My First Time Developing a Roll of B&W Film

posted in: Film Photography, Film Processing | 9

I’ve been planning this event for months now, waiting for the busy wedding photography season to calm down when I’d have a bit more time to try some film developing. I have read ‘a hundred’ articles and Flickr forum posts and watched ‘a thousand’ YouTube videos (here is a pretty good one). I created a shopping list of all the bits I’d need and had my good internet buddy and fellow photographer Simon Kidd check it over for me and offer his advice.

I found a few of the sundry items nice and cheap on eBay (here’s a good shop I found) and I ordered the more specialised parts from The Imaging Warehouse (previously known as Nova Darkroom), Morris Photo and Silver Print, below is a list of all the bits I bought:

From The Imaging Warehouse:

  • Novatronic Heater/Stat – this is a submersible heater to create a temperature controlled water bath for heating chemicals (We have a cold house so even though B&W is at room temperature, our kitchen can be sub 10 degrees C in the winter!)
  • Paterson Stirring Rod 250mm – this is perhaps a little unnecessary as you can just use a rod of some sort to stir chemicals, but I’m incredibly anal about having the right tool for the job!

From Silver Print:

  • SYRINGE 5ml & 20ml – for measuring small quantities of liquid (HC-110 dilution B needs 9ml of syrup)
  • Kodak HC-110 Film Developer 1 litre – the developer I will be trying out first
  • ILFOTOL Wetting Agent 1 litre – 1 litre of this stuff will last a long time, I used 3ml during my first developing session. It’s used to help the washing / drying process
  • Two 1 litre Concertina Bottles – I haven’t used these yet, but I think they will be useful for storing developer stock solutions when I need to. I might hang on to them for C-41 chemicals
  • Three Polyethylene 1 litre Bottles – These are identical to the Kodak HC-110 bottle (except they are empty!) and so should be of good spec. I’m using one of these for 1L of Ilfostop working solution and another for 1L of Ilford Rapid Fixer working solution.
  • Timecare Library CXD Box 4 hole Ringbinder – an archive quality, cardboard ring binder for storing negative sleeves. This is good for preventing dust and protects your negatives. The sleeved negatives I have from the lab were previously sitting loose and gathering dust so I’m glad to be able to dust them off and store them properly.
  • PrintFile 35-7BXW 35mm 100sheets – archive quality storage for 135 negatives
  • PrintFile 120-3HB 120 6×6/6×7/6×4.5cm 100 sheets – archive quality storage for 120 negatives

From Morris Photo:

  • Paterson 27.5” x 27.5” Changing bag – a dark bag for loading the film into the tank
  • Ilford Microphen 1 Litre – another developer I’m going to try, which is good for push development
  • Ilford Rapid Fixer/hypam – Fixer
  • Ilfostop Stop Bath 500ml – Stop
  • Film Processing Kit (PTP573) – This is a good value kit containing a Universal Developing Tank with 2 spirals, two 600ml graduates, one 150ml graduate, B&W thermometer, film squeegee and a set of 2 film clips. The developing tank allows you to develop one or two 35mm rolls in one go, or one 120 roll.

From eBay:

  • 3 litre plastic measuring jug – useful for mixing chemicals together with water
  • Three 12.5 cm diameter plastic funnels – for pouring working chemicals (fixer and stop) back into the bottles.
  • Plastic washing up bowl – to hold a water bath and the Novatronic heater
  • A pair of XL Marigold Astroflex Food / Chemical / Heat Gloves – good quality gloves and very good grip.
  • 3ml and 10ml Syringes and two bottle adapters – the bottle adapters allow you to turn the chemical bottle upside down with the syringe inserted through the adapter and accurately extract chemicals with the syringe.

From Halfords:

  • 5L Ionised water (for topping up car batteries) – I’m not sure yet if our tap water is suitable for mixing up chemicals so I got a bottle of this (postage included in the price!) just in case. I’ll try with tap water another time and compare the results.


Using an unexposed roll of Kodak 135 film (24 Exp) from the pound shop I practised loading the film onto the reel many times whilst looking, then not looking and then with everything in the dark bag so I couldn’t cheat! I did this so many times I was pretty sure I would be fine doing it for real.

A Test Roll of Film

I had to select a film to test with. In hindsight I should have chosen Ilford HP5+ because I’m fairly familiar with it and the results I get when it’s developed by the lab. However, I ended up choosing Kodak Tri-X (I think because I was using a Kodak developer and I wanted to keep things simple!?)

For the benefit of my stress levels it was important to simply use this roll for testing and not take any once-in-a-lifetime, award winning photographs with it! What if I total screwed up the developing!?

To expose the film, I decided to eliminate any other source of error by using a dependable camera with an accurate built-in light meter. Any errors had to come from my developing mishaps! I chose to shoot with the Canon EOS 3 and 50mm f/1.2L lens.

