In a nutshell, the film (B&W or color) is placed in a light-tight, water-tight container. It is then filled, sequentially, with different chemical solutions, generally in this order:

  1. developer -- causes the exposed silver in the film to turn black
  2. stop bath -- stops the action of the developer
  3. fixer -- removed all the unexposed silver in the film
  4. rinse -- removes all traces of the fixer
  5. conditioner -- stabilizes the film

Finally, then the film is hung up to dry before being cut into smaller strips.

Here are the materials you'll need to complete the steps. You have a lot of options in terms of equipment. Check out the DARKROOM for more details.

Here are the steps in detail:

1. Mix the chemicals that you will need according to the manufacturers recommendations and put them into separate containers.

2. Get the temperature of the chemicals to their correct operating temperature for the film you are using. For black and white films, this is usually around 68 degrees. For color films, this is usually around 100 degrees. Check the instructions that came with the film and chemicals. The temperature can be increased or decreased in several ways. A refrigerator will cool things down quickly and a tub or hot water will increase temperatures easily. For lengthy processing, special water baths can be purchased or made to maintain the temperature of the chemicals during the entire process.

3. Gather all your other materials. Lay them out and memorize their positions, since you'll be working in the dark. Open the developing tank and position the reel.

4. Turn out the lights. Make sure that no light is leaking into the darkroom.

5. In total darkness, remove the film from the submini camera. Sometimes this is in a cassette, sometimes not. If the film is in a paper apron, remove the apron. If the film is taped in any way, this makes removing the film more difficult. With 35mm cassettes pop the bottom off with a bottle opener.

6. Load the film on the film reel according to the instructions. (You may need to practice loading a spare roll with the lights on until you get the hang of it. Then practice with your eyes closed.)

7. Put the loaded reel in the film tank and close the lid. You can turn on the light at this point if you are using a "daylight" tank.

8. When it's at the right temperature, pure in the right amount of developer by using the graduate. The instructions for the tank will tell you how much solution to use.

9. Immediately set the timer for the correct developing time.

10. Begin the agitation sequence according to the tank manufacturer. Usually this is started by first tapping the tank several times against a hard surface to remove any air bubbles that might have formed on the film when the developer was poured in. Then the tank is turned or inverted every 30 seconds, or so, to "stir up" the developer and get fresh chemicals next to the film surface.

11. When development is complete, pour out the developer. Some developers can be saved and reused, others are designed to be used oncce. Check the instructions.

12. Pour in the next chemical, usually the stop bath or water. Immediately set the timer, if it is not already set, and begin the agitation sequence.

13. When the stop step is complete, pour it out. Some stop baths can be saved and reused, others are designed to be used oncce. Check the instructions.

14. Pour in the next chemical, usually the fixer. Immediately set the timer, if it is not already set, and begin the agitation sequence.

15. When the fixer step is complete, pour it out. Most fixers can be saved and reused, others are designed to be used oncce. Check the instructions.

16. The next step is usually a water rinse to help remove the fixer. Depending on the design of your processing tank, you might remove the cover and turn on a moderate stream of water. The cover can be removed at this time, since the film is no longer sensitive to light. Check the water temperature carefully. Immediately set the timer, if it is not already set.

17. With some films the process of removing the fixer can be shortened by use a a special chemical called a "clearing agent". These come under various names, but they all do the same thing. Follow the instructions.

18. A final water rinse for five minutes.

19. Most films need a final conditioner of some sort. For B&W films, this is usually a wetting agent. There are several available. For color films a stabilizer is used which is a wetting agent with a hardener, such as formalin. Follow the instructions that come with the chemical.

20. Carefully pull the film out of the tank. Don't touch the surface of the negatives! Use film clips to hang the film to dry in a dust-free area.

21. When dry, use scissors to cut the film into strips and store in negative pages.

There are lots of books on the processing of film. Most are full of opinions, passed off as fact. In short, don't believe anything you read, even if it's written by "the gods". Test it out for yourself -- chances are, you'll find out that the author's approach is worthless for your purposes. One book that attempts to tests the myths of photography is Controls in Black and White by Richard Henry.

If you have any ideas, suggestions or comments about these pages, please contact the Sub Club at the FRONT DESK.

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COPYRIGHT @ 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Joe McGloin. All Rights Reserved.