Developing Black & White Photo's at Home




Introduction: Developing Black & White Photo's at Home

Nothing says "arty" quite like black & white photographs. In this instructable I'll be showing you how to develop black & white film in a relatively cheap way so you can get negatives to do with as you wish!

Why not develop it at a shop? why black and white? and why in god's name don't i just buy myself a digital camera??

Because i like to throw off the chains of digital imprisonment and make something REAL!......(this is a lie)

The reason i started developing b&w at home is i couldn't find any shop that would do it, and after speaking to some nice people in a camera shop i ended up buying all the stuff to do it myself ( for only about 20 pounds), and after my first film developed i got a bit hooked on it, also with practice you can have greater control over how you negatives turn out (i haven't really practised enough to do this).

B&W film is a hell of a lot easier to develop than colour (so I'm told) and i think it looks arty-er so pretty girls will want to hang around with me/make sweet love with me more (........yet to happen)

Also a film SLR can be bought really cheaply and you can get some cool looking results (i like cameras from USSR or east Germany, any camera that outlasted a nation has got to be good), and i also don't have the money for a decent digital camera.

Slight disclaimer- I don't claim to be an expert at this, this is just what worked for me and i was happy with the results, i realise there are other step you can take such as using a stopbath ect. that might produce better results so YMMV.

Step 1: Things You'l Be Needing

Here's a list of things you'll want to have to hand:

Developing tank
Measuring Jug
Developing solution
Fixing Solution (Fixer)
Clothes Pegs/Film Clips
A film to develop
Film extractor (possibly optional)
A pair of scissors
A clock

I got my developing tank, measuring jug, fixing solution, thermometer, "film clips" and film extractor for 25 pounds (the film extractor being the most expensive of the lot at 10 pounds, apparently they are "as rare as hens teeth" according to the nice man in the shop.)

All the chemicals (Fixer and developer) can be bought from jessops (in the UK), just make sure you get ones for black and white film, and quite alot of camera shope will sell black and white film.

Step 2: Getting the Film

With a bit of foresight this step can be made alot simpler, it can be a total pain in the arse. When you wind the film back in your camera make sure the film doesn't retract full into the canister and a little bit is left poking out, when the film detaches from the right hands spool in the camera it can usually be felt, you want to stop at this point so it doesn't full wind back into the canister (see photo for about how much you'll be wanting to leave sticking out).
If the film does end up full back inside the canister there are two options:

1.) Use a film extractor- These are really fiddly, but once you get the hang of it they are fairly simple, instructions on how to use are usually printed on them. (This is what i usually end up doing)

2.)Use a special film cannister opener- these are like bottle openers and you use them to pop off one end of the film cannister- THIS MUST BE DONE IN TOTAL DARKNESS otherwise the film will get exposed and be ruined. (Never tried using one of these before, but they are fairly straight forward by the looks of it)

Step 3: Preparing the Film for Loading Into the Developing Tank

Before you load the film into the developing tank you'll be wanting to prepare the end of the film that was left sticking out of the cannister too make the loading a little easier, to do this take a pair of scissors and cut the tab off the end of the film so that there is a straight edge on the end of the film.

Then take your scissors again and cut rounded edges at the corner of the film, this will make the loading smoother and help the film to roll around the spool.

Step 4: The Developing Tank

The developing tank is where the magic will happen.

The tank is what the film is put into when your are developing the photo's, it has a light proof pouring spout at the top where you can put the developing chemicals in without letting any light get onto the film and ruining it.

The tank consists of a number of parts (from left to right in the photo):

The Tanky Part- this is where all the chemicals are contained and stopped from flooding all over your floor

Light proof seal - This fits in a recesses in the top of the the tank and helps stop light getting in and chemicals coming out.

Central Spool - this is what the film spool and retaining clip slide onto, it sits in the centre of of the tank.

Film Spool - The film is wound out of the film canister and around this spool, it has ridges in the two end pieces so each wind of the film is kept separated and chemicals can get to the film, it can also be split apart in the centre for easy extraction of the film once it is developed.

Retaining Clip- This is a small plastic C shaped clip (can be seen resting on the edge of the film spool), once the film spool is slid onto the central spool it slides on after and holds the film spool in place making sure the film sits at the bottom of the tank amongst the chemicals.

