Black and white film development and paper printing
Laboratory photography techniques allow you to develop black and white films yourself and make prints on silver paper without too much difficulty. Discover all the essential steps to perfect the practice of development, from the beginner to the expert.
IntroductionInitially, when I was a student at the Beaux-Arts, my photography teacher Alain FLEIG very rightly included me in a development course. with Philippe SALAÜN, trained by Ansel ADAMS and preferred darkroom printer, among others, of Willy RONIS, Robert DOISNEAU, Edouard BOUBAT, Izis, Inge MORATH, Seydou KEITA, Malick SIDIBÉ, René JACQUES, etc. in order to improve my knowledge of film and paper developing techniques.
Based on this learning, this guide has been following me for more than 30 years, and I hope it will be useful to others.
In no way are these methods perfect, I am neither a physicist, nor a chemist, nor a mathematician. They allow me to express myself, to succeed in my work, in short they correspond to me.
The difficulty is not to develop a film, but to find your method and adapt your technique to your needs and creativity.
Film preservationKeep the films in the refrigerator if the temperature is above 24°C. Before opening the package, bring the films to room temperature to avoid condensation (2 to 3 hours).
Are "X" rays dangerous for films?Regarding usual use cases and airports no, but ... there are many very stubborn beliefs circulating on this subject.
Yes, of course films are sensitive to radiation, just like your body and the matter around us. Airport equipment manufacturers, various aeronautical organizations and designers of photographic products have published numerous studies on this subject. Concerning general public photographic films up to ISO 800, they will only be altered after numerous passes through airport scanners.
Taking an occasional plane trip exposes very low doses of cosmic radiation. This is evidenced by the following flights (estimated exposure for flights carried out on February 14, 2020):
- Paris-Nice: 0.003 mSv
- Paris-Berlin: 0.005 mSv
- Paris-New York: 0.062 mSv
- Paris-Tokyo: 0.098 mSv
By way of comparison, Even if the use of ionizing radiation is increasing in industry and in the medical environment, natural radioactivity represents 2/3 of the average exposure in metropolitan France with an effective dose of 2.9 mSv/year, compared to 1.6 mSv/year for artificial radioactivity. An abdominal CT scan represents 12 mSv.
According to the specifications published by the manufacturer, it has been established that during a typical scan, a piece of luggage will receive a radiation dose of approximately 0.002 mSv produced by Heimann x-ray machines.
The radiation energy from CATSA's x-rays is too low to cause noticeable effects on untreated film from cameras, up to at least 800 ASA. However, multiple inspections of the same untreated film could end up damaging these films.According to the DGAC study (2010), for low sensitivity films (ISO 100), no haze can be detected, regardless of the number of passes.
For medium sensitivity films (ISO 200 to 400), no haze could be detected up to 24 passes. Interpolation of the curves between 24 and 48 passes suggests that the first alterations visible to the naked eye would occur between 30 and 40 passes.
For films of ISO 800 sensitivity, the haze becomes visible to the naked eye after 12 passes.
For high sensitivity film, ISO 1600 and above, alteration may occur from the 6th pass.
If, however, this still does not reassure you, I advise you to:
- Not to put your films in your checked baggage but to take them with you in the cabin. The scanners in the hold would be more powerful, and difficult to negotiate with airport personnel at this stage.
- Carry your films in a dedicated bag surrounded by lead. At best it will help during security clearance and during flight.
- Show your films before you are asked to the security guards, if it is not too crowded they know the subject and will do a manual inspection.
- Buy your films on site, no stress!
- In general, use your films without delay, because the radiation is everywhere!
- Finally, if you can, do the film development locally by yourself or give your film(s) to a laboratory that will ship them back developed later.
Solution dilutionIn terms of quantitative chemistry, dilution is a precise act, which is not on the specific leaflets of each photographic product. Monumental errors are made in this respect.
When talking about a 1+9 (or 1:9) dilution, i.e. A+B products, it is a matter of putting 1 volume of A completed by 9 volumes of B.
For example, 100 ml of A and 900 ml of B for a volume of 1 litre (or 1000 ml, because 1000 ml = 1 litre).
