Basics of Developing Black and White Film

“Developing” is a chemical process which converts the invisible exposed image on film into a visible image on a negative.  When working with film, either black and white or color, the ultimate goal is to produce a beautiful print.  However, in order to make a good print, a good negative has to be developed first.

First, make sure that you have exposed your shots correctly using the basics of photography as your guide.  While there is a certain amount of exposure correction that can be performed in the darkroom, the results will certainly not be as good as if the film was properly exposed to begin with.

Steps Involved in Developing Black and White Film

  1. The exposed film will need to be immersed in a chemical solution called developer.  Developer coverts the crystals of silver halide which have been effected by light black metallic silver.  Any crystal which were not exposed by light will not be effected.  You will need to leave the film in the developing bath until the correct amount of crystals have been converted to silver to properly reveal the image on the negative.  This first step will need to be done in complete darkness so as to not further expose the film and ruin it.
  2. The action of the developer will need to be stopped once the negative has developed to the desired level.  Leaving the negative in too long will ultimately cause a print that is too contrasty.  To stop the action of the developer, you will need to move the film from the developing solution and place it in a stop bath which promptly halts the development process.
  3. Once development has been stopped, the film needs to be placed into a fixing bath.  The fixing bath will dissolve all of the unexposed crystals on the film so they can be washed away.
  4. Lastly, you will need to wash the film to remove the chemicals used in the developing process and then immediately hang the film to dry.

While these basic steps are very simple and can be learned quickly by almost anyone, attention to detail during the actual process is paramount.  Once a negative is ruined it’s gone forever, and this loss is potentially very costly and upsetting.  The steps outlined above are the basics in a nutshell, but don’t contain many of the details needed to properly expose black and white film.  For example, timing each step exactly is very important as is making sure the chemicals are of proper temperature.

The basic equipment you will need for developing black and white film, in addition to a light-tight environment, are the following:

  1. Daylight developing tank – used in step one when the film is developed.
  2. Darkroom Timer – Must be accurate
  3. Bottles for mixing chemicals
  4. Thermometer – special darkroom thermometer
  5. Graduate measuring cup – can’t be made of metal
  6. Small plastic funnel
  7. Mixing rod – Kodak makes them in plastic
  8. Film clips – use a minimum of two to hang your film but four or more is even better
  9. Wetting agent – Kodak makes one called Photoflo – promotes fast and streak-free drying of film
  10. Sponge – special type for photographic use
  11. Scissors – any regular scissors will work just fine
  12. Glassine evelopes – for storing finished strips of negatives

black and white film supplies

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