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A Guide to Home B&W Developing

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Bob J Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 October 2008 at 12:03
Home B&W Developing

For those who have never done their own B&W film developing, this is a short guide to show what is involved.

This is not put forward as anything definitive, just something that a few members have put together between them – I'm very grateful to Glenn (nm_guy1) for his contributions, and would welcome contributions of other members through this thread.

Why do it yourself?

While not as instant as digital, doing your own processing means you can see results the same day as the shots are taken, without the cost or quality compromises that may be involved in 1 hour processing.

Doing your own processing gives a lot of control over the apparent grain, tonal resolution and contrast, regardless of film type – push processing can allow you to take film shots in very low light situations with ramped-up ISO values. You are also in complete control of the quality of the process.

There is a real sense of achievement in not having to rely on any third party (once you have bought the equipment and film) and in seeing an image on the film when you take it out of the tank.

...plus it is real hoot when a chemistry experiment finally works!

Equipment required

1.     Daylight developing tank – The Patterson tank seems to be regarded as the standard here, with auto loading reels and good design; however the Kaiser tank (which is supposedly based on an earlier model of the Patterson) is also very serviceable, takes the same sort of reels and can be found a bit cheaper. Older tanks should also work fine, as long as they are light-tight, although the seals may leak more if you do inversion agitation.

2.     Thermometer – to measure the temperature of your solutions and thereby adjust your developing times accordingly.

3.     Changing bag – some are huge – again the key is that they are light-tight as it is inside one of these bags that you will take the film out of its light-tight canister, wind it onto the reel and shut it in the tank.

4.     Scissors – needed for preparing the ends of the film and cutting it off the reel once it is out of the cassette.

5.     Measuring cylinder – able to measure 500ml reasonably accurately.

6.     Smaller measuring cylinder or syringe – for measuring out smaller quantities of chemicals (such as developer).

7.     Three 500ml jugs or beakers to hold the chemicals in prior to use.

8.     Developer – different developers have different attributes, your choice may depend on what sort of film you are using and how often you will be developing (some developers have a longer shelf life than others). Some B&W films include times for recommended developers.

9.     Stop Bath – Not strictly necessary, as the fixative will stop development when it goes in, but the man in the shop looked at me horrified when I suggested I might not use it – helps prolong the life of the fixer as well, so a good idea if you are doing a bulk processing session where the fixer may be used several times.

10.     Fixer – Makes the image on the film permanent.

11.     Wetting agent – to make sure your film does not dry with watermarks on it.

12.     Film clips/clothes pegs – to hang the film up by for drying.

13.     Squeegee or similar for getting excess water off the negatives.

14.     Film-strip holders – for long term storage once you cut the negatives into strips.

Tip: If you don’t have a changing bag

Blacking out a room or closet is an alternative if you don’t have a changing bag, but you need to make sure that it is totally dark – spend a few minutes in there with the lights out and if you can see anything at the end of that, the room/closet is not dark enough. Thin weather stripping on a door stop can help stop light leaks from that source, but it helps if the door was a tight fit in the first place.

Tip: (added April 2013) There is an app for it...

The whole process of working out how long a particular film should be developed with a particular developer at a particular room temperature is made very much easier by the use of a smartphone/tablet app - some are even available for free, although paying for one often gives you added little bonuses like it timing your stop baths and fixer times as well.


If you have never done it before, getting the film onto the reel by touch alone can be a little daunting. If you have an old or spoilt film available, it is a good idea to practice loading the film in daylight so that you know what you are doing when you have to do it in the bag. On modern auto-load reels it is easy to find the point to start feeding the film in, and once it is in a short way, the film is gripped by small ball-bearings so that you simply have to twist the top and bottom of the reel in opposite directions in order to wind it onto the reel. It is a good idea to do this relatively sedately though, as jams can happen.

With older reels you have to develop a technique where you apply pressure on the film perforations as you wind to feed the film in – again, with practice this is relatively easy.


With modern film canisters, it is considerably easier to get the film out of the cassette if the leader is still visible – this requires a bit of care in rewinding for older MF cameras, or a 'leader out' option on automatic rewind ones. If the leader is inside, you either need a retriever, or a film cassette opener (a bottle opener can substitute).

Before everything goes into the changing bag, prepare the film by cutting the shaped leader off, giving you a square end to the film, cut between the sprockets (because they sometimes catch in the reel which makes loading more difficult). Modern changing bags are usually double skinned so you need to put everything into the inner bag and close both zips – before you close up the bag make sure you have the following in the bag:

1.     Scissors

2.     Developing tank, spiral, centre post, any clips required to stop the spiral moving up the centre post and developing tank lid.