Misc. Twisting Thingy - this is the small black plastic tube sitting between the film spool and top cap, not all developing tanks have these, it slide down the centre of the top cap and fits into some notches in the centre of the central spool, it allows you to rotate the central spool and film spool while the film is developing to help agitate the chemicals, although shaking the tank works just as well.

Top Cap- This screws onto the top of the developing tank and has a hole in the top that allows chemicals to be poured into the tank without letting any light in.

Top-Top Cap - This is the grey plastic cap that fits on top of the top cap and stops any chemicals from coming out if you shake or drop the tank while it is developing.

Step 5: Loading the Film Spool

The film you will be taking out of the cannister is still reactive to light, any light you let onto the film until it is fully developed will expose the film and all your pretty pictures will turn out white.

I do this step under my covers in my room with all the lights off and the windows closed and at night, if anybody comes into your room/threatens to turn the lights on just scream "I'm having some happy alone time!!" at them, and upon seeing you furiously scrabbling under your bed sheets will generally make a swift exit.

The film spool has a clever little mechanism involving small ball bearings so that when you twist it one way then twist it back the film will advance onto the spool and be pulled out the canister. You may have to manually pull a length of film from the cannister to get it started, but once its got going things generally get easier. Once all the film is loaded onto the spool and out the cannister take a pair of scissors and snip the cannister off the end of the film.

This takes some getting used to, especially because you will have to do it in darkness, I recommend sacrificing a film to practice with in the light first, then try with you eyes closed, then give it ago in total darkness.

Also make sure you only touch the film by the edges when you are doing this otherwise you can scratch your negatives.(the third picture is an example of how nasty this can look)

Step 6: Loading the Tank

At this point you should still be underneath you bed sheets and in darkness and have the film loaded onto the film spool. still in darkness take the film spool and slide it onto the central spool and put the retaining clip on top and put the whole lot inside the developing tank making sure the light proof seal is in place and screw on the top cap.
The film should now be safely inside the light proof developing tank so you can turn all your lights back on again.

Step 7: The Chemicals

Getting the chemicals may be slightly tricky depending on where you live, ask around some local camera shop and they should be able to point you in the right direction. I got mine from Jessops (in the UK) they've got a website where you can order from.

The two chemicals you'll be using are:

The developer - I'm not sure of the chemistry behind developing films but from what I've heard on the grape vine the developer deposits silver crystals on the film on the area that has been exposed by light causing them to go dark (hence images turn out negative).

The fixer - The fixer fixes the deposited silver crystals in place and stops the film from being light sensitive.

These chemicals usually have to be diluted before you use them, the dilution rates will depend entirely on the brand you have purchased, for me the developer was diluted 1:14 and the fixer was diluted at 1:4

Also depending on the brand you may be able to reuse the chemicals, my developer is single use but my fixer can be used about 4 times.

Step 8: Getting the Temperatures Correct

The developer is extremely temperature sensitive (the fixer slightly less so), for most brands the optimum temperature is 20 degrees C (or 68 degrees Fahrenheit). It's very important to get the temperatures right so a decent thermometer is required.

The way i get my temperatures right is to use hot and cold water to dilute the fixer and developer until they are at roughly the correct temperature and then sit them in a pair of measuring jugs in a pan filled with either hot or cold water until they are at the correct temperature.

Step 9: Devloping and Fixing

During the developing and fixing periods timing is crucial, the timing will depend on your brand of fixer and developer, is should tell you on the side of the bottle.
For me the developer took 14 minuets and the fixer took 2 minuets.

When all your chemicals have reached the correct temperature take the developer and pour it into the top of the developing tank, knock it sharply on a table and this should dislodge any bubbles clinging to the film.Leave this to develop for the correct amount of time, shaking the developing tank for 20 seconds every 2 minuets (At this point the more you agitate the developer the higher the contrast of the image, so adjust this to your wishes)

Once the time is up pour away the developer out the top of the developing tank and fill it full of water and pour it out a couple of times, then leave the tank under a running tap letting cold water go into the top for 10 minuets.

Pour all the water out the tank and then pour in the fixing solution, tapping the tank on a table sharply to remove any bubbles again. Then leave it until the correct amount of time has passed and pour away the fixer. Then rinses out the developing tank with cold water a couple more times.

The film is now developed and you can open your tank to remove your brand spanking new and shiny negatives!