So over the period of 1 hour between 6:30pm and 7:30pm, as the light was rapidly fading, I took a bunch of random photos of our dog, Jodie, outside in the garden and of the kids indoors. I was fortunate to have the option of opening up to f/1.2 on my Canon 50mm lens as I didn’t want to push the developing of the film on my first go and ISO 400 was resulting in pretty slow shutter speeds. Fortunately I was able to achieve a minimum of 1/50s and I was able to use some (slightly) smaller apertures outdoors with Jodie (typically f/2 – f/2.8 as I still wanted to retain a shallow DOF).

It’s the quickest I’ve ever shot 36 exposures and it was actually really enjoyable and liberating. I didn’t have the thought going through my head, every time I pressed the shutter, that it was going to cost £4 to get the roll developed.

Developing Day (evening, after the kids were in bed)

I washed all the storage bottles, measuring graduates, etc. to remove any foreign dirt or chemicals. I forgot to wash the developing tank and reels unfortunately. Moments before loading the film I realised my mistake. Loading film onto wet reels is a bad idea as it makes it virtually impossible as the film sticks to the reel and doesn’t load. I therefore compromised and washed all the components except for the reels.

To ensure there is no cross-contamination I clearly labelled the funnels ‘Stop’ and ‘Fixer’, the bottles they were stored in and also the 600ml measuring cylinders ‘Dev’ and ‘Fixer’ and the 3L (a bit big really but hey) measuring jug with ‘Stop’.

I then started mixing the chemicals:
Ilfostop: 1+19 (50ml of concentrate and 950ml of ionised water)
Rapid Fixer: 1+4 (200ml of concentrate and 800ml of ionised water)

These were poured into the 1L storage bottles. I placed them in the water bath, which warmed them to 21 degrees C (the thermostat doesn’t seem to allow a temperature lower than 21, but the extra degree probably won’t matter too much as long as it’s consistent).

Preparing the Developer Working Solution

The wonderful thing about B&W film developing is the infinite array of variables that all influence and affect the end result. This makes the process very interesting and rewarding, but it’s a bit overwhelming when trying to decide upon the various parameters when developing your first film.

After studying the HC-110 datasheet and looking at the unofficial HC-110 website I decided to use dilution B. You would think that following the manufacturer’s data sheet would be sufficient, until you read from various sources, including the massive dev chart, that they think Kodak were mistaken to recommend 3 ¾ minutes developing time (for roll film at 20 degrees C using dilution B) as it is too short. It should be more like 4 ½ to 6 minutes. This kind of thing makes me uneasy – I like to experiment, but I want the first time to follow the book and be fairly standard. But I couldn’t ignore the feedback of many other HC-110 users. After seeing it mentioned a few places on Flickr, I dialled 6 ½ minutes into the brilliant Massive Dev iPhone app.

To cover one roll of 135 with liquid I needed 300ml of chemicals so I mixed the following dilution:

Dilution B: 1+31 (9ml of concentrate and 291ml of ionised water)

This is where the syringe and bottle adapter is handy – measuring such a small quantity of syrup liquid in a cylinder would be very hard to do accurately.

Loading the film onto the reel

It was time to get the film onto the reel, I’d practised this a lot, it should have been fairly straightforward. Before putting the film into the bag, I cut off the leader and trimmed the corners slightly (I’ve heard this can help). The EOS 3 has a custom function that prevents the film leader from being wound all the way back into the canister, which is handy.

I put the film canister, developing tank, and scissors into the bag. Taking a deep breath I put my arms into the elasticated holes and felt around for the parts. I got the film started on the reel with little trouble. I was pulling the film out of the canister slit (i.e. I didn’t open the canister to remove the film), which was a bit of a pain. I think I’ll open the canister with a bottle opener in future. The film went onto the reel fairly well but it got very stiff to load towards the end. I had only ever practised 24 exp. film and this was a 36 exp. film, I wasn’t sure if this was normal. But I continued try to load the reel. I got to the end and cut the film from the canister (that took several cautious attempts!)

But then disaster struck – the film somehow jumped off the reel and wasn’t loading properly. It was jamming and chewing and argh… panic! I tried to recover by pulling some of the film back off the reel but then trying to load the film back on the reel stopped working – it was no longer being gripped by the ball bearings. I had to pull all the film back off the reel and start from scratch. At this point my fingers had mistakenly and sometimes reluctantly printed themselves all over the film – I was sure it was going to end in total disaster. I was getting hot with stress and my hands were getting sweaty (the bag doesn’t seem to breath very well). Sweaty, sticky fingers and loading film is not a good combination… it just gets harder and harder!!

But then I finally managed to get it loaded and into the developing tank. I sighed in relief and looked at the clock – it was getting late (past 10pm) and I was tired. I hadn’t even started developing the film yet, but the developer was already mixed and waiting for me in the water bath. “Just get on with it…!”

