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Darkroom Processing Tips: From Experienced Newbie to Newbie

As someone who has had about a year's worth of experience, I can say that developing black and white film isn't as easy as I thought it would be. I'd like to share some things I learned (mostly the hard way) with people also starting developing or considering doing so.

I went into the darkroom process blind: I had never been trained, so I was learning everything new all the time. I figured the process was simple; it seemed simple to me. I learned quickly and painfully it isn’t. Do not let me discourage you, though: it is a very fun process once you get the hang of it. Until then, keep this in mind:

- If the darkroom belongs to a group or organization, PLEASE follow their directions. Some chemicals, especially fixer, need to be disposed of in a special way and can’t be poured down the sink. Be a friend to the environment, you’ll feel terrible if you catch yourself pouring the wrong thing down the drain.

- Find out what kind of developer you are using, if you aren’t supplying your own, whether it’s D-76, Ilfosol, HC-110, Tmax Developer, or some other kind, what concentration it is (stock, 1:1, etc.), and look up if it can develop your film properly and the time you should develop it for. A great resource is either the box of the film or The Massive Dev Chart

- Go as slow as you need to: do not rush, that’s when you’ll make the fatal error that ruins your whole roll of film and then you’ll be crying on the floor of the darkroom (probably not).

- In the beginning, expect accidents. They will happen. Just enjoy them for what they are and learn.

Pictured above: some of the many accidents I’ve had

- Set everything up when you’re loading your tank so that you don’t have to fumble for it in the dark. I always lined up my things like a matryoshka doll from right to left, starting with the film and ending with the lid for the tank. Do whatever works for you, but find a system and stick with it.

- If the darkroom you are using has a posted list of instructions, follow it exactly until you know it by heart, then consult it anyway. If you’re making your own darkroom, post your own based on the chemicals you’re using.

- Be gentle when loading your film onto the reel, but make sure it’s not wrinkly, or you’ll get nasty white blobs that didn’t get developed. The best thing is to just keep consistent pressure on the film as you feed it into the take-up end of the reel so it doesn’t go in lopsided.

- Don’t open the door of the loading area until you’re positive you’ve got your tank light-sealed.

- If your tank comes with it, don’t forget to put that little stick through the middle of the reel(s), I do that all the time and it will light leak your film horribly.

- Get sheets to catalog your negatives in. You will scratch, lose, or forget them otherwise. Get ones that have rings in them so you can put them in a binder.

- Don’t give up if you have trouble the first time, and get someone to go to the darkroom with you that’s already done it, if you can.

I guess the short version is just be careful and follow the directions posted, and go as slow as you can. Good luck, and I hope your first time developing goes better than mine!

written by nation_of_pomation

13 comments

  1. rrohe

    rrohe

    great tipster! i think more people should develop at home!

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  2. pomps

    pomps

    Darkroom experience is great! I had the chance to do it this year. Now I have to find some other place where I can go. I couldn't develop myself my last B&W film and gave it to the Lab, I don't know if their chemicals were expired or what but the negatives are awful :(. As I'm not an expert I can't say what was wrong :(

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  3. laurasulilly

    laurasulilly

    Ha, I know all these things about the mistakes all too well, but it's so much fun! And I have my own darkroom at home, complete with enlarger and stuff, meaning I develop at home, and I print my Holga shots! I t's geat and I love it sooo much!

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  4. nadinadu

    nadinadu

    I have the equipment to develop photos at home...even i think its only for 35mm shots..if thats possible? Anyway I haven't had the chance or time to try it out, but when i do i will definitely keep your tips in mind!! :)

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  5. nation_of_pomation

    nation_of_pomation

    @nadinadu It's definitely possibly, the size of your tank and reels will determine the largest size negative you can develop. If you do set up a darkroom for yourself, which I hope you do, make sure it's a well-ventilated room!

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  6. coldkennels

    coldkennels

    Ah, you don't even need a darkroom for B&W developing. Just buy a darkbag to load the development tank and you can do it in your kitchen or bathroom. It really isn't a big deal.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  7. nation_of_pomation

    nation_of_pomation

    I meant if you were going to store tanks of chemicals instead of mixing it one at a time, otherwise you could just keep the chemicals in their containers and dilute them (or not) depending on how often you develop. The actual process just has a distinct smell some people don't like.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  8. coldkennels

    coldkennels

    @nation_of_pomation - this much is true. And worse, it's persistent. I actually don't mind the smell of fixer but when it's still lingering on my hands hours afterwards I do begin to wish there was a way of getting rid of it quicker.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  9. bridgetj

    bridgetj

    Finally started developing my B&W film at home, after having not been in a darkroom for over 20 years. Ah, the smell of fixer. Happiness. Results of my first three home-processed B&W rolls are here: http://www.lomograph(…)white-rolls (including a good half-dozen or more "How Not to Load a Film Spool" images from that first roll, lol. I should probably do a blog on these. ;))

    @nadindu: The two plastic spools that came with my film tank (recently purchased for about CDN $30) adjust from 35mm to 120, and include something in between. It's entirely possible you could do both sizes, depending on the spools and tank you have.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  10. bridgetj

    bridgetj

    Also, a tip that I recommend heartily: If you've never loaded a film spool before, sacrifice a cheap roll of film and practice in the light first. It's totally worth sacrificing a $3-5 roll of film to practice with, and It will save you considerable heartache once you're in the dark. Further, if you have spools that are adjustable in some way, or that come apart (like the ones that came with my developer tank), learn how they work and **how to put them back together** BEFORE you try to lead your first roll, again practicing in the light.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  11. cfib

    cfib

    Developing @home is fun!
    I started in 2011-03 with bw and in 2011-08 with color (so still newbie) but I love it... and some mistakes turn out as cool after effects (especially in color :D)

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  12. nation_of_pomation

    nation_of_pomation

    @bridgetj
    That's all really good advice, everyone listen to her.

    almost 3 years ago · report as spam
  13. jvujnovi

    I haven't developed my own for several years and plan to start real soon (as soon as I use up my C-41 black and white films). I remember when I developed my own I used to (at the advice of my instructor and from some books) used to just use water instead of stop bath.
    A good resource is a book titled "Into your darkroom step by step" for both developing and printing - you can find it at most public libraries.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam

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