Self Developing Black and White Film: How to Avoid These Common Problems


Developing black and white is a satisfying part of analogue photography. When we finally open our tank and we see images on that negative there is always a moment of relief and joy for not having lost our pictures.

But like any new skill that we acquire, at the beginning, we will make mistakes. Don't despair, mistakes happen. And not only to beginners! Today we want to go over a few common mistakes and issues you can encounter while self developing.

Image 1 fogged negative, image 2 light leak.

Exposure To Light

Light leaks occur on your negative when it gets exposed to light. This can happen before shooting and those you will see as stripes of light on your negative. Or they can occur during different development stages, if your negative is not completely sealed from light.

Light leaks that occur after exposure can come from loading the film in partial light, for example, in your darkroom or if changing bags are damaged, or from tank infiltration. Those negatives are usually referred to as fogged. They appear all over your film.

Light leaks from the camera seal can appear at the beginning of your film, or thought the frames, depending on the damage of your camera back. You can recognize strikes of flashes sharply cutting through your images.

If you have camera leaks, you must repair your back. Have it sealed again. You can try to do it yourself, but it is best to go to a camera store and have it done by them; it will last longer. Light coming from development steps, can be corrected by being extra careful. When loading your film, check to have every component of your tank ready. They are all important; do not think that something can be left out.

Image 1 chemical residue, image 2 water stain.

Chemical Residue

White stains and circles on your film are likely caused by drying marks or chemical residue. Droplets of hard water forming on the film surface during the drying stage are typically on the film backing (shiny side). Films washed with tap water (usually hard water) are more likely to see this problem.

Hard water stains appear roundish water droplets and will leave a white mark on your positive image. You can gently wipe your negatives with squeegee or, gently wipe the negative before drying with your fingers (very carefully!)

Unwashed fixer marks have a less regular shape. If we don't wash properly, the fixer will leave uneven lines on our film. They can appear almost like a wave of white marks. Distilled water can make a big difference when we wash our film, you can use it with some photo flo solution or a hypo photo cleaner in your last washing.

Sign of half-moon crack

Cracked Film

Also known as half-moon, cracked film, marks appear on your negative, due to the incorrect spooling of your film. If they touch during loading in the spiral, this will create a crack on each layer, damaging the negative surface. There is not much we can do afterward. We must be careful when loading our film. Some spooling tools are easier to use than others. For example: metals spooling are more likely to encounter these issues as they can be more complicated during the loading stage.

Image 1 and 2 scratched emulsion. Image 3 linear travel scratch.

Linear Travel Scratches

Straight lines that appear on your negatives are due to a sharp object running over the emulsion. Possible causes are the presence of hard dust, sand, or the plates of our camera. Also, broken or dirty film squeegee can damage the emulsion, after we have developed it before drying.

If the lines go over your entire negative, then that might be a camera problem. When we advance or wind our film in camera, the machines do not run smoothly, and we have a damaged film. If the lines are not straight, then it most likely happened during the drying process if you used your fingers, a dirty squeegee, or a dirty tank.

A good practice is to always keep your camera clean, open the back and wipe the dust out with a pump. Make sure that your developing equipment is always carefully washed and rinsed properly. Let your negatives stand in hypo solution to clean all the chemical residue, and in general, try to keep your dark room as clean as possible. Dust is an enemy of photography.

Image 1 and 2 have dusts stains


The difference between a black spot and a white spot, when you look at your negative once they have been digitized, is the passage or no passage of light in our emulsion.

If it is a white spot, it blocks light from passing through the negative when our scan processes the image; we will then see white spots appearing. Most of the time, dust comes from the drying step. Make sure that you store your negative in a clean environment. Usually a shorter time is preferred for drying, as you have less chance to get the negative dirty.

However, it is not advised to use a hairdryer. Air will circle around and flying dust will stick all over your film, making it much riskier. Vacuum your room before processing your film, this will help reduce the chances of dirt on your film.

Which of these issues have you encountered during developing? Share with us your experience in the comments below.

written by eparrino on 2022-07-12 #gear #tutorials #black-and-white #development-issue


  1. leisuresuit
    leisuresuit ·

    Cool article

  2. stereograph
    stereograph ·

    I guess i encountered all, but never going this far calling them issues! :-)
    Nice read!

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