The developer was at 21 degrees and it didn’t look like it was going to cool down any time soon, so I poured it into the tank and Lynsey tapped ‘Start’ on the Massive Dev iPhone app. I agitated continuously for the first minute and then for 10s every minute (the app prompts you to agitate, which is great!).

When the bell went to pour out the developer I was somehow totally unprepared and faffed around for a good 20-30s whilst getting the lid off and trying to remember if I was to pour it back in a bottle or down the sink. I then delayed before pouring in the stop bath and (as Lynsey was no longer available) I realised that wearing gloves was not the best idea when you need to tap on an iPhone screen! After 60s of continuous agitation the ‘Stop’ went back into the bottle and I poured in the ‘Fixer’, agitated for 10s every minute and then poured it back into the bottle.

It was then time to rinse and wash for 10 minutes and my first opportunity to see if there was anything on the developed film. It looked very dark and I couldn’t really make out any images. ☹

I continued the wash and then ended with adding 3ml of Ilfotol (again using a syringe) to a nearly full tank of water for 30s, whilst occasionally moving the reel up and down in the liquid to mix it all. I took the tank upstairs to the bathroom and pulled the negatives out of the reel for the first time and I couldn’t believe it – IT WORKED! My first film development was a success. I hung them up to dry overnight.

Next post – the scanned images from my first developed film.

9 Responses

  1. simon

    Great post James!

    It reminded me of the stress I had loading reels back when I was in school and art college but more recently when I started developing film again last year.

    Of course when I do this sort of thing I send the family out as it’s messy. If my wife saw what I get up to with chemicals spilling here and there I’d be expunged!

    Excellent stuff. Looking forward to part deux!


    • James

      Thanks Si! It certainly does cause a bit of disruption but I tried to keep it all under control. I have acquired an old towel, which has become a dedicated spillage soak-er up-er for film developing in the kitchen!

      Part deux (with the results) is already up on the blog!

  2. Toby

    Having just passed my 1000th film its great to read about your first time….Glad it worked out for you..welcome!

    Only thing I would say is that it is easy to get bogged down in 10 seconds here, a couple of mls here, 1 degree centigrade there, shake after x amount of seconds…

    B&W film is so incredibly versatile and forgiving. I tend to approach it more like a mad scientist and dance around the room shaking the canister (generally the more agitated the film the higher the contrast).

    I would strongly reccommend trying to get a film wrong. Double the strength of the developer and see what happens. Or add 4 minutes to the time in the dev. Dont shake at all, or shake continuously. Learn the limints of the film, see what happens if you go wrong, have fun and relax. It is pretty hard to get it wrong. And if you do it will probably turn into a glorious mistake. A heavy neg can be a joy to work with sometimes 🙂

    And personally I’d try T-Max 400 – it is a great film, with alot more punch than Tri-X 😀

    • James

      Hi Toby, thank you so much for your brilliant advice and thoughts. It’s exactly what I need to hear too. One of the things that I find fascinating about B&W developing is the huge number of variables you can play with, but I’d lost sight of that slightly in my preparation for my first time! Thanks for reminding me and also for the great suggestion about trying to get a film wrong. I really do like to understand the full effect of different extremes and you can’t beat doing it yourself and seeing the result (rather than just reading about it). Most of all – ‘have fun and relax’, I’ll definitely do that next time, now that the first time is out of the way.

      I have shot a couple rolls of T-Max 400, but had it developed at a lab. I wasn’t completely taken by it, but that might have been the old Soviet lens I was using or my (ever evolving) scanning technique. I was hoping for more punch and so tried Tri-X, it seemed to be better but then I did develop it myself. I will do plenty of experimenting to find what works best for me!

      Thank you again for passing on your experience; over 1000 rolls – wow! I’ve followed you on all your social media outlets and I look forward to having a really good look at your work. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve seen so far. Are they scans of darkroom prints? T-Max 400 certainly delivers punch in your results.


  3. Jeff Crawley


    Stumbled on to your blog by accident and I’m very impressed with the content and the style.

    As others have said makes some mistakes – it’s the best way to learn – and thank heavens for the developing tank, my first experience in developing was see-sawing a 120 film in a pudding basin (google it!) with the school camera club SO many moons ago.

    Keep up the good work . . . . now where did I put that Lubitel . . . .?


    • James

      Hi Jeff, thanks for the kind comment! I’m really enjoying the developing – I’ve not made many ‘mistakes’ yet, still getting my feet wet (not literally fortunately) doing things ‘normally’, but I do have plans! Especially now that I’ve started shooting and developing 5×4 sheet film – that makes experimenting a whole lot easier! Hope you dug out the Lubitel, I’m so impressed with what you can do with it! Cheers!

  4. Moni

    This was very helpful! and now I am realizing that I need to buy a few more things! haha!

    • James

      Oh that’s great it was useful to you. It’s really hard to know what you need until you start. I look forward to hearing how you get on!

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