Developing Film

Posted 2009.09.06 11.11 in Hobbies, Photography by Stephanie

It’s not as hard as you think!

Tri-X 400 black and white filmYesterday, I wrote that I had processed my first roll of film in over a decade. In fact, with hardly any time I was able to refresh my memory on what needed doing. It’s realy quite simple – there’s three main steps. Develop, Fix, and Rinse.

In terms of equipment, really the only thing you need to invest in is a developing tank. I have a plastic Patterson Super System 4 tank which can hold two 35mm reels. The key to the developing tanks is that once the film is properly loaded and the tank is closed, you can then pour liquids in and out, without any light reaching the film inside. There are a number of different tanks available, I like the Patterson system because it’s pretty easy to use, and the reels are more or less easy to load.

Along with the tank, you also need a light-proof place where you can get the film out of the little metal cannister and into the tank. Red light isn’t safe – it has to be completely and totally light-proof dark. A windowless room would be good, or a closet, or something like that. If light gets through around the door, you need to fix that. Lock yourself in for 5 or 10 minutes so your eyes adjust, then look for any light.

Alternatively, you can use a changing bag. This is a double-lined bag with elasticized arm holes. You put everything in the bag, seal it, then stick your hands in, and do your work in there. This is what I’d use if I had one. So far, I’m using a dimly lit room, and then a big heavy winter coat and some heavy blankets, as a makeshift changing bag. (Downside: dust, lint, lint and dust.)

Drying Negs

Anyhow, so that’s the main challenge really – getting your award-winning negatives out of the light-proof metal can and into the light-proof developing tank, without ruining them all. After that, it’s all easy street.

You just mix the chemicals according to the directions, then pour the developer in first. Wait for the length of time it says on the label, then pour it out. Rinse with water two or three times, then pour in the fixer. Wait again, then pour it out. Then rinse for 20 or 30 minutes with water. Then  hang the negs up for a few hours to dry.

You can get more complicated with stop baths and flow-aids and all that jazz. But the down-and-dirty method, is develop fix rinse.


Drying Still


  1. What room are you in doing your negative-thing?

  2. Stephanie says:

    I used the purple room. The blinds make it relatively dim, and then I use a winter coat and blankets to block out the rest of the light. Though they contribute lots of lint and dust. Then once the negs are in the developing tank I just go into the kitchen and do the actual processing in the kitchen sink.

    I’ve ordered a changing bag from Henrys – they don’t stock a lot of darkroom stuff any more but they still have stuff available online.


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