The Fun of Developing Black and White Film
Taking a step backwards can be quite rewarding...
© Jim Hutchison

Seems that everyone I talk to has developed black and white film at some point in their lives... everyone but me! After considering the past 12 month's film developing costs, and not ready to sink a bunch of cash into a DSLR, it turns out this is a cheap and fast way to develop, scan, and publish (or print) your work. How does a 2 hour turnaround time sound? Read on...

It's Easier Than You Think
I've always liked the look of black and white photos, whether grainy or fine. There's both a photojournalistic as well as fine-art feel that this medium lends itself to... in a way that only black and white film can do. So after deciding to look into it, I was surprised to find out how quite simple and easy it is. So off to a photo supply store I went, armed with a list of chemicals and equipment thanks to a simple search on Google.

Here's all you need: thermometer, developing tank, developer, stop bath, fixer, and wetting agent. The rest you'll have at home already, like a couple clothes pins, a timer such as a watch that measures seconds, measuring spoons, measuring cups, a bottle opener, and containers to put the mixed chemicals in. That's it. I spent about $60 CDN, and that's the first trip. After this, I just replenish my chemicals when they run out.

The Process Goes Like This...
So as not to mislead you, the intent of this article is NOT to provide step-by-step details, but rather just whet your appetite for processing your own film. There's a bazzilion web sites that can fill in all the details. So, for a simple overview...

  • In the dark, open the film canister with a bottle opener and spool it onto the spiral holder.
  • Place the film holder into the developing tank, cover it and turn the lights back on.
  • Pour in the developer, and agitate per the film's instructions for the specified amount of time.
  • Pour out the developer, pour in the stop bath.
  • Pour out the stop bath, pour in the fixer.
  • Pour that out, and pour in the wetting agent.
  • Remove the film from the spool, and hang to dry.
That simple. The duration and timing of each step varies between films, and all manufacturers make it easy by publishing all the specs on their respective web sites.

So, If You Have a Film Scanner...
...the next step is a breeze, and doesn't cost a cent other then the consumed electricity and depreciation on the scanner! Cut the developed negs into the proper length for the film carrier, set the scanner s/w for B+W negatives, and you're off to the races. Your first roll will surprize and amaze you - the anticipation is what makes this so enjoyable.

Don't own a film scanner? Pick out your favourite shots and have them printed at your local lab. Still *much* cheaper than having the lab both develop and print every exposure, when all you may want blown up is 3 or four from the roll.

There are certain film and scanner combinations that are apparently not very compatible, but the impression I get is the challenge can be overcome with scanner settings and Photoshop tweaking. I've yet to try it, but some people even scan the negs in colour, then convert to black and white later.

I'm Sure You have a Printer...
A 2820 PPI scan of 100 ISO Ilford Delta printed on 8 1/2 x 11 is striking. And their 3200 ISO is really funky, and would be awesome for sports photography or any low-light situation like concerts or indoors when flash isn't an option. Even though it's still black and white, it has become fashionable and "artsy", so there's lots of fun to be had. Black and white prints simply have class.

Many professional photographers use this film for weddings and portraits; it has been the mainstay of this genre of photography for decades. Plus, colour developing is not that much of a stretch after mastering black and white. Something to think about if you really get hooked.

Here's some samples of my first few rolls:

| Jewelry (3200 ISO) | Sword Close-up (100 ISO) | Time exposure (3200 ISO) |

Have fun. That's what it's all about.


Jim Hutchison is a part-time photographer who resides in Burnstown, Ontario with his wife Moira.