Shoot Film: Black and White


I’ve got a bit of an obsession at the moment, and that is developing my own black and white film. I mentioned it briefly a couple of posts ago but this time round I shall tell you how to do it yourself, it’s really not that difficult!

I love black and white photography. It makes for the most delicious light and shadow, the subject matter becomes free of distractions, plus there is something so timeless about the tradition, being the earliest form of photography. You need to think a little differently from shooting colour; pay really good attention to light and texture or pattern but also viewpoint i.e. make sure the subject is clearly defined and how it is lit. And the final good thing is you can save yourself money by learning this skill; most labs charge a fortune for b&w development.

Developing my film is probably my most favourite part of photography over all else; being in (relative) control the whole way through the process from viewfinder to the final picture really scratches as that creative, hands-on itch. It gives you a feeling that you are involved in an active, art-making process. Probably not for the wham bam thank you ma’am type of photographer, but for all of you who want to feel more connected, physically and mentally to the discipline.

photograph by Suzie Chaney

You will have to invest in the following:

  • A developing tank and spiral reel.
  • Chemicals ~ for developer and fixer I recommend Kodak D-76 and Kodak or Foma fixer. I never use stop bath, I use white vinegar, but Ilford make a good stop bath if you want it. I would recommend getting a bottle of Kodak Photo-flo for the final rinse.
  • Dark containers for storing the mixed up chemicals.
  • Measuring jugs.
  • Film squeegee tweezers.
  • a timer or stop watch.
  • Thermometer

Optional extras:

  • Film changing bag if you don’t have a pitch dark cupboard or room (my shower is light-tight)
  • A tool to open film canisters (I use a bottle opener)
  • Film clips (you can use regular pegs)

In France or Europe, you can buy all you need here and pretty much everywhere else in the world here.

So here’s how to do it.

  • Start off by making sure you have everything you need to hand. Mix up your chemicals very carefully following the instructions on the packet. Pour into your dark bottles and label. If I am using previously mixed and stored chemicals I stand the bottles in hot water for several minutes to bring them up to approx 20°C/68°F, the ideal temperature for developing. If they are freshly mixed and need cooling slightly, stand them in cold water.
  • Either in the pitch dark (if necessary seal any light gaps in your room/cupboard with black insulating tape, light leaks will fog your film and ruin it completely, so no scrimping on this part) or in a film changing bag, crack open the film canister using your film or bottle opener, and tip the film still wound on it’s spool into your hand
  • This is the hardest bit. In the complete dark or inside the bag you have to load the film from it’s spool onto the spiral reel. Cut off the film leader and slowly feed the film end onto the reel. Then by twisting the reel back and forth it should load onto the spiral reel. When you reach the end of the film, cut it away from the spool and give it one extra turn. It’s probably a good idea to practise this with an old film in the light a few times first to get the hang of it.
  • Put the loaded reel onto the spindle that is inside the developing tank, seal the tank up carefully and now you can turn the lights on.
  • You need to make sure you use your developer for the right amount of time. Either follow the guide on your developer packet or use this chart. Take the rubber lid only off the top of your tank, pour in sufficient developer, re-seal and start your timer for the appropriate time. For the first 30 secs invert the tank carefully, and tap it down a couple of times to release any air bubbles. After that, you need to agitate the tank 4 or 5 times every minute till your timer goes off, by inverting it.

  • Pour out the developer and put the tank under running water. Experience has taught me to never use developer for more than a maximum of 3 films. I usually dump it after 2 to be on the safe side. Leave the tap running for about 5 mins. If you use a stop bath maybe you could shorten this. Anyway, after the 5 mins is up I fill a jug with a 1+4 solution of white vinegar and water, pour that in and agitate for 30 secs. Pour away and rinse under running water for a minute.
  • Empty the water from the tank and pour in your fixer. You need to fix for between 5-10 minutes, depending on a) your fixer and b) how old it is. Invert/agitate exactly as you did the developer and when it is done, carefully pour it back into the bottle. Fixer should never go down the sink.
  • Rinse the tank again under running water for another 5 minutes or so. Then mix a few drops of Photo-flo with water in a jug. Pour into the tank, agitate for no more than 30 seconds. Empty the tank, open up and remove and shake the spiral. Remove your film from the spiral, and hang up in a dry, preferably dust free place using your clips or pegs. Bathrooms are good. Run the squeegee down the strip a couple of times to give you good smear and stain free negatives. I like to leave mine to hang overnight before I do anything with them.

That’s all there is to it! If you would like a free, downloadable pdf of these instructions, head on over to my blog.

{{by Michael Italia}}

– Suzie Chaney runs Shooting the Breeze film photography e-workshops, blogs at Black-eyed Angel and sells her film photographs on etsy. Her column, Shoot Film, runs bimonthly on Mondays.


  1. I just came across my old enlarger and a mess of developing stuff. While I’m sure the chemicals have lost their potency, you’ve inspired me to start setting up a darkroom. My laundry has space for a sink, and could be made light safe…I truly loved the artistic value of black and white film and, while I love digital for it’s relative ease, I think some depth is lost in the process. Not to mention, I take far too many throwaway shots. Film forces you to think the shot through, or at least, more thoroughly than digital!

  2. I’m so happy that there are people still enjoying traditional darkroom techniques. I agree Janice, there’s one hell of a lot of artistry involved!

  3. There are still places across the country where enthusiasts of film can develop and print. We are doing it after more than 30 years – and going strong! Thanks for reminding people of the artistry involved in photography!

  4. I took photography in college and I LOVED developing film and then printing my images. Many hours of my life were spent in the darkroom. good times.

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