This gives us in this case the 10% dilution. (because A is included for 1 volume in a total of 10 volumes, i.e. 1 for 10, or 10 percent which is written 10%).
If this sounds too complicated for you, use the online dilution and concentration calculator.
Film sensitivityPhotography is a chemical and physical process. Apart from the need to find EXACTLY the reality for these particular reasons of control or reproducibility, and not to consider the photographer's interpretation, you must be able to accept a certain margin of deviation or even error. Considering that everything has to be perfect is very complicated in manual mode, as is the "best camera in the world, the best film, the best products, speeds and apertures, lenses, storage, temperature, etc." have never turned a novice into a genius. Let's not forget that these are only tools created to sublimate your vision of the world, not the other way around.
Below is a simple test, the same shot at different speeds, apertures and film sensitivities, exposed on the same roll. This is the legendary KODAK TRI-X 400 35mm Film developed in KODAK D-76 in 1:1 dilution. So you have a big margin of error or possibility, so relax!
Of course, with digital, we can go further and put things right, or interpret our vision of the image.
* This is the ISO 25 version retouched with Photoshop, some areas have been rectified. In general, it is better to obtain details in shadows and highlights, which can be used later.
Black and white negative film processing
Film manipulationsDo not take the films out of the cartridges by unrolling them quickly, otherwise static electricity will be generated which can fog the photosensitive layer in certain places, as well as scratches.
On the other hand, it is better to completely rewind a film if it is given to a photographer to develop, as they sometimes tend to practice the previous handling.
If you develop your films yourself, let the leader out, which will be cut precisely between 2 perforations, before being wound on the reel (avoid unlucky snagging in the dark...).
It is better to process between 1 and 5 films in small manual tank, giving better results than by machine. It is better to discard the developer (which is used only once), errors will be much rarer then.
I have also been using for some time a LAB-BOX tank from ARS-IMAGO, which is really very easy to use, whether for 135 or 120/220 films. In less than 1 minute the film is loaded in daylight, the whole being immediately ready for film processing.
To save your information for your analog frames quickly (context photograph, GPS coordinates, aperture, speed, film type, ISO, notes, etc.) and directly on your smartphone use LYFDA.
Solution temperatureMeasure the temperature of the products once they have been mixed in the container (graduated cylinder) and before pouring it into the tank, which allows to adapt the development time to reality and not the other way around.
Film pre-wettingPre-wetting allows the film to be moistened before the developer bath.
This allows to improve certain phenomena before any chemical reaction:
- Put the film at the right temperature.
- Avoid bubbles formation by the developer on the film.
- Allow a more uniform action of the developer.
- Dissolve the anti-halation layer of some films.
Film developerFilter developer and other products before use if possible. They may have elements that can scratch the film, especially when using the bottom of the products remaining in the bottles.
Prepare the developer in one go, so as not to waste time and mix the products well. The developer is prepared outside the film tank.
When there are a lot of films to be processed, put the developer first, then open the film cartridges, put them on the reels, on the shaft and dip the whole quickly in the developer (and in the dark).
Use the inclined tank on its lid to pour the products to avoid that too much air gets trapped, air outlet upwards. Continuity of temperature of the order of ±2°C. Agitation must be normal, not muscular, to avoid foaming the baths.
You just have to tap the bottom of the tank to dislodge the bubbles that form on the film after the developer has been poured.
If too muscular: stripes on the film.
If too many bubbles: round shapes on the film in multiple places.
Agitate the tank by tilting it vertically 180° and rotating it in both directions. (approximately every 30 seconds). Also lift the lid after each stirring cycle so that the air can escape.
Tap the tank slightly from time to time so that the bubbles do not remain on the film, but above all avoid foaming the products.
The aim is to renew cyclically and completely the developer in contact with the photographic emulsion, because overexposed areas exhaust the developer very quickly.
The water may or may not be calcareous, but problems are encountered at the last wash. The acidity of the fixer and stop bath dissolves the limescale suspended in the water.
Developer stockageFor powder developers, such as KODAK D-76, XTOL or ADOX XT-3, prepare a "stock" solution (initial solution of water and diluted powder) with very weakly mineralized spring water such as "Mont Rouscous" (in France), demineralised or distilled water for this initial realization.