Step 10: Removing the Negatives

This is by far the most exciting step, it's quite incredible to see pictures you've developed yourself.

Take the film spool out of the developing tank and remove the film (this can be done by twisting the film spool until it clicks and the two halves should separate.) Be careful to hold the film only by the edges and find a dust free area of your house/room/blimp and using some clothes pegs, peg up the film to dry, also put a peg on the bottom of the film, this should help to keep it straight and stop it curling up.

(note: your film will be longer than the one in the picture, this is a scrap i found for demonstrative purposes.)

Step 11: Getting Prints Made

Once the film is dry cut it up into smaller pieces being careful not to accidentally chop any of your pictures in half.

Now you have your negatives and there are a couple of options you can take from here:

Making your own prints - Never tried this but here is an instructable on doing just that:

Getting prints done at a shop - this can be quite expensive, i got some done and it cost £1.50 for just one small print, and it's rather hard to find anywhere that will do it.

Getting them scanned - This is my favourite way, most film developing places give you the option of putting your prints onto a CD, and it usually cost only about £2 for a whole roll. I then take my photos to the student print shop and get them printed onto photo paper, this comes out considerable cheaper.

Scanning them yourself - This usually turns out nasty if you use a flat bed scanner, I've never had much success doing it this way, tend to lose loads of detail, but you might get lucky. (the last two photos are ones I've scanned on a scanner that I kinda like)

Step 12: Sit Back and Admire

Now sit back and admire your badass photo skillz and wait for pretty ladies/men to come flocking to your artistic awesomeness.

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    27 Discussions


    11 years ago on Step 9

    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 well water and a septic tank, this is a definite no-no as it can affect you and your loved ones!

    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.

    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).

    Additional Notes: Don't develop film in the kitchen where you eat! These chemicals are toxic. Also, don't eat during the process! Don't pour chemicals down the drain and don't let them make contact with older porcelain it WILL stain any porcelain the finish has worn off of. If this does happen you need to find "Farmers Reducer" and scrub it with a brush, it'll take some elbow grease (Powdered cleanser with bleach might work too).


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Check with you local regulators but home use is often exempt from the effluent laws, the only darkroom chemical that is regulated at all is the fixer, and it's not the fix that is of concern it is the silver that is in the used fixer. Fixer is sodium thiosulfite also used to de-chlorinate swimming pools and as a soil ammendment, ditto for sodium sulfite--which is also used as a food preservative. Acetic acid stop bath--white vinegar. The various organic developer compounds are totally non-toxic at the exposure levels you see in a home darkroom. Some are Vitamin C derived, others chemically similar to acetominophen/paracetol. What I do is track the number of rolls/sheets of paper I run through a batch of fixer (it is reusable) and dispose of it in a five gallon pail when it is used up, the water (90% of fixer is water) evaporates, I take the dried chemicals to the hazardous disposal site. Note the MSDS for the developers you use, several "old school" developers are slightly hazardous at INDUSTRIAL exposure levels few are toxic at home lab exposure levels. Not to say I sit around the breakfast nook eating powdered developer on my oatmeal but treated with respect darkroom chemicals are low risk. Power tools, lead came for stained glass, gasoline/petrol/benzine all much more dangerous.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah check with your local laws. My county states that *home* generated photographic chemicals can go down the sink. Our sewage is treated of course. That said I also plan to collect my spent fixer in a big jug and bring it down to the hazardous chemical waste collection anyway (commercial entities are required to do this). The silver is later recovered by other companies.


    am putting in a darkroom in a bathroom that has to also look presentable, not like a lab. what impact do the photo chemicals have on slate (floor and countertop) and porcelain sinks? what surfaces are recommended? what surfaces are acceptable? paint for surfaces? so that we don't have a problem with staining? also, what chemicals have the least odor and least problems for the environment without sacrificing quality of the print? more info on coffee sepia would be great!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, from my amateur experience in two houses I haven't noticed any staining of tub, tile, or sink. Just towels. You can't get away from fix odor, or stop bath. Save your used chemicals in old containers and take to toxic waste recycling (on that point I'm hypocritical). Peace


    9 years ago on Introduction

    there is a developing solution which is essentially coffee and vitamin C.


