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!