3.     Film

4.     Cassette opener (if the leader is not out already)

Before you start, make sure you remove your wristwatch, as luminous dials or backlights will fog the film.

Loading the film

With your hands in the changing bag, take the developing tank apart and make sure you know where all the bits are. Locate the start of the spiral on the reel and make sure the two sides are aligned. Pull a short length of film out of the canister (about 30cm) and feed the square end into the reel; once it is in about 10cm, start to wind it on by twisting the top and bottom of the reel. Keep aware of where the film canister is, and when it gets near the reel ease out another length of film (this avoids getting the film twisted in the bag or getting finger marks in the wrong places). Once you have reached the end of the film (so that no more will come out of the cassette), cut the film near the light trap of the cassette and wind the remainder onto the reel.

Re-assemble the tank, making sure you have all the bits in the right place (and that the cassette has not found its way in as well) – the loaded spiral should be at the bottom of the tank, with a second spiral, and/or a clip making sure it does not ride up the centre column. Make sure the top is on securely before opening the bag.


How much of the chemicals you make up depends on the capacity of the tank and how many films you are developing at one time – you can process two films at once, but you need to be careful that both films take the same length of time to develop (so usually films of the same type).

Make up solutions with clean water, making sure you know beforehand how much water is required in relation to the concentrated developer/ stop bath/fixer. Make sure the measuring cylinders are well rinsed if between solutions if you mix up the solutions in the same cylinder. Once made up, put the solutions in the jugs and let them stand – this should help them all get to the same room temperature (it can be easier to work at room temperature and adjust the development times accordingly). The three jugs should all have about the same amount of fluid in them – if not check that you made the solutions up properly.

Tip: If you are using powder-based chemicals

1. Mix the chemicals at the recommended temperatures so they dissolve well. The mixing temperatures are usually well above developing temperatures, so allow time for them to cool before use.

2. Pour powdered chemicals in a bit at a time and stir well. A crusty mess is waiting at the bottom of the container otherwise (there’s experience talking ;-).

3. The resulting solutions are pretty susceptible to oxidation – if you are planning to re-use them, squeezing the air out of the containers while in storage increases shelf life – for this reason, choose containers that are pliable and unlikely to crack under deformation.


Tip: Technique

Try to do everything as consistently as possible when starting out. This includes timing and bringing the chemicals to the same temperature for each run. This will make it easier to understand the result of changing only one parameter at a time. Keeping a notebook of film types, developing temperatures, dilutions, chemical bath times and the results will help for future reference.

Make sure you have a clear note of the appropriate times for each of the chemicals to be in with the film beforehand. Film companies have specification sheets on the web to define developing times for various developer/film combinations; cross references between manufacturers' products are also on the web.

Make sure also that you have a clock available with a second hand for timing how long chemicals are in with the film.

Pour the chemicals in reasonably quickly, starting timing as soon as the last bit is poured in, and then follow the instructions for agitation. Agitation can be of two types – inversion or stirring. Inversion is generally preferred, but means that you need to get the watertight cap on the tank before you start – you are also likely to get a few drops of chemicals coming out of the tank so inversion is a little messier. The other method is stirring which you do with a little post supplied with the tank to rotate the spiral back and forth with the tank – in either case, after agitation give the base of the tank a little tap on the worktop to dislodge and air bubbles that might have attached to the film.

Once a particular chemical has been in for the right amount of time, pour it back into its jug and pour the next in (in the order Developer – stop bath – fixer). The stop bath only needs to be in the tank for a very short period of time (20 seconds or so), but putting it in for longer is OK. Fixer usually goes in for 3 mins or more. Once the fixer has come out, rinse the film with clean water for five minutes and then add a drop or two of wetting agent to the water and leave the film to stand. Do not open the tank until after the film has been fixed.

Remove the film from the spiral and remove any excess water from the surface of the film with a rubber squeegee or similar (the idea being to take the water off the film without scratching the emulsion). Hang the film to air-dry in the most dust-free room you can find.

Chemical disposal

The Ilford site suggests that in domestic quantities developing chemicals can be flushed down mains drainage with plenty of dilution, but we would advise that any used chemicals are disposed of strictly in accordance with local environmental guidelines which can normally be obtained from your local government or water supplier's webites.


The following links may also be useful:

The developing process:

Ilford Youtube video "Processing your first black and white film" showing development process, including loading of spiral





Film selection:




Developing times for films:





Edited by Bob J - 02 March 2018 at 11:17

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