    10 years ago on Step 2

    or what i do is wrap the canister between my thumb and index finger and push the nubed edge down on a hard surface and the end pops off allowing you to reuse the canister and save money by buying film in 100' rolls


    10 years ago on Step 12

    this is really really helpful! but i was wondering, how do you get the different colours in your photos? like the black and white, and then the sepia. etc.? is that the film or something else?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    You can "tone" images in Photoshop or tone real prints in the darkroom after making and washing prints. What I said in an earlier comment about film and paper development DOES NOT apply to most real toners. Toners use sulfide compounds and Selenium compounds--again not dangerously toxic but sulfides stink and can make you ill and selenium (like it's cousin on the Periodic table lead) is a heavy metal and needs to be treated with a great deal of respect. Selenium metal is very toxic but the selenium toner compounds are much less toxic. Never the less, wear rubber gloves or nitrile--not latex--and limit your exposure to both. And use in a well ventilated area.


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 12

    The sepia colour was totally by chance. I usually take the negatives to a photo shop for scaning but for one roll i decided to have a go myself and do them on a flatbed scanner (which didn't work too well), anyways i took the same roll to a photo shop afterwards and it came out sepia. I think it must of been the bright light from the flatbed scanner altering the developed film.


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 12

    ok, thats cool... with sepia film could you just develop it the same way as black and white?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I like this Instructable, I have done a lot of film processing and printing in my life (hence my moniker) I will say that 25 pounds for a developing kit seems a bit much but that may be the local pricing and tax structure. People know of my habit--err hobby--yeah it's just a hobby I can quit anytime, and give me stuff all the time. I have four enlargers, a complete roller transport paper processor, a film processor (needs a couple of parts) and a cool Polaroid MP-4 copy camera (with an accessory head that permits use of my digital Nikon). Ask around, schools and newspapers all over the country are going 100% digital and give this stuff away--I have so much I stopped taking "donations". Good film scanners come in two types, the dedicated 35mm types work better with color films and most flatbed scanners have available accessory lids with illumination for negatives and slides. I have both (of course) and used the flatbed rig to scan odd sizes of old negatives. I have a commercially printed 16x20 from a vintage 616 negative of my wife's family taken c.1938, very nice, we are making a CD album of all their old negatives. There's also quite a market in used camera kit and darkroom stuff at camera swap meets and flea markets. I just bought two fine Canon GIII rangefinder cameras for ten bucks US each last Sunday--I like 'em, own five of them, loan 'em to my friends--very high quality fixed lens rangefinder cameras--the poor man's Leica.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    I a photo-geek who always carried an SLR through four years of high school and four years of college, then worked for Eastman Kodak for 19 years, this brought back many memories. Ah, the sweet smell of D-76, stop bath, and fixer!

    B&W film processing is very easy! Ektachrome slide film is similarly easy (Kodachrome cannot be done at home.)

    I used a bottle opener to open film cartridges; there is no need for anything special.

    If you plan to stick with processing your own film, you can buy bulk rolls of film, a film loader, and reusable film cartridges. It saves a lot of money. I still have mine, though I have not used it in almost 30 years.

    For those without an absolutely pitch-black room to open a film cartridge and roll it onto a reel, a "change bag" is the usual alternative. It is a black fabric bag with hand holes on each end -- kind of like the fur muff used by women to keep their hands warm in winter 100+ years ago. The hand holes have two elastic baffles to seal the bag against tour arms.

    If your water has a high mineral content, a final bath in a wetting agent called "Photo Flo" can be used to reduce the chances of water spots on the film.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    hi thanks alot for the tip about the bottle opener, just loaded a reel of film using that method, made things way more straight forward than fiddling around with the film extractor. Since taking up B&W photography my SLR has lived in my satchel, and goes pretty much everywhere i do, it's getting kinda addictive :)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Great Instructable. Just a thought about scanning, you really need a scanner that emits light on both top and bottom. So the light shines through the negative. You can buy these, i'm also thinking about making one from an old normal scanner. (just stick a light on top of it).


    11 years ago on Introduction

    awesome instructable man. i am going to have to try this, much appreciated.


    12 years ago on Step 2

    I worked at a BW lab. I used a bottle opener. No time to be fiddling around with coins and tools when you need to run 200 rolls a day by hand.

    have you ever tried sepia toning with coffee. its a pretty effective method. and saves you the cost of the toner let alone playing with the poisinous selenium crap.