Some recommend boiling the water to remove the last remaining oxygen, but since I never had conservation concerns, let's not complicate the method.
Indeed, oxidation with oxygen from the air is the worst danger for the solution. It is also necessary to avoid shaking during its preparation, it is better to stir gently until complete dissolution.
Store the developer in dark glass medical or chemical bottles by filling them to the brim.
You can also use brown wine bottles with vacuum caps to extract the air via a manual pump.
Personally, I prepare 5 liters of developer with demineralized water, which I store in 250 ML brown glass bottles.
I put the powder in the 5 liters jug, compress it to remove as much air as possible, close it and rotate it until it dissolves completely. It will always have less oxidation with the cap closed than with the open cap or in the open air, because once the oxygen is consumed it is finished.
In biochemistry I used magnetic stirrers, which allow better mixing from the bottom without effort, but I have not yet used the latter.
Wait at least 24 hours before use to be sure that everything is dissolved, as the eye cannot see anything chemically.
Using 1:1 dilutions, 250 ML allows me to process up to 2 films 135 or 1 film 120 for a final developer volume of 500 ML, never leaving a half-empty bottle.
Filter the solution with a cloth or a very fine strainer over the funnel to retain particles that can alter the film chemically or mechanically.
When I have a film to develop, I take a bottle that I shake gently before opening, then dilute it with demineralised, distilled or mineral water avoiding tap water if possible.
I keep these "stock" solution bottles away from light, in a room with a more or less constant temperature and not too hot, and without any problem for more than 1 year. If during the preparation of the dilution the developer it's different from the original color, cloudy or any doubt, I don't use it, but it's very, very rare.
Film stop bathCommercial acetic acid diluted to 2% for negative stop baths. For a film, the recommended dwell time in the stop bath is 1 min.
Stir normally (it stops the action of the developer and preserves the effectiveness of the fixer).
If there is none left, white spirit vinegar for household or culinary use (less concentrated) will do the job perfectly.
Film fixerFor fixer tests: Téténal Fixierbad Prüfer: in specialist shops.
You shouldn't fixate for too long, although the novice world boasts about this technique, even though they are not familiar with the process.
The fixer is an acidic product, which is very harmful to the conservation of films. In the chemical process, this acidity comes into play. As soon as this process is finished, the remaining acidity, (which is in excess, for a total chemical reaction) starts to oxidize the film support. It would therefore be necessary to wash longer, which is never done.
Fixing must be maintained by a fairly sustained agitation of the tank, in the sense that a rotation and tilting every 15-20 seconds is a minimum for a good fixing.
Film washingReticulation of the film may occur during washing if the temperature differences are important between the different photographic baths. This results in a larger grain size and loss of definition.
Fill the tank with water from the bucket for twelve minutes, making sure to change the water every minute.
Shake vertically several times and make a few rotations, the mechanical action of the water helps washing by detaching the particles from the film.
Let stand so that the silver and fixing compounds, heavier than water, fall to the bottom of the tank. Remove the reel by its axis before discarding the water, otherwise there would be redeposition of these compounds on the emulsion. Shake the reel to eject the last few drops of water.
Another possible method (also known as the "Ilford wash" or "washing machine"), which allows the chemical elements to be removed from the film more quickly by dynamically stirring the water. Fill the tank with 80% clean water at the right temperature each time:
- 5 tilts and empty the tank. No need to do more here, as the goal is to remove as much fixer as possible quickly.
- Fill. 10 tilts and empty the tank.
- Fill. 20 tilts and empty tank.
- Eventually 20 more tilts and empty the tank.
Final rinse with distilled or demineralized water to avoid any trace of organic or mineral deposits when drying. Maximum time 2 min.
If using a wetting agent (Kodak's PHOTOFLO), apply water first and then the wetting agent afterwards. Simply add 3 drops to the rinse water (for a 250 ml tank). Immerse the film for about 2 minutes, and rather less than more. If too concentrated, there is then a risk of marbling (stir from time to time).
