Despite the increasing dominance of digital photography, traditional black and white photography continues to enjoy popularity with many photographers, professionals and hobbyists alike. Processing your own black and white negatives is not only satisfying, but gives you new insight into your digital darkroom processes.
This article will cover the steps of processing 35mm or 120mm negative film so that it is ready to use for prints. It is not difficult, but you will need a few supplies as well as a dark place for removing the raw film from its canister.
Processing the Negative
Mix the chemicals. Following the manufacturer's directions for proportion and temperature, mix the developer, stop bath and fixer one at a time. Be aware that in some cases you will be preparing a concentrated solution that will need to be diluted. Dilute your chemicals according to the manufacturer's specifications.
Prepare the film for processing. You will either need a changing bag or a completely dark room with no light. Any light will ruin your negatives. Place the film, scissors, developing tank and film reel in the changing bag or dark room.
Remove the film from the canister with a can opener and trim the tongue (the part that helps feed the film in the camera) with the scissors. The film is attached to a spool in the canister with tape. Touching only the edge of the film, detach the film from the spool. Feed the film onto the plastic or metal reel and wind it until the entire roll is loaded. Place the loaded reel in the developing tank and seal the tank.
Remove the tank from the changing bag or turn on the lights.
Develop the film. Measure out the correct amounts of the prepared chemicals.
Adjust the temperature of the chemicals and the film to the manufacturer's specifications by placing the containers of prepared solution along with the developing tank in a large water bath (a sink will work). Adjust the chemical temperature by adding hot or cold water to the bath.
Set the timer for the developing time (see the manufacturer's specifications) plus 30 seconds for the stop bath plus another 30 seconds for draining the chemicals twice.
The developing tank has an outer lid and an inner lid. Remove the outer lid and pour the developer through the inner lid. Replace the outer lid. Bang the developing tank on a hard surface to remove air bubbles. Agitate the film for the first 30 seconds by turning the tank upside down and back or by turning it clockwise and counter clockwise. Agitate the film each minute of the developing cycle for 5 to10 seconds. Do not over-agitate as this may damage the film and create inconsistent contrasty spots on the negatives. Ten seconds before the end of the development time, begin pouring the developer out of the tank's inner lid. Keep the inner lid on.
Stop the developing process. Pour the stop bath through the developing tank's inner lid. Bang the tank again to remove air bubbles and then agitate continuously. The stop bath is usually 90 seconds, but check the manufacturer's specifications to be certain.
Ten seconds before the end of the stop bath cycle, begin pouring out the stop bath.
Fix the negative. Fill the developing tank with the prepared fixer solution. Remove air bubbles. Agitate the fixer every 20 to 30 seconds. Fix the negative for about 4 to 6 minutes according to the manufacturer's specifications. Pour the fixer out of the tank. It is now safe to open the tank.
Wash the film. Remove the inner lid. Wash residual chemical from the film by pouring fresh water over the film for the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer.
Dry the negatives. Gently remove the film from the reel. Clip one end to a clothes line or wire. Use another clip at the bottom to weigh down the other end of the film. Using a soft sponge, remove excess water droplets. Exercise extreme caution with newly-processed negatives. Leave the processed negatives to dry in a dust-free space for at least four hours.
Store the negatives. Cut the roll of film into sections (around five frames each). Store negatives in negative sleeves.