Dark Room Processing Tips - Reel Satisfaction


Processing your own film at home can be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences in photography, but on occasions it can also be one of the most frustrating. Don’t get stuck loading your film reels by using these tips.

This foot and a half length of film could contain some of the best photos the world has ever seen. It’s very unlikely, but you never know and now I will never know either, as having shot the whole roll, I had to chop it off to practice loading my reels. This is because, having developed a few rolls of 120 film at home, I figured I didn’t need to practice loading reels with 35mm film which I had never done before. I was wrong and got into a mess in the changing bag and out of frustration, decided that sacrificing these photos was the best solution.

When developing film at home, most people do it in a hand tank and reels, like the ones pictured below.

The reels are great, they are adjustable so that they take either 35mm, 120, or 127 film, but loading them can be a bit tricky. Personally I’ve found that 120 film is easier to load than 35mm, but I’ve had tricky moments with both. I cannot stress enough, that you should practice loading them in the light with a piece of scrap film so that you can see what you are doing. That way when you get into your dark room or changing bag, you will not get stuck, as I did, and end up ruining your film. There are lots of demonstration videos on YouTube, so simply find the cheapest, most expired film you can and practice, practice, practice. A few pounds spent on junk film could save your priceless photos!

Another couple of tips for loading reels: Film is very sensitive to moisture and the gelatine emulsion layer can swell and get sticky if it gets moist. This can cause it to jam in your reels and damage the film or just means it take a long time to get it right. To avoid the film picking up moisture, make sure your reels are bone dry. I tend to use a hair dryer on a medium heat to dry off any hidden moisture before putting them in my changing bag.

I would also suggest putting a small hand towel in the changing bag with your films, this is especially true if you have a large tank (mine takes five reels) which can take a long time to load. If your hands are in the bag for a while they can build up quite a bit of condensation and this can make the film sticky. With a hand towel, you can simply wipe them before touching each new film.

Don’t let any of these things put you off trying home development. The more you do it the quicker and easier it becomes and it saves you huge amounts of money! You can also do your own cross processing along side normal colour negative. This means you never have to find a lab that doesn’t gives you strange looks or refusals when you hand over your slide film for cross processing again

Here are some of my photos that I’ve developed myself:

Credits: simonh82

written by simonh82 on 2011-10-17 #gear #tutorials #developing #tipster #development #home-developing #dark-room #processing #reels #film-processing


  1. kdstevens
    kdstevens ·

    Home development (kitchen sink development) is the way to go. Where else can you get 1 hour black and white processing?

  2. simonh82
    simonh82 ·

    @kdstevens I've still not tied black and white. I started the wrong way around and went straight for colour developing. People say that it is harder than black and white but apart from getting stuck with the reels a few times, i've found it easy.

  3. laurasulilly
    laurasulilly ·

    I love it how so many darkroom tipsters come up lately. It's so rewarding! And anyone who ever has the opportunity to try printing, do so! I can't get enough of it!

  4. stouf
    stouf ·

    Excellent results !

  5. simonh82
    simonh82 ·

    Thanks @Laurasulilly, agreed it is so rewarding. I'd love to try printing, but so far i've just been trying to improve my scanning technique.

    @stouf - High praise indeed. I think i've said it before, but it was your tipsters that first got me interested in home developing.

  6. kiri-girl
    kiri-girl ·

    Lovely colours! I want one!!

  7. laurasulilly
    laurasulilly ·

    you seem to really know how to scan, the colours are great! i only develop b&w, but your results are awesome, they make me wanna try colour home-development, too! :)

  8. simonh82
    simonh82 ·

    @laurasulilly you should definitely give colour home development a go. If you've done B&W you've got all the kit you need. Check out the Flickr group DIY Color, or the tutorials thread in the I shoot film group, both have lots of advice.

    I've been scanning film for over 6 months and whilst I was getting satisfactory results quite quickly, I keep learning new things that help improve them. It's quiet a long learning curve but very satisfying.

  9. onescoop
    onescoop ·

    One thing that can help, bizarrely, is closing your eyes while doing it. I have no idea why buy I find it makes it a lot easier to load films with my eyes shut even though I'm in the dark already!

  10. kingnate
    kingnate ·

    @onescoop - I agree! Closing your eyes works.

    @simonh82 - very impressive color results. I have done D-76 B&W and actually had a go at E-6 slide, but with the temperature control I found it difficult and the chemicals went bad quickly. Perhaps C-41 will be my next experiment.

  11. stouf
    stouf ·

    Good lord, what a nice compliment ! Thank you. But I'm sure you would have ended processing at home anyway. You were made for this ! : )

  12. burslem
    burslem ·

    Nice tipster! Where did you get your film changing bag and could you recommend one? Want to start doing some processing myself but not sure where and what kind of film changing bag i would need... :(

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