I use now Tetenal Mirasol Wetting Agent, an antistatic, batericide wetting agent for black and white film and can be used as a glazing agent for fiber based papers. It contains anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agents.
Film dryingWring out the film with a latex sponge found in makeup stores. (caution, very delicate operation!)
Another possible technique I use now is to fix the reel containing the film vertically in a salad spinner. This is the simplest use of the centrifugal effect. The rotational movement imposed on the film induces accelerations that
are also transmitted to the water particles.
While they remain stuck at rest, the forces of cohesion become insufficient when the assembly rotates fast enough.
The local equilibrium is no longer guaranteed, the water is ejected.
This also avoids scratching the wet film, which becomes more fragile during a mechanical rubbing action carried out with, in some cases, fingers, pliers or a sponge.
Let the film dry in a clean and dust-free place for 2 to 3 hours ½. Drying cabinets are not recommended, as the rapid evaporation of water can cause stains deposited by concentrated elements in the drops.
Cut the hanged film and do not remove the clips which may still contain water. This water may drip onto the film and lengthen the drying time and even worse, leave a streak on the film. Then cut the film into strips of five or six frames and place them in a pouch made of acid-free paper.
Processing some black and white negative films
Standart developing processValues given for the development of a 135 or 120 film in a disposable bath and a temperature of 20°C.
Stand development processI use the "stand development", "stand dev", "slow development", "development without agitation" techniques, especially for less critical shots or to obtain certain more specific effects.
Check out my article on stand-developement for more information.
Scanning your filmsIf you would like to scan your films by yourself, I suggest you digitize them in high-resolution with your digital camera in this specific article.
Printing photographic paper
Paper choiceIlford FB (Fiber Base) MG (multigrade) 1K (glossy).
Kodak Polyfiber FB, in gloss as well.
Also Oriental New Seagull VC (Variable Contrast), card holder.
These are bromide papers with variable contrast and baryte cartoline support.
Use polyethylene-coated paper for contact or control prints, which must be handled and quickly interpreted. Always use a glossy surface to obtain a better image definition.
Framing the negativeFormat 30x40 for exhibition, collection or archival prints, with a 20x30 window corresponding to 24x36 (3/2 ratio).
18x24 format for personal or promotional prints, with a 12x18 window corresponding to the same ratio.
On a 13x18, a 10x15. One can also present full sheet, square cropping, white or black listels, film feed borders...
Then use a masking frame corresponding to the maximum size of paper used.
You can use a magnifying glass to appreciate the focus of the image on the photographic paper. There are also focus checkers (focus on the grain of the negative).
Paper developerAGFA Neutol NE (neutral), WA (warm), depending on the desired picture tone. High quality concentrated developer. Fast appearance of the latent image. Special stabilization for limescale avoiding any risk of cloudy bathing. High security against coating.
Ilford's PQ Universal, which produces a beautiful grey, as well as BROMOPHEN, from the same manufacturer.
Image tone: warm tone developers, such as Neutol WA, Metinol Agfa or LS Ilford (the most common) only concern chlorobromide papers such as Portriga Rapid Agfa, Tétenal Baryt 111 (which are not contrasting variable but in different grades) etc... They do not affect the tonality of images on variable contrast papers, which are made of a silver bromide emulsion.
For the NeutolAdd water at about 30°C to the concentrated developer to obtain the desired final volume and stir well.
Dilute to 1+10 or 9% and use the developer at 20°C. From 1+7 (12.5%) to 1+14 (6.5%) depending on the desired contrast.
Efficiency: 3.5 m2/litre with 1+10 dilution, i.e. approximately 25 sheets 30x40cm per litre of prepared solution.
Note: For perfect processing of warm-tone papers, it is essential to ensure that the developer is not polluted by the fixing bath.
In addition, a stop bath (acetic acid) must be inserted between the developer and the fixing bath.
WARNING: Always develop your prints "fully" in the developer, i.e. do not change the bath when the image looks "good".
Image modification and shaping under the enlargerIf there are changes to be made to the image, the work should be concentrated under the enlarger. One acts on the exposure time or on the grade of paper (filters for variable contrast papers). This is very important if you want to reproduce prints without repeating the "small test pieces" sequence.
