When I started playing with my large format camera the other day, I was fully expecting to have six beautiful negatives I could share here. Instead, I’ve had two crap negatives and the rest were completely unusable. So when it comes down to it, what went wrong?
Well I seem to be under exposing the negatives. But here’s the thing, I don’t know if it’s me or the shutter not working correctly. I’m also unsure how to compensate for a very extended bellows, so I’m just guessing.
On the interesting side of things, it’s forcing me to slow down and think. It’s been a while since I’ve really stopped to think about what zone something should be in. I’ve just relied on in-camera light meters and chimping it. I’ve had to slow down my process of taking a photo too. Check this, adjust that and play with the other. It’s enjoyable and frustrating at the same time! It’s very much like learning photography all over again.
The other downside in the darkroom is that it took an age to load the Mod 54, which last time was an absolute breeze. You win some, you lose some.
I’m posting the photos here, as much as a reminder of where I’m starting from as anything. So anyway, for your delectations, two very crap photos. Enjoy.
Well I thought this would be a two part post, but it’s slipped over to three. I didn’t realise how much detail I wanted to provide and I didn’t quite realise how long it would take to write. Still very new to this blogging lark!
This is what you’ll need for the wet side of developing your film:
Developer (Ilford Ilfotec DD-X)
Stop Bath (Fotospeed SB-50)
Fixer (Fotospeed FX-30, Odourless)
Wetting agent (Ilford Ilfosol)
Measuring cylinders. These ones take 600ml. You can get bigger and smaller, the latter will help measuring smaller amounts of chemicals. A top tip is to label your cylinders (eg. Dev, Stop, Fix). Even pros can accidentally put the fixer in first!
Paterson triple timer. You can get analogue timers too, but I find that the Paterson digital ones are very resilient.
Syringes. Again, useful for measuring small amount of chemicals.
Thermometer. I prefer the digital probe type.
So, you should now have your film nicely tucked away in the tank and ready for development.
A quick mention of how the chemicals work. The developer develops the exposed silver in the film. The stop bath stops this process. The fixer removes excess, undeveloped silver from the film, preventing it from “developing out” in the light. You then need to wash the fixer off the film. Finally, you can use a wetting agent to help the film dry evenly. It’s also worth noting, some chemicals can be re-used and this is indicated as capacity of the chemical.
The first step is to mix your chemicals. If you look on the bottle, or the documentation for your chemicals, it’ll give you a ratio, such as 1+4. So for every 1 of one thing, there’s 4 of another, usually chemical to water. If you look on the bottom of your Paterson developing tank, it’ll tell you how much of the total mixture you’ll need to develop one roll of 35mm or 120 film. Since we’re just developing one 35mm film, you should need to mix up 290ml of solution.
So, assuming your chemical needs to be mixed at 1+4, you divide the total mixture by the total parts… in other words 290 / (1+4) or 290 / 5. This gives you 58. This is the 1 of the parts, so that’s 58ml of developer. You can add this to your measuring cylinder and then fill up to 290ml with water that’s 20 degrees C.
Now, you can develop at different temperatures, but 20 C is the “standard” temperature. Ilford provide a compensation chart for different temperatures.
If you’re really lucky, your water might come out at 20 degrees, but chances are it doesn’t. If you have a mixer tap, you should be able to get it right, but if like me you don’t, you just have to fill a container with warm and cold water until it’s “just right”. If you don’t want to do this (for instance, if you’re using deionized water in a bottle), you can fill a tray or large container with ice water or hot water and put your cylinder/s in it. This can take quite a while to get to the right temperature though and you will need to periodically stir it to get an even temperature.
You also need to know how long to develop your film for. This can also be found on your developer bottle or your film packet… but, your film or developer may not always be listed. This is where the Massive Dev Chart comes in. Select your film and developer on the left, click search and it will list time, dilutions, temperature, film size etc. Bookmark it, now!
Now you’re ready to go and in part 3, we will actually develop the film.
I’d like to preface this series of posts by saying, I’m not an expert. I’m self taught, through books, the internet and by making many, many mistakes. If I get something wrong, I’m happy to be corrected. I wanted to create something that a young me would have found helpful, which could also help someone just starting out.
The first step is quite simple and very complicated. You need to settle on a film and developer. When I first started developing my own, I wanted to try every film and every developer. The problem with this is, you don’t learn what works. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting, it just helps to focus down for a bit and find what gives you the results you’re after.
So, how do you choose a film and developer? There are many places that can explain this better than I. I would highly recommend “The Film Developing Cookbook”, which, while a bit out of date, is very helpful. To start off with, it may be worth sticking with a film and developer of the same brand, which are designed to work with each other. Don’t get me wrong, you can use most developers with most films, you can even mix your own developer, but as I said, sometimes focusing in is a good way to start and will remove unwanted variables.
Price may be an issue, especially if you shoot a lot. but budget options aren’t necessarily bad. Foma film is very usable and a hell of a lot cheaper than some of the other big brands. I shoot Ilford, but am moving to Foma for cost reasons.
What you need…
So, we’re now getting closer to the actual process of developing a film. There are yet more options: Steel tanks and reels for your film, or Paterson (or JOBO) plastic ones? Film extractor or bottle opener? This or that? I’m going to go with what I use.
