution then pouring the solution out of the tank.
- Pour in a “stop bath” solution to stop the developer, keep the solution in the tank for a certain amount of time, then pouring it back into the bottle with the rest of your stop bath solution.
- Pour the fixer into your development tank, keep the solution in the tank for a certain amount of time, then pouring it back into the bottle with the rest of your fixer solution.
- Washing the film with water.
- Washing your film in a solution called Photo-Flo to reduce watermarks on your film and help it dry faster
- Take your tank apart and carefully pull your film out of the reel.
- Hang your film to dry!
From there, all that’s left is to let you film completely dry, which can vary based on humidity. Now, let’s take a more detailed look at the equipment you’ll need to get all this done. While the overall process is fairly straightforward, there’s still a precise order of steps that need to occur. So, it’s important that you have all the right tools from the start.
What Equipment Will You Need to Develop Film?
While the decrease in the use of black and white film photography might have made it harder to find local film developing shops, it’s made some of the equipment more affordable than it was in the past.
Below is a general list of equipment and materials that you’ll need to develop black and white film, along with a general idea of what you can expend to spend on each item:
- Film – black and white 35mm or Medium Format – Varies depending on brand but around $7 a roll (cheaper, if bought in bulk)
- Bottle Opener (to open the 35mm film canister) – $5.99
- Developing Tank and Film Reels (can do both 35mm and medium format film) – $33.70
- Measuring cups / Grauated Cylinders (mixing chemcials) – $8.99
- Distilled water – $24.69 (12-pack of 16.9 oz bottles)
- Stainless Steel Thermometer – $11.99
- Drying Rack with Film Clips (or bathtub with shower curtain and clothespins) – $17.99
- Clothespins, heavy paper clips, or large chip clips – $9.99
- Scissors – $10.99 (pack of 3)
- Paper towels – $29.89 (16 rolls)
- Plastic Funnels – $5.81
- Rubber Gloves (optional, but recommended) – $29.99 (black nitrile, box of 100)
- Apron – $12.99
- Kitchen Timer / Phone – $7.99 (two-pack)
- Running water (should have this at your house, recommend a bathroom sink) – free
- A Dark Room (should find this at your house, I recommend a basement bathroom, if not then I suggest the changing bag listed below) – free
- Film Changing Bag (optional) – $22.88
- Bottles to Mix and Store Developing Chemicals – $34.99 (4-pack with lids)
- Developing / Processing Chemicals
- Kodak Developer
- Powder – Makes 1-Gallon, Black and White Photography – $15.97
- Kodak Stop bath
- Liquid – Makes 8 Gallons, Black and White Photography – $19.85
- Kodak Fixer
- Powder – Makes 1-Gallon, Black and White Photography – $17.89
- Wetting Agent / Photo-Flo
- liquid – 16 oz. bottle – $17.99
The estimated total: $318.88 (without optional items)
However, the overall price could be lowered significantly to $146.45 if you found things around the house to use like scissors, bottle opener, kitchen timer, paper towels, thermometer, distilled water, measuring cups, clips for hanging drying film, rubber gloves, funnels, or an apron.
NOTE: Keep in mind that any of the items that come into contact with photographic development chemicals should not be used again for food preparation like funnels, measuring cups, or thermometer to be on the safe side.
There are several places you can purchase photography-specific equipment for reasonable prices online, including:
For most reusable items, including the developing tank and measuring cups, don’t forget that buying used items is always an option, especially on platforms like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist.org, or eBay.com. I am always amazed at what can be found and the prices people want for quality darkroom items. These sites can be a great way to get started with at-home film development without over-spending a budget that’s reasonable for you.
Recommendation for Developing Chemicals
This article will be about developing black and white film. If you’re developing color photos, the process is slightly different, requires additional chemicals, and you’ll need to be more careful with. developing temperatures as well as times. See this article if you are interested in developing color film.
