So you want to develop film at home

AWESOME! Let's do this. I was really nervous starting out. I did a bunch of research on the internet and people were genuinely enthusiastic about the process not being terribly challenging, but it still felt like an undertaking I was definitely going to screw up. Spoiler alert, I did not. Well, not much. And you won't either. If you can bake a cake, you can develop film. If you can dodge a wrench, you can develop film. I now develop and scan most of my personal and professional film work myself. It's a labor of love, but I can also output a better product. It's the best.

I decided to start developing my film at home for a few reasons: 1) prices for film + development + scanning were getting pretty high, especially for the amount of personal (read: unpaid) film I shoot, 2) I can experiment with pushing my film for free, 3) learning new things is cool, and 4) whenever I was really having a tough day parenting (because we all have those) it empowered me to shoot my life in spontaneous ways and have that instant gratification of seeing what I made just hours later. It transforms my "bad days" into good ones. I have galleries now filled with "bad days," and I've found a lot of my favorite personal work was done at peak boredom.

In this post, I'll walk you through a no-nonsense guide on what you need to buy, space requirements, and I'll link you to a video on how to do it. I don't need to reinvent that wheel for this to still be useful to you.

What you don't need: A darkroom

Everyone seems to think you need a darkroom to develop film at home. You do not. The beauty of the process I'm going to detail is that it doesn't take up much space at all. This is a photo of where I develop black and white film and how much space all the stuff takes up. We don't have a ton of extra space in our house, so the simplicity in the setup is key to it being sustainable in my life.

Shopping List for B&W Film Development

Once you've got your stuff, time to mix chemicals

You'll need to mix your chemicals. The chemicals I've linked above are concentrates. You'll dilute them into working solutions for development and fixing your film. Most people use the HC-110B dilution for developer because it works pretty well, seems pretty sharp, and doesn't take too much or too little time to develop. It's a 1:31 ratio, I provided a link next to the Massive Dev Chart to Kodak's Instructions. So if you have the 1L chemical container I linked above, then you'll measure out 31mL of HC110 developer with your syringe, and pour that into that graduated pitcher. Then you'll fill the pitcher with water up to the 1L mark. Once it's full, you'll pour that developer into a chemical bottle using a funnel. Label the bottle.

Next, you'll rinse out your syringe, funnel, and graduated pitcher and we'll dilute the fixer into a working chemical solution. For Fixer, the ratio is 1:4 chemical:water. So, if you have 1L bottles, you'll measure 200mL of Fixer in the graduated pitcher and fill the rest of the pitcher up with water up to the 1L mark. Then, using the funnel, you'll pour that solution into a chemical bottle. Label it. Wash all your stuff.

Fixer gets reused quite a few times. Developer is a one-time use chemical. In practice, this means you'll find yourself mixing new developer frequently and fixer very infrequently. I remember the first time I mixed them I didn't realize this and was like "wow! I'm going to have to buy tons of Fixer and this stuff is expensive!" But then I realized that wasn't the case at all.

Now it's time to roll your film onto the Patterson Reel in the dark bag

Whenever I go to develop film, I grab my dark bag and put my (dry) Patterson Tank and the funnel insert (I typically leave out the top of it, it's light tight with just the funnel thing in it), the reel, a pair of scissors, and my can opener (for 35mm film, unnecessary for medium format).

You'll want to practice a bunch with rolling film onto the Patterson reel prior to giving your first real roll a shot. Grab some sort of cheap film from your closet or something you don't care about and do it outside of the dark bag a few times. Then repeat it in the dark bag until you're confident. The Patterson reels I linked can take 120 or 35mm film, you just adjust the size based on what you're developing. The tanks can develop 1x120 roll or 2x35mm rolls at a time.

Here's a video on tricks for rolling film onto a reel and also how to adjust the Patterson reel for different sizes of film. Ignore my nails.

Time to develop your film!

Open up Massive Dev Chart and choose the film stock and developer you plan on using (HC110 1:31). This'll help you time out all of your steps. Here are the steps you'll do:

  • Water bath- fill your tank up with water, do some inversions for 30 seconds, pour it out. This helps get your film to the same temperature as your developer chemicals and removes and dust and grime that might be on the film and impede good development.
  • Developer- These chemicals are one-time use. You'll mix your dilution, develop your film, and whatever was used in the tank is poured down the drain.
  • Stop Bath- wait what? Dani, you only said I needed to buy developer, fixer, and photo flo. I didn't buy any stop bath. Chill! Stop bath is just water. Once you've poured your developer out, you'll fill your tank up with water. This helps clean your film and prolong the life of your Fixer chemicals.
  • Fixer - You'll reuse this. So once you're done with this step you'll put a funnel into your fixed chemical bottle and pour the fixer from the Patterson tank back into the fixer for use another day.
  • Water rinse
  • Photo Flo
  • Take film off reel
  • Squeegee the water off with your fingers
  • Hang film from a shower curtain rod using a binder clip on either end (I just wrap a piece of yarn around the shower curtain so I have something for the top binder clip to clip onto. It's not cute, but it works.

There are tons of videos online of how to do this so I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here. This one is pretty solid, but use what works for your brain.

I like this video a lot because it's all bookmarked at the bottom of the video so you can skip around to the section you need help with most.

And you did it! Tag me @rainbowglittertornado in any images you develop yourself and post online-- I'd love to see what you create! Lastly, feel free to email or DM me any time if you have questions. I'm happy to make little vids to help you through any part of the process that seems particularly scary or hard.