Thursday, 21 June 2012

Developing 35mm film at home

What makes film photography such a fun medium to shoot in is the whole process from choosing and loading the film, shooting the pictures and the satisfaction of developing the film yourself and seeing the images, a long time waited for, appear right in front of your eyes. 

To develop your own 35mm black and white film at home you will need the following: Your exposed 35mm film, a film developing tank, a film cassette opener, a funnel, scissors, a developer, a stop bath, a fixer, a wetting agent, two clips for hanging the film, a sink of running water and a pitch black room because photos are formed with light and even more exposure to the already exposed film will cause a over exposed or totally washed out picture. For this reason you can exchange household bulbs with photo-safe red or blue bulbs. Purchase the specialized lighting at a photo retailer; novelty painted bulbs will ruin film during the developing process.

If you have access to both hot and cold running water with adjustable temperature controls, you're on your way to developing 35mm film at home. A small bathroom can easily be turned into a home film-processing lab with a few minor modifications to lighting and the shower area. While converted to a film developing area, the bathroom will no longer be usable for showering. If the home only has one bathroom, consider converting a laundry room or rough plumbed basement room into a film processing area.

First make sure you have your film cassette opener, scissors and developing tank in the light tight room with you. When attaching the film popper, make sure you get its teeth securely under the lid. Once open, slowly apply pressure to the top of the cassette opener as if you were opening a bottle. Remove the film from the cassette by turning the film canister upside down. Handle with care and try to keep your fingers away from the center of the film.

Unravel the feeder from the film; you may know this feel of this from when you loaded it into your camera. Hold the feeder in between your index and middle finger and cut along the feeder next to your fingers. You can either cut it straight or angled.

Now you need to find the spool from the developing tank. Position the spool so both of the tabs are next to each other. This process is fairly crucial and I recommend practicing with some old negatives in the light first. You need to feed the film underneath both tabs until they have reached the tiny ball bearing or it’s about halfway around the spool. Once you have fed the film into the spool, you then need to crank the spool in a ratchet motion, which will drive the film into the spool. Make sure you do this smoothly.

Once you have reached the end of your film, reposition your index and middle fingers with the film in between them and cut off the film spool. You don’t need the film spool from now on anymore. Once you have your film on the spool, you can put all the pieces back together again. Make sure to screw the lid on tight, and to get the film rod the right way up. Once the lid is on, you can leave your darkroom. Do not open the lid until the film has been fixed.

Make sure you mix or prepare all chemicals in a safe place, with utensils that are only for the purposes of developing or printing the film.  Remember that every different film and developer combination produce varying times. Please check the back of your develop to find out the time, temperature and dilution is needed to develop your film. 

Agitate (turn the container in a circular movement) your film constantly for the first minute, and then for the first ten seconds of every consecutive minute. Every developer is different, some you can use multiple times after making a stock solution and others need to be mixed per film. Check the back of your developer for this detail.

Once you have emptied the tank of developer, give it a rinse under a tap, remembering to check the temperature first because varying temperatures can alter the negatives. Once rinsed, pour in the stop bath. Keep the stop bath in for 30 seconds to one minute, but always check the back of your own bottle for details. Keep rotating the container while it is filled with the stop bath. When the time is up, pour the stop bath back into the bottle. Most common stop baths change color, usually from yellow to blue when the time is up.

Fixer is slightly different from the developer, as it has a base time according to brand but this base time is applicable to every film. It is usually about five to six minutes. Rotate the fix the same way you did with the developer. When finished, it will become obvious when the fixer has had enough as the film will occasionally get yellow streaks and you will notice that it isn’t fixing as well. You can pour the fix back into the bottle.

After pouring the fix back into the bottle, you need to rinse it and then add wetting agent. The thing with wetting agent is that you only need a few drops in there with some water. Wetting agent lowers the surface tension of the water on the film and helps reduce drying marks. Rinse for 20 minutes.

Unscrew the lid off the container and pull your film out. If it is covered from bubbles from the wetting agent, give it a rinse under the tap. You now need to pull the film off the spool. There is no need to use the ratchet motion like before, just put your thumb and index finger on the end and pull the film away from the spool gently. Attach a heavy clip to each end and leave it to hang in a dust free room. Once you have it hanging up, give it one clean swoop with the squeegee from top to bottom.

There is nothing more satisfying than waiting to see how the pictures you took came out. It is as if you take the journey with your camera all over again. With film the result is never the same. Light leaks, lens flairs, graininess and color overlays are common but surprising. I love film photography for this reason that what would have been classified as a faulty digital photograph, is just what makes a film photograph unique.

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