After purchasing your film developing tank the next most important item to buy will be your developing chemicals for black and white film. Fortunately, there are many reliable brands out there that sell quality products for reasonable prices including Kodak, Ilford, Sprint, LegacyPro EcoPro, and CineStill among others that are great for beginners.
I Prefer Kodak Darkroom Chemicals
For this article, I will be discussing Kodak chemicals. They are great for beginners because of their latitude for error (meaning you don’t have to be very precise), they are inexpensive, give great consistent results, and you can easily find them on several online retailers like amazon.com, bhphotovideo.com, adorama.com, freestylephoto.biz, etc.
Most film developing chemicals come in either liquid or powder form. Keep in mind that powder darkroom chemicals will generally is cheaper, safer to ship, has a longer shelf life, while liquid chemicals are easier to mix but is more expensive. However, while Kodak makes many darkroom chemicals in powder form, you can only get stop bath in liquid concentrate form.
Below are the Kodak darkroom chemicals I recommend for developing film:
- Kodak Developer – Powder – Makes 1-Gallon, Black and White Photography – $15.97
- Kodak Stop bath – Liquid – Makes 8 Gallons, Black and White Photography – $19.85
- Kodak Fixer – Powder – Makes 1-Gallon, Black and White Photography – $17.89
- Wetting Agent / Photo-Flo – liquid – 16 oz. bottle – $17.99
See this article for more about the differences between powder and liquid darkroom chemicals.
Be Wary of Cinestil Monobath Developer & Fix (as well as all Monobaths)
If you do any research for developing chemicals for black & white film, you may come across the Cinestil DF96 Monobath Developer & Fix for Black & White Film. This developer is a monobath because it contains all three chemicals (developer, stop, and fixer) in one solution which makes it good for beginners. Some people don’t have much success or consistency with the developer but I think this is because they are used to other chemicals that have wider latitudes for temperature and time like Kodak and Ilford chemicals.
However, if you plan on using it, make sure to follow the directions precisely and I recommend agitating the film for a few seconds longer than it says in the directions to avoid bromide drag marks on your negatives. The Cinestil DF96 is reusable (16+ rolls of film, recombine into original bottle and add +15 seconds for each new roll of film up to 8 minutes) and has a 2 month shelf-life once opened so if you are developing a lot of film over a longer period of time, then I recommend investing in a film developing system with all three chemicals as separate (like Kodak or Ilford) since they will have a longer shelf life than the monobath and save you money over time.
Also, if you plan on developing both 35mm and medium format film, consider getting a developing tank and film reel that can handle both sizes, like this Patterson Universal Tank on Amazon.com.
Recommendation for Black & White Film
When purchasing black & white film, you’ll usually find the best prices online, and we recommend these film options for beginners:
- 35mm Ilford HP5 Plus ($38.89 – 5 boxes with 36 exposures on each roll on Amazon.com)
- 35mm Kodak Tri-X 400 ($44.95 – 7 boxes with 36 exposures on each roll from Amazon.com)
Both options produce sharp images, but the Ilford HP5 film has less contrast relative to what you’ll get if you use the Kodak Tri-X 400 film. This makes The Kodak Tri-X 400 film generally the most popular choice for black & white photographers. Both of these brands make the same kinds of film for medium format film.
- Medium Format Ilford HP5 Plus ($34.99 – 5-pack from Amazon.com)
- Medium Format Kodak Tri-X 400 ($37.95 – 5-pack from Amazon.com)
Do You Need a Darkroom to Develop Film?
Now that you have an idea of the overall steps of the process, as well as what equipment you’ll need, let’s consider where you’ll be developing your film. Many people use a dedicated light-tight space called a darkroom to develop film but that’s not necessarily a requirement. Because the film development tank is light-tight, as long as you make sure that undeveloped film isn’t exposed to light when loading your development tank, the developing process will work just fine. One way you can develop film with a photography darkroom (or just a dark room) is by using a film changing bag.
To use a film changing bag, place your unopened film canister, bottle opener, scissors, developing tank, and reels through the openings where you can insert your hands of a blacked-out changing bag and do the loading process inside the bag. Even though it will block much of the light, it is still recommended that you keep the changing bag out of direct sunlight and in a room with low light (like a closet or basement bathroom) to minimize light reaching the film before being developed.
Film changing bags can vary from something that looks just like a small plastic bag (like this one on Amazon.com for around $20) to larger options that resemble a mini tent or box (like this one for around $50 on Amazon.com) which has much more room and is more durable. I recommend this highly rated changing bag on Amazon.com because it is well-made, durable, and convenient in size. Whichever option you might choose, either will work well for developing film.
Understand the Full Development Process Before You Get Started
Before you get started on developing your film, it’s important to go through and understand each of the steps in advance. Damaging or ruining film your first time developing pictures is something you want to avoid, so make sure you’re prepared for each of the steps we’ll be going over. If you happen to see weird things on your negatives after developing the film, check out this guide to help you understand your film problems and how to fix it or, at least, prevent it in the future.
Some of these steps are somewhat time-sensitive. So, after you’ve gone over these instructions and make a dry run with a roll of blank film, make sure that you arrange your supplies in a way that makes it easy for you to progress between each stage of the process with the lights off or with your hands in a film changing bag.
Step 1: Remove the Film from the Canister in Complete Darkness
Before you begin this step, both films should be out of the camera. If you aren’t familiar you may need to google search how to accomplish this for your specific camera make and type.
Once you’re ready to start, make sure you have all your supplies ready to unload your 35mm film roll from the cartridge or unroll your 120 medium format film. This will need to be done in complete darkness, whether that’s in a darkroom or using a film changing bag.
You’ll need to open up the film canister, which is usually done using the flat edge of a key or a bottle opener on the top. See this video on how to do this correctly. If you’re developing medium format film, you’ll need to use scissors to cut the strip from the paper holding the film together tightly around the roll.
Remove the film from the canister or roll and make a cut near the end of the roll to remove the plastic piece the film is attached to or paper backing for medium format film. This cut should be straight across the width of the film, perpendicular to the long side of the roll. Keep in mind that every step until your film has finished processing needs to be done in total darkness to preserve the images in the film.
How to Retrieve Film Leader or Unwind a Roll of Film?
If you ever lose the film leader inside its canister, you can purchase a film leader retriever (like this one on Amazon.com) to get it easily without the risk of exposing the undeveloped film to light.
The way that it works is that you insert the leading “tongue” of the film picker into the slot/opening along the side of the canister. You’ll push back until you hear a “click” sound, and then you can start to pull the picker back out until you’ve re-exposed the film leader section. Make sure that you don’t pull too quickly, as you could accidentally expose the film behind the leader.
Some people have also found success retrieving film leaders wound back into the canister by using the film leader from a second canister. See this Youtube video on how this process works. In the end, whichever method you try, keep in mind to be careful not to expose any undeveloped film as you’re retrieving the leader.
Relevant article: 4 Ways to Get 35mm Film Out of A Film Canister
Step 2: Load the Film onto the Developing Tank Reel And Assemble the Tank
Now, you’ll need to load the film reel with your film, which can be challenging if you’ve never tried it before. To get an idea of what you’ll be doing, you can practice with expired film with the lights on rather than making your first attempt in a darkroom or while using a film changing bag. See this video on Youtube.com on how to load your film onto a plastic or metal film reel.
If you’re using an adjustable film reel, you must change the size before you even turn off the lights or open your film canister in a changing back. If you’re switching between sizes, take note of where the tabs of the film reels are, as placing them in the wrong way can scratch and ruin your film and damage the reels themselves as well. See this video on Youtube.com on how to adjust your plastic film reel successfully.
Many auto-load film reels can make this part of the process easier, but regardless, take care when transferring the film to the reel as the metal canister can potentially cut your fingers.
