OK, so you’ve got exposed B&W film in the developing tank, and you’re ready to run that baby through the developing process.
For the complete process of development, you’ll need 3 solutions in the following order: Developer, Stop bath, and Fixer. It’s a good idea to keep the temperature consistent for all the solutions if possible, but if not it’s not the end of the world. Each of these solutions will go into the developing tank to do their job on the film, then get poured out to make way for the next one.
The video below is a detailed (and long) walk-through of the process in full, and I’ve also written instructions here for reference. If you have any questions at all regarding this process, please post them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
First off* is the most critical solution, the developer. The developer should be mixed accurately, and made at as close to the given temperature as possible. You can choose from countless different developers, and use them at different dilutions, and different temperatures. What is important here is that you know what you are using, and decide on a development time accordingly. Most people look up a development time on the Massive Dev Chart to get started; you’ll need to know the film type and developer you’re using. Most times on the Massive Dev Chart are based on agitating once every minute, but it’s worth reading any relevant notes to check.
After the developer comes the stop bath. This step is simply to stop the development reaction from continuing on longer than it should. There are chemical stop baths available, but plain water works quite well. The stop bath step can be agitated continuously, and doesn’t need to be timed; as long as you do it for at least 30s or so, you’ll be safe here.
The last chemical process is the fixer. This is a very important step, but the timing and agitation is not critical. The process simply needs to be done to completion, so anywhere between say 3-12minutes will work fine. It is easy to under-fix, so I generally fix for around 10mins, just to be sure. During this step, you usually agitate in the same way as for the developer. Personally I don’t worry too much, and just agitate every now and then to make sure things are still moving.
After the film has completed the fixing process, all that’s left to do is wash and dry. You need to wash all the fixer off the film, and this should be done thoroughly. Ilford suggest the tank be filled with fresh water 3 times: with the first rinse you should invert the tank 10 times, then invert 20 times with the second rinse, then 30 times with the third. Again, I usually do a little extra, just to be sure.
An optional step before taking the film out of the tank is to add a wetting agent (eg: Agfa agepon) to the final rinse, which is essentially a soap. This will help the film to dry evenly, so you avoid the possibility of drying marks (more common when the water quality is lower). Before you pour the final rinse out, just open the tank, put a couple of drops of the wetting agent in, and agitate (any way you like) until you see lots of soap suds.
And that’s it! You can now take your film out of the tank, remove it from the reel, get any excess water off (use your fingers like a squeegee), and hang it to dry. For hanging, I use some small metal clips I got at the newsagent, stuck to the top railing of a doorway. Try to hang the film somewhere with not too much dust around, since dust tends to be attracted to the film, making scanning / printing a little harder down the track. I also suggest cutting the film into strips, and storing it in film sleeves like the ones made by Vue-All.
This entire process, from pulling the film out of the camera to hanging it up to dry, usually takes me around 45mins to complete. I often develop more than one film at a time (usually between 3 and 6), meaning the whole thing is really quite efficient. You’ll end up saving yourself both time and money compared to taking the films to your local lab, and you’ll get loads of self satisfaction to boot!
* There is an optional step before the developer, which is a pre-rinse in water. This can play a few roles in getting things ready for the developer, but I don’t find it necessary. Ilford actually specifically advise against a pre-rinse, saying that it may lead to uneven development. That’s reason enough for me not to do it, and I’ve never noticed a negative impact on my films at all.
Thanks so much for all that, Ross. Top stuff!
Here’s the links for all three tutorials: