I’m here to tell you that film is fun! The process of development is great! The smells, the anticipation. Even when you completely fumble up you can still get great results.
It’s really not that hard just us a simple changing bag and you don’t need the blacked out room and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Note that I refer to it as a “blacked out room”, a darkroom is where you develop prints. Prints aren't sensitive to red light film is. From the point where you remove film from its role up until you get it into the development tank it needs to be completely dark.
A good tutorial
A lot has been written online about developing black and white film (although a lot of great sources have also disappeared) lucky for us that we still have this excellent film development tuturial on PhotoTuts+. The tutorial talks about Kodak TMax film but the process is pretty much the same for any black and white film. I do have a couple of short notes/tips on the tutorial, but go read it first.
A couple points
- You don’t need a completely blacked out room, get your self a Changing Bag. Paterson makes these and it’s the one I use.
- Buy a Paterson Universal development tank and buy a new one. Second hand tanks can leak or can be incomplete without you knowing until you have developer all over your hands and ruined negatives.
- Start out with plastique reels they’re easier for beginners. The Paterson Universal is a plastique reel system and can handle 135 and 120 film without a problem.
- The Massive Dev Chart is your friend! It’s a database with film and developer combination and tells you the times and temperature need to develop (and a lot more)
- Install the Massive Dev Chart app! Aside from telling you how to develop your film with a specific developer it also provides you with a timmer that guides you through the process of developing, stop and fix. It even tells you when to agitate. It’s a breeze with this little helper. They also provide the app for other mobile platforms but the iPhone version is by far the best.
- Your stopper chemicals can be replaced with water with a little vinegar!
- You can skip the HypoClear I never user it. But wash properly!
- Never buy photo flow, it’s really bad for the environment!! You can replace it by using a little dish washer fluid. Also using a squeegee does wonders. There you go saved you 3 bottles of chemicals with the last 3 points.
- In closing the wonderful thing about most black and white film is that it’s really hard to screw up exposure! Black and white film has a very high dynamic range. Just meeter light in the shadows and you’ll be fine.
Just have fun
That's is pretty much it! At first glance it might look like a lot but the process really isn't as unforgiving as it might seem at first glance. I’ve made a lot of mistakes including developing in a liquid and light leaking tank and guess what, I still got good exposures out of it. I even once forgot the stop bath all together and still the negatives were fine.
Don’t be afraid of screw-ups! And just have fun! And I can guarantee that you that you'll end up making better photographs also when using your digital camera.