Darkroom Photography Techniques: How To Develop 35MM Film

Beginner, Intermediate, Photography | 12 Sep, 2012

Learn how to develop a 35mm photography film in this educational photography tutorial.

Deborah Gray-Mitchell shows you how you can manually develop your 35mm camera film in this darkroom photography tutorial aimed towards the beginner to amateur photographer.

Before the photography tutorial begins Deborah explains how she went out into her garden earlier to take various pictures in order to fill her 35mm film. She manually rewinds the film all the way until she hears the click then opens the back of the camera to take out the photography film. For the sake of this tutorial she has opted to use 35mm black and white film but it is entirely your choice whether or not you decide to do the same or opt for color.

Usually this freshly exposed film would get developed in the dark but for the sake of this ‘how to develop 35mm film’ tutorial Deborah Gray-Mitchell has used a dummy roll of film which she has taken from her top drawer in order to teach you the required process necessary for the development of the film.

The next step after removing your film from the camera is to load your film reel. She carefully pops the lid from one end of the 35mm film holder using a can opener to reveal the negatives. Remember this is all to be done in the dark otherwise you will have just exposed the film you have just taken to natural light and destroy all your hard work. Use a pair of scissors to cut off the end tab on the reel and then reach for your developing reel and match up your film sprocket holes with the two raised bumps within the developing reel to hold your film. Of course this is difficult to do in the dark but once your eyes adjust to the lack of natural light you will be able to feel around for these holes quite comfortably.

This step within film development also becomes much easier with practice and in most cases photographers who do a lot of home developing will use a red light as the film cannot detect this light hence not destroying your captured images. To guide the film onto the developing reel you must gently squeeze the edges of the film arching it whilst rotating the reel to guide all of the 35mm film onto the reel. It is important to not get any kinks in the film so take your time at this stage. Using your scissors again clip the other end of your film once you have it all wrapped around the developing reel.

After this step you place the freshly round film and developing reel into the tank. Gray-Mitchell uses a developing solution set at a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit which is the ideal temperature for film development before using a spouted jug to pour the chemical into the tank with your developing reel and 35mm film. On this particular black and white film you must use a 6 minute developing time for optimum results so make sure you have a stop watch ready at this stage in the film development. Tap the tank on the surface to rid the contents of air bubbles and then proceed to ‘agitate’ the tank, which is the photography term for consistently turning the developing tank upside down over and over to make sure all of the developing chemicals reach all the parts of the exposed camera film.

The 6 minutes is up so it is now time to pour the developing solution into the original jug from which it came as it can be recycled for use on future film developments. So never pour your developing solution down the drain unless you have money to burn. Indicator stop bath which is yellow in color is then poured into the tank before the lid is placed back onto the tank ready for further agitation. This process is to be completed in 5 to 10 seconds before once again being recycled. Add the fixer for your final step of the 35mm film development and agitate for the final time for 5-10 minutes to completely ‘fix’ your photos. After the film is washed with water and then dried you are ready to use your negatives to produce some great original prints. This is a very useful photography tutorial and fully covers the correct process for developing your camera film.

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    1. You have to load the film in the dark. You put everything where you can find it, turn out the light and open your film cartridge and load it. Once you have it in the tank and the lid securely in place, you can turn on the light. Sounds hard, but it’s not really once you get the hang of it.

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    2. We used a replinishment method with our film developer. We kept the developer, stop and fix in 3.5 gallon tanks, then for each roll of film developed, we added whatever amount of replinisher that the instructions called for. The tanks were kept covered with floating lids and covers when not in use. You can’t just reuse the developer without replinishing.

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    3. for the developer (the first chemical) i use 4 1/2 minutes for 125 iso and 6 1/2 for 400 iso i find that agitating then tapping on the tabel for the full time is best. next for the stop chemical i use 10 seconds. for fix i use 10 minutes aswell but to clear it up for anyone. to do the wash, you take off the lid (no longer light sensitive) fill with gently rushing water in the center. it should be 18-22 celsius then hang to dry for at least 3 hours (in a dust free space) is best

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    4. I agree. With film you are more careful about what and how you shoot because there is a limited amount of exposures. With digital I just feel like I’m taking photographs of crap because I can. All it does is fill up my hard drive, AND the photographs never even get printed. Which is the point of photography. I agree we real photographers need to get back to the root of the art. What if everything on your hard drive gets deleted and you haven’t printed anything. You have nothing to show.

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    5. To those saying that using a dslr camera isn’t true photography, i disagree. However I do agree that those who use Instagram for their filters aren’t necessarily “Photographers”. It’s called moving on, technology has made things easier for us, let’s use it while we can. Sorry not Sorry.

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    6. To those saying that using a dslr camera isn’t true photography, i disagree. However I do agree that those who use Instagram for their filters aren’t necessarily “Photographers”. It’s called moving on, technology has made things easier for us, let’s use it while we can. Sorry not Sorry.

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