Instructables
Picture of Developing Black and White Film at Home
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Manual film processing was once a common practice among photographers and hobbyists. Now, with the advent of digital camera technology, the process of manual developing has become a lost art. While the hobby is not as popular as it once was, the equipment and chemicals are still available, and are cheaper than ever. Mastering this process will give you a greater appreciation and understanding of the true art of photography. This Instructable aims to cover the actual developing process in detail, but it is beyond the scope of this Instructable for me to cover camera operation and film selection in great detail. Instead, you will notice that I have posted links to excellent resources throughout the guide. Those unfamiliar with a particular concept should refer to these articles for reference. Any further questions are always welcome in the comments.
 
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Step 1: The Camera

You will need to have access to a film camera. Most people still have one laying around, but they can be picked up on eBay, Goodwill, or even the drug store for not much money. I still use an old Canon AE-1 Program, and it gives me excellent results. Don't worry about all the fancy bells and whistles; just find one that works. If your camera has an automatic mode like mine, just let the camera do the work. Some older cameras do not do the auto metering, so you will need to handle that yourself. The basic rule of thumb is the "Sunny 16" rule. This simply means that you should use one, over whatever speed your film is, as the shutter speed, and an aperture of f/16 on a sunny day outside. For example, on a sunny day, I choose to shoot with 250 speed film. My exposure will be for 1/250 with an aperture of f/16. Unfortunately, a more detailed explanation of manual camera operation is beyond the scope of this Instructable. For more information, I find this website to be an excellent resource (be sure to read all of the articles; there are nine.)
shootfilm9 days ago
One note: I leave my cell phone outside the darkroom when I'm in there. Once someone called me at the wrong moment, which made the phone light up and ruined my image.

Great article!
joeofloath5 months ago

"It is a common misconception that you can develop color film with black and white chemicals, and get a black and white image."

Well, actually... http://www.shootingfilm.net/2012/12/how-to-develop...

onemoroni110 months ago
I have had my own darkroom for a couple decades. Recently I bought 100' roll of B/W and spooled up a few rolls and started shooting again. Have to get the chemicals when I'm ready. There is nothing like a hand printed B/W, nothing compares to it, not even the best digital.
blodefood1 year ago
I still have my Minolta SRT 100. I remember doing my film at home and taking the negs to the J-school darkroom to print them in the enlargers. Yep! That was a while ago.
Actually you can process c41 with b&w chemistry. There are a few flikr groups and online tutorials.
jephey6 years ago

WARNING: It is dangerous and illegal to pour fixer down the drain! It contains silver which is dangerous to people and wildlife! If you have a septic tank this is a definite no-no.

What can I do?!
Pour your used fixer and developer into a container (with a lid) that can be easily transported by automobile. Take the container to a photo lab (or even a pharmacy with a one-hour lab) and ask the lab tech for it to be dumped in the Waste or Silver Recovery unit. Don't ask a cashier! If you can, call ahead and ask for the lab supervisor.

If they ask questions:
Say you do your film at home, that it should be safe to pour in, they can ask their supervisor, and it's more money for them because of the silver it contains. The people aren't giving you a hard time, there is often all sorts of warning signs about mixing chlorine/bleach containing chemicals, with another type of chemical, that is all Greek to them. Be patient and let them double check, it's worth it for the environment.

Why?
The unit at professional labs zaps the waste with electricity and using magnets collects the silver and the rest goes down the drain. Not only does the silver not make it into the water supply, it is saved in large canisters which are picked up for recycling!

In the United States: Both Federal and State government agencies regulate the handling and disposal of photographic chemicals. For more info on proper disposal of photographic chemicals, see here (PDF).
Bumping an old comment, sorry about that.

It isn't only fixer that's dangerous. Any chemicals used in the process should be handled this way. The developer itself washes away chemicals with it, and even if you use an eco-friendly developer, the chemicals it washes away will make it just as bad for the bay as your standard chem developer. Unfortunately, I learned this after dumping a few gallons of used Caffenol into the gutter.