Also, if you’re loading the film reel in a dark room, make sure not to drop the film on the floor or any cluttered surface, as even the smallest scratches can damage your film. Touching the film with your hands and fingertips generally isn’t a huge issue, but wearing cotton gloves (like these on Amazon.com) during this part of the process can be a great way to avoid any damage to the film.
Once you’ve loaded the first part of the reel with the film, turn the reel until the entire roll has been loaded. Then, use scissors to cut the remaining portion of the film that will still be attached to the canister. With medium format film, this will be a second paper backing. See this video on Youtube.com on how to load your film onto a plastic or metal film reel.
Once the film is loaded onto the film reel, you need to re-assemble the developer tank. Place the film reel inside, then the center column, and finally close the tank with the lid and the cap, depending on the specific type of tank that you have.
As soon as the developer tank is securely closed and light-tight, you can remove the tank from the changing bag or turn on the lights in your darkroom (assuming there isn’t any undeveloped film lying around).
Step 3: Mix the Developer and Fixer Chemicals
Now your film is ready for processing.
Before you can begin, however, you need to use your storage bottles and measuring cups to prepare any powder chemicals or mix any pre-made solutions that you’ll be using.
Although the next step in the process only involves developer, it’s best to mix all three chemicals, developer, stop bath, and fixer, at this time so you’re ready for the remainder of the process. The Kodak chemicals that I recommended come in powder form for both developer and fixer and liquid form for the stop bath. See below on how to mix both kinds and make sure to accurately follow the directions on whatever products that you’re using.
How to Make Developer and Fixer from Powder?
When mixing powder chemicals for film development, you need to use the recommended water temperature, and it’s best to always use distilled water rather than tap water, which can leave mineral deposits on your photos depending on the water quality where you live.
Before mixing the chemicals in a well-ventilated area like outside (the chemicals are in concentrated amounts but not light sensitive), put on an apron, gloves, and eye-protection. Pour the 3 liters / 3 quarts (or roughly 3/4 of the water for the intended amount) of distilled water into the storage bottle first, using a funnel. Then pour the packet of developer powder in the distilled water. Stir the solution rapidly with agitation until it is completely dissolved. Pour in the rest of the water. For example, for Kodak D-76 at full strength it is recommended to mix the solution at 1:1. This means a gallon of water for the amount in the packet. If you wanted to make half of the solution then use half a gallon of water and half of the packet of powder. The same steps apply to powder fixer as well unless otherwise noted on the directions, however, Kodak Rapid Fixer has two parts needed to be added together. However much you decided to make, always follow the directions on the package.
How to Mix Liquid Developer, Stop Bath, and Fixer?
When mixing liquid developers, stop bath, or fixers, the process is similar but you are using liquid instead of powder. For example, Kodak Stop Bath should be diluted with distilled water at 1:63. This means for every part of stop bath it should be mixed with 63 parts water. I recommend thinking of it this way. If you want to make a gallon of stop bath, 1/63 of a gallon is 2 US fluid oz. so for 1 gallon of water, you will need 2 US fluid oz. of stop bath. Make sure to properly mix it together before using it. Again, however much you decided to make, always follow the directions on the package.
Also, be aware that each solution will need to be mixed at a specific temperature. For example, based on the instructions Kodak D-76 developer should be mixed between 122 – 131 degrees Fahrenheit (50 – 55 degrees Celsius). This higher temperatures ensures the powder will fully dissolve. Again, always follow the directions on the package.
Keep track of the temperature of your processing solutions using a stainless steel thermometer like this one on Amazon.com.
Step 4: Pre-Wash the Film
Next, you’ll want to take your tank and run tap water over it in a sink to pre-wash the film. Pre-washing your film helps you avoid any air bubbles that could form during processing, help with dust, and remove any extra layers of chemicals on the film to prepare for developing. Pre-wash the film in the development tank by using running tap water of constant temperature (between 68 – 72 degrees Farenheit) to wash your negatives for 5 minute with constant agitation.
See this excellent video on Youtube about how to properly agitate your film in the development tank.
Step 5: Add the Developer to the Film Tank
Add your developer directly into the center column of the tank. The solution will filter into the tank, and the reel will allow every part of the film to be exposed to the developer. The chemicals in the developer are what allows the picture to appear in the film, but the film will still be light sensitive. So, make sure not to open the tank during this part of the process for any reason.
Most tanks will have the amount of liquid need labeled on the bottom, so you can use a pour-able measuring cup (like these one on Amazon.com) to make sure you’ve added the right amount. Double-check the temperature of your developer using stainless steel thermometer, at the time you start processing the film, as this can be important for determining how long you should develop the film based on the product’s instructions (generally 10 minutes at 20 Celsius or 68 Fahrenheit but see the Massive Development Chart for more information on specific films and developers).
Set a timer (like this one on Amazon.com) for the correct duration of time and let the developer do it’s magic.
While the film is developing, you will need to agitate the film within the solution by continually turning the tank upside down and side to side, as well as rotating it slightly. Tap the entire tap on a flat surface to disrupt any air bubble, and then agitate the tank for 10 to 15 seconds every minute of the developing time.
Agitating the film ensures that every part of the film gets into contact with the developing chemicals during processing, which gives the film even development and helps elevate common problems when developing film. See this article I wrote about common film developing problems and how to fix them. You can also try the standing develop method, which is when you use a more diluted development ratio than what’s recommended and not agitating the film during processing.
See this excellent video on Youtube on how to properly agitate your film in the development tank.
After the time is up, pour your developer from your development tank down the drain if you are on sewer followed by a lot of water to help with dilution or use a funnel (like one of these on Amazon.com) or pour the developer out of the film tank and back into the storage container. If you have a sewage tank then I recommend that you store it once it is expired until you can dispose of it properly.
How Long Should You Let Your Film Process?
The length of your film processing for black and white film is determined by the temperature of the processing chemicals – especially the developer. If you’re going to be developing your film in an environment with fairly consistent temperatures, you’ll likely only need to memorize one set length of time (68°F or 20°C for 10 minutes with Kodak d-76 developer mixed as instructed on the packaging).
It is okay if your processing chemicals are a little lower or higher than 68°F (or 20°C). The main thing to remember with the temperature of your developing chemicals is that they are consistent. Just remember to adjust your development time to be longer is the temperature is lower or shorter if they are higher. If you don’t adjust your processing times along with your temperature then your rolls of film will vary wildly. Also, if the developer is too hot and the developing time is too short than the negative will have a lot of contrast. If the developer is too cold and the developing time is too long than the negatives will not have enough contrast and look “flat”.
Check out this helpful time/temperature compensation chart from Ilford Photo or this Massive Development Chart for many types of films and developers, which will let you know how much faster or slower your film will develop compared to its “normal” processing time and temperature. Although you have some options, it is best to use the temperature that is recommended by the manufacturer. For example, Kodak recommends that you aim for your developing chemicals to be 68°F (or 20°C) for black and white chemistry.
Pro Tip: If the specific product you’re using has a relatively high or low optimum temperature, you can place the bottle containing your developer in a large shallow dish of hot or cold water and measure with a stainless steel thermometer long enough to reach the solution in the storage bottle (like this one on Amazon.com) until it’s the ideal temperature based on the manufacturer.
Step 6: Wash Film with the Stop Bath
Next, you’ll pour the stop bath solution into the center column of the developer tank. When added immediately after the developer is removed, this solution stops your photos from over-developing. You’ll need to agitate the tank for 30 seconds straight.
See this excellent video on Youtube about how to properly agitate your film in the development tank.
After the time is up, pour your stop bath from your development tank down the drain if you are on sewer followed by a lot of water to help with dilution or use a funnel (like one of these on Amazon.com) or pour the stop bath out of the film tank and back into the storage container. If you have a sewage tank then I recommend that you store it once it is expired until you can dispose of it properly.
Step 7: Wash Film With The Fixer Solution
Next, you’ll pour the fixer solution into the center column of the developer tank. The fixer solution will make your film not be sensitive to light and fix your image onto the negative so after this step you can see your negatives without ruining them. During this step you’ll need to have the fixer solution in the tank for 5 minutes with constant agitation.
See this excellent video on Youtube about how to properly agitate your film in the development tank.
After the time is up, pour your fixer from your development tank using a funnel (like one of these on Amazon.com) out of the film tank and back into the storage container. Because of the silver in the solution after using it fix your image on the negative, you will need to store it once it is expired until you can dispose of it properly.
Step 8: Complete Your Final Wash with Water and Drain the Film
Finally, you need to wash your developed film with running tap water for 5 minutes. Make sure the water is between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder water won’t properly wash any remaining chemicals from the film and warmer water will melt the film emulsion.
After washing your film for 5 minutes, add a wetting agent, like Kodak’s Photo Flo, which prevents water spots from forming on drying film. Make sure to check the instructions for the specific product that you use to see how many drops of wetting agent to mix with water. You’ll need to add a diluted solution (1:200 with distilled water) to the developing tank and let the film soak for 30 seconds.
Once that’s complete, remove the film reel from the developing tank while holding it over the sink. Once it’s out of the tank, shake the reel over a sink to drain water from the film. You can then pull the film negatives out of the reel, but be careful, as wet film can be very delicate. At this point when I develop film I make a piece sign with my pointer and middle fingers and while keeping my fingers straight, I put the film between them and lightly squeeze to not scratch the film, and run them from the top to the bottom of the film over a sink to catch the excess water.
You’ll need to hang them up to dry using clothespins or paperclips, and you want to avoid doing so in any area where they’re likely to be disturbed or go through temperature fluctuations. I suggest over a bathtub. Apply enough paper clips or clothes pins to the bottom of the film strip to prevent it from curling up.
The film will need to dry for between 2 and 5 hours, depending on the temperature and humidity. The film is fully dry once the film completely curls toward the emulsion side (not the shiny side but the dull side). You can also check by pinching the film with a clean and dry thumb and pointer finger to see if the film is smooth.
After the film is dry, it can be cut into shorter sections (around 5 to 6 images per length for 35mm film, medium format is three images depending on the size of your negatives) and placed into plastic pages like this one for 35mm film or these for medium format film on Amazon.com) to keep them organized. If you want to work with the image digitally, you can scan them using a digital scanner, like the Epson v600, a digital camera, or a Lomography smartphone film scanner.
Safety Considerations While Developing Film
Overall, the process of developing film is fairly simple and safe, but you do need to take some precautions when handling the chemicals necessary for this process. See this article I wrote about everything you need to know about darkroom chemicals for more information.
Do your best to avoid getting any of the development chemicals on your skin, a good way is using an apron and gloves and eye-protection when mixing and pouring. Also, work in a space that has adequate ventilation and airflow, as you don’t want to breathe in concentrated fumes from the developing chemicals.
If you do get any chemicals on your skin, make sure to wash that area off with soap and water as soon as possible. Always wash your hands after you finish developing photos and avoid eating until you’ve done so, even if you don’t think you spilled anything on your hands. Additionally, if you ingest any of these chemicals or suspect someone in your home has, call poison control immediately.
When disposing of the chemicals, keep in mind that while the developer and stop bath can generally be poured down the drain if you are on a sewer (if you are on a septic system they can do damage to the bacteria present so it is best to collect them when exhausted and dispose of them properly). I recommend collecting your darkroom chemicals and pouring them into a disposable container once they are exhausted. Once you have collected enough dispose of them properly by transporting them to the nearest hazardous waste disposal facilities to you.
However, with fixer you’ll need to take an extra step, called silvery recovery before you can pour it down the drain. See this article I wrote about everything you need to know about darkroom chemicals for more information.