The changing bag. It’s worth getting a good quality one, so you don’t risk exposing your film to the light. This is a large Paterson one.
The developing tank, where all the magic happens. Your film goes in on a reel and you pour the chemicals in. This is also a Paterson tank. You can get tanks of differing sizes. This tank takes 2 x 35mm films or 1 x 120 film.
This is a Paterson reel. Your film spools on here.
This is another Paterson reel, extended to develop 120 film. This is an advantage of the plastic reels over the steel ones.
Your 35mm film!
A bog standard bottle opener. You can buy special openers or things that retrieve the end of the film from the canister, but to be honest, this is cheaper and works just fine.
This is all the dry side kit you’ll need. The tank and changing bag are light tight, so you don’t need a darkroom to develop your film.
I highly recommend practising the process of loading the film on the reel, with an expired unexposed film, or film you don’t care about! Firstly with eyes open, secondly with your eyes closed. If you use the following instructions, you shouldn’t have too much trouble loading the film .
Step 1, use the bottle opener to take the bottom off the film canister.
Step 2, snip the end of the film leader off.
Step 3, snip the corners off the end of the leader. This makes it easier to load the film onto the reel.
Step 4, locate the guide notches (red) on the reel and slide the film between them. Then pull the film round until it passes the ball-bearing (yellow).
Step 5, where things get interesting. You need to hold each side of the reel and turn them in the opposite direction to each other and then back again. This will pull the film onto the reel. Keep doing this until you reach the end of the film.
Step 6, Snip the end of the film off the reel.
Step 7, Put the centre column from the developing tank through the reel and place the reel in the tank. Put the light-tight top into the tank and turn it clockwise to lock it in place. Then finally push the lid on.
That’s it! You’re ready to develop your film, which is covered in part 2.
There is a saying: Your first darkroom is for your enemy, the second for your friend and the third is for yourself. You learn many things from making your own dark room. Simple things, like what the ideal hight of a unit should be (for me, about waist height); where the safelights should go; how to blackout a room, which took several attempts to get right.
I had my first darkroom many years ago (not counting several attempts to use the bathroom), in a small shed attached to my mum’s house. I built all the units and even had a flap that allowed access to a chest freezer. There was a wet side, a dry side and plenty of shelf room. As I worked in it, I found what worked and what didn’t. It wasn’t quite for my enemy, but I wouldn’t have said it was for a friend either. It did however work, and I started to learn how to work in a darkroom.
After this, I went through many years without a darkroom. I could still develop film, with a Paterson tank, but print making was out of the question.
Life went on, as it does, and then I was eventually able to set up a new darkroom, in a shed again! I took what I’d learned from my first darkroom, thinking I had skipped a step. Since I first started working in it, I’ve had to adapt it and add things. It sort of works, so I’d say it’s now for a friend.
Blacking it out was troublesome, as it’s a normal 8×6 shed. Lots of ways for light to get it! I bought a lot of (in-fact, far too much) blackout material from Firstcall-Photographic. I then got a hefty staple gun and attached it to the walls of the shed, overlapping it all. Thick black duct tape helps to cover light leaks too.
Ventilation was my most recent addition to the darkroom, and much needed. I took a bit of a punt, not fully knowing what I was doing. My first attempt was a failure. I bought a solar powered extractor fan and a tumble drier hose. The extractor fan only worked in strong, direct sunlight and the hose wasn’t even slightly light-tight.
So, I did a little research and ordered some combi-flex tubing, an in-line extractor fan and a couple of vent diffusers. This was much more successful. I did still make one mistake. I ordered 100mm width tubing and 100mm width fan etc. This meant that the tubing wouldn’t fit over the fan, as it was the same width. Doh! I cut a short line along the length of the tubing, allowing it to fit on the other parts, fixed it with jubilee clips and then covered everything with lashings of black duct tape. It works!
I still don’t have any running water, but that’s OK. I fill a large bottle of water in the bathroom, using a darkroom thermometer to get the temperature right, to mix chems. I also fill two large trays with water, so I can place a freshly fixed print straight in one of them. Then after a quick agitation, I move it to the second one to wait to be washed.
I’m sure I will make many changes as time goes on, but that’s my darkroom for now. As for the mess, I think it’s part of my creative process!
So now I’ve splashed some paint on the blank canvas of this blog, let’s jump right in. Lith Printing. What is it? Well it’s a wet darkroom process that’s best described in this article by Tim Rudman. The short of it is, it’s an infectious development process, where blacks get blacker quicker, the blacker they are. This is, however, a gross simplification, but it will do. If you’re interested in lith printing, Tim Rudman’s books (“The Master Photographer’s Lith Printing Course” and “The World of Lith Printing”) are the best place to start.
I don’t remember when I first heard about lith printing, but what I do know, is that I was seduced by it. The deep blacks. The subtle highlights. The tones of the print. I liked the uniqueness of the individual images. No two lith prints are the same (though if you’re fastidious, you can make very similar ones). The same negative, printed several times and developed in the same batch of developer will turn out differently. There are so many variables that it can be an unwieldy beast to work with.
Then there are the developing times. Working at high dilutions of developer can lead to printing times in excess of 15 minutes, especially as the developer becomes more exhausted and oxidises. But as I said, it’s worth it! Suffice it to say, there will be plenty of lith prints on this blog.