Good comment, by the way. I was a little shocked seeing such a nice Instructable with pictures of the author pouring everything he used down the sink.
Regarding fixer - you can reuse a liter of fixer around 20 times (that is, process 20 rolls of film with it). Since it's relatively expensive, it's almost silly not to. Then when you're done, you really do need to take it somewhere where it can be properly dealt with. (This could be an Instructable in itself). Where I live, the local county provides toxic waste management centers where materials like this can be taken.
Fixer in particular can be managed by plating the silver out onto steel wool (the silver is toxic in solution).
dqvid jephey3 years ago
@jephey: thanks for this information! now if only there were a way to promote it to the top...
onemoroni12 years ago
Yeah, good old sunny 16. I have a couple all manual cameras and it works great and not too hard to interpolate stopping up or down with the aperture and/or shutter speed to get what you want.. Also don't forget rule of thirds. Pay attention to composition if you want a stunning image instead of a record.
I remember as a kid I always wanted a Canon AE-1 Program. I just got mine with another Canon A1. BTW nice lens cap, '84 olympics?
building a bw darkroom in a bathroom. what are the staining risks with slate floors/countertop and with porcelain sinks? is there a clean up routine to prevent staining? better surfaces (aside from ss, plastic and fiberglass!)
greyhathacker45 (author)  urbanfarmer184 years ago
All of those materials are fairly porous, and thus will soak up the potent die present in many brands of stop bath. New developer and new fixer generally has no color. Interestingly enough, the active ingredient of stop bath is acetic acid, CH3COOH, which is also the active ingredient of household vinegar, a colorless and harmless replacement for stop bath. Will you be making enlargements as well or simply processing negatives?
so if i use vinegar instead of stop bath, no staining issues? what about coating and sealants for the slate or the porcelain?
LinuxH4x0r6 years ago
Now if only I could do color.....
Color negative film is easy to process, three steps. Time required is even less than for black and white. The times are very short so a few practice runs are a good idea. The only detail that's a little difficult is the temp control, most kits are used at 100 deg. F +/-.25! You need a water bath to keep temp tolerance like that (maybe a future Instructable?). And most film scanners work better with color film than they do with black and white. But the whole why bother thing comes up since most one hour labs will "process only" color negative film for a couple of bucks.
KMaq4 years ago
how can i develop a 5x7 paper without a lightproof developing tank? i hear that pressing it anda a blank sheet together between glass works. 
Get a color paper processing drum (tube), load the paper in the drum in the dark (or use a changing bag) and once the cap on the drum is replaced you can process the paper in normal room light.
komecake4 years ago
  Ahhhh, this brings back memories. I actually found a HUGE original B & W developing book at a thrift store  on the film I used back in tech school. I just need the chemicals and a film reel. I'm willing to hide in the dark in my bathroom. :D
DeSaint4 years ago
What I do is to scan the film with a Canon 8800F, that way I transfer it to the computer and voila! a digitalized photo
plasticjack5 years ago
just a note: you can skip the stop bath all together and just use running water. works just as good and saves you money on chemicals!
sorry to keep commenting, but i wanted to add a little tip that helps keep those troublesome bubbles on your film at bay. After each agitation, tap the bottom of the tank lightly on a hard surface, like the side of the sink. It loosens any bubbles and keeps them from ruining your film. :)
dont forget to raise the edge of the tank when you tap it on the table or the air bubbles will not escape from the tank i think this is great that so many peoples are still interested in the anologue process i realy like the monocrome get a great buzzzz in the darkroom when the image begins to appear keep it going for the future peoples to enjoy. from me codwithchips
osgeld6 years ago
this is a great instructable, well put together, and very informative great work ! eventho i personally will never do this :)
riggita6 years ago
Yay! This is so helpful. I took photography at college a few years back and have all the equipment except a dark place to roll my film. Thought I had to build a darkroom but now I know about a wonderful thing called a changing bag. Thanks!
jeoncs6 years ago
This was a great help thanks a ton!
dchall86 years ago
FUN! When I was in high school I was lucky enough to have free access to a professional darkroom where my dad worked. I had to buy my film but the chemicals and paper, up to 24x36, was free and usually only one day beyond expiration. Here's an idea for college students interested in photography. When I went to college I discovered a dark room, never used since the building was built, in the basement under the offices of my department. They had an enlarger but no lenses. I approached the department at one of their regular meetings and offered to become the official department photographer if they would spring for two lenses (35 mm and 2.25 square), chemicals, paper, tongs, and trays. They didn't even blink and allocated $200 for me. That probably wouldn't go very far at today's prices but I had plenty left over. I used my cans and reels for developing film. I also bought a bulk roll of 35 mm film and a loader and began to roll my own loads 30 pictures per roll. For the most part I used 2.25 square format for much better quality prints.
lasersage6 years ago
awesome, well done on the instructable. For once I don't have some comment to add - except the well done :D Don't fear there is a strong following of the pure photography techniques. Me and my girlfriend have 3 enlargers between us, and many friends with equipment, all be it in tinfoiled windowed bathrooms and toilets. Beware light sources, our bathroom has a boiler that comes on and gives off light, fogging films, wrist watches with glowing hands can do the same!
greyhathacker45 (author)  lasersage6 years ago
I toasted a roll of film one time with the glow from my watch. It doesn't take much light to mess up film. Thank you for your kind comments.
dan moulton6 years ago
Nice one, i still develop and scan heaps of film. You can get great film camera gear really cheap now as people "trade up" to digital.
Most commercial fixers want you to fix for at least 2 minutes. Is 30 seconds really enough? My film always fogs if I skimp on this step.
greyhathacker45 (author)  christydeering6 years ago
NH-5 is a rapid fixer without hardener. According to the instructions, 30 seconds is sufficient, but you could go up to about 5 minutes without problems. I've never had problems with the film clearing in 30 seconds with NH-5.
awesome! that's good to hear.
oo, this is my favorite site for film developing info!
You can also find negative sleeve pages at any friendly local photography supply store. If not there, go online and find some. You can get them in lots of different sizes, and it helps to be able to slide them in the sleeves, label the top, and store them in a binder.
if you have a completely dark room with no light leaks, you can do this on a clean, flat surface in there, too. oh, and if your tank has room for more than one reel, MAKE SURE you put the reel with FILM on it on the bottom of the tank, or your chemicals won't fully cover the film. and....remember to put that second, possibly empty reel in the tank anyway, even if there's no film on it. It's part of the tank, and needs to be there for things to function properly. (you don't want light leaks!) Cheers!
You can also soak your film in a solution of Photo-Flo for 1 minute before hanging up, to help eliminate spotting.
Nice job! Our instructables go hand in hand.
Also, you might look into archival sheets for the film, I always use Print File. They're plastic sheets with sleeves for strips of film. Each one can hold (at least) 28 frames (a single roll). Five frames is the standard strip sized, so I might suggest sticking with that, only so that they will be compatible with all types of storage.
Damn and blast! You've beaten me to it, we're in the process of building up a nice darkroom in the downstairs toilet... Nice 'ible, rated... and featured.