It is also advisable to annotate the back of the print with the development conditions, i.e. diaphragm opening, exposure time, developer used and its dilution, filter or paper grade.
It is necessary to be able to work under reproducible operating conditions, and not as an amateur handyman.
Density of a print: ± dark value of the print. Concerns the diaphragm and exposure time.
Contrast: Number of values and shades (from white to black, including a grey scale), which are lost in contrast when the enlarger is raised. Also concerns the choice of paper gradation or filter to use (multigrade papers).
If you have masking to do, make them first in white to remember the gestures to be repeated during the real print.
To fully appreciate the blacks of an image, leave a small piece of photosensitive paper exposed under the enlarger and without negative in the developer bowl. This one should be black and will be a perfect standard for a good implementation of your images.
Paper stop bath5% solution of CH₃COOH (acetic acid). Fast passage (5 to 20 seconds depending on the thickness of the paper) while stirring, with a bath at 20°C.
Caution: the purpose of a stop bath is to stop the effect of the developer, thus also to preserve the effect of the fixer longer. But it is absolutely necessary that the whole image soaks in this bath, the developer being everywhere on the sheet, on both sides.
Paper fixerHYPAM ILFORD Fix in 2 baths. Dilute at 1+6 (i.e. 14%) at 20°C. Single bath fixing time: 3 mn and no more. (For baryta paper).
The first bath takes the place of the second bath when the latter is used, which is then renewed (a fixer is worn out when a piece of film soaked in it becomes transparent in more than 30 seconds).
- 1st bath: during 1½ mn at 20°C
- 2nd bath: during 2 mn at 20°C
Fixing concerns only the photographic emulsion. It is then advisable to put the emulsion face to the bottom of the tray, to have a uniform treatment. Moreover, the elements released are heavier than water, this will not remain on the emulsion and therefore will not interfere with the fixing (the light can be turned on after 30 seconds of fixing).
Special archiving sequence: Use of ILFORD WASHAID GALERIE auxiliary wash.
- Fixation in 1 time: 1st bath
- 1st wash in running water: 5 min
- Washaid Gallery at 1 + 5 (16.5%) for 10 minutes
- Final wash for 20 minutes in fresh water at 20°C.
Washing the prints12 times in clear, clean water changed every 5 min and at 20°C. (It can be improved if the water is slightly warmer: 22°C).
This last washing is the most important step in the photographic printing process. It will decide whether or not the prints are stable over time.
You should know that the fixer is an acid product, and which can, if residues remain, deteriorate the support and the emulsion.
This is why we must exclude prolonged stations from the tests in the fixing bath, this act bringing nothing more to the chemical process, as some people may believe.
Drying printsBaryta prints can be air dried but there is a risk of paper buckling. On the other hand, the surface of the paper will take on a satin aspect of great nobility.
Prints on RC (Resin Coated = plastic) paper dry quickly, even with hot air, and perfectly flat.
In order to obtain quickly presentable prints, it is best to use white, chemically neutral blotters (certified acid-free by CANSON, SERC) that do not lint, guaranteeing a long-lasting conservation and flatness to the photographs.
Always use the same blotters for the same type of print sequence. For example, if you use ILFORD's WASHAID GALLERY, a treatment that lowers the percentage of of 75% residual thiosulphate compared to a 60-minute wash in running water, it would be unnecessary to reuse blotters that have been used to dry untreated WASHAID tests.
As a last resort, stretch a tulle veil over the top of a cardboard or box of larger dimensions than the prints and dry the photographic emulsion prints. down. After drying, let them "rest" for a while pressed between 2 acid-free cartons if possible. Then, after 3 or 4 days, iron them between these same two boxes with a iron without steam, on both sides, and leave to cool pressed for 1 or 2 days.
- Wring a test and put it on a clean blotter.
- Place another blotter on the test and rub gently.
- Wring a second test and place it on the second blotter.
- Turn over the stack of prints and blotters and place the top print on 3 clean blotters. Cover it with 3 more blotters.
- Transfer the second print from the old to the new stack. Continue until all prints have been transferred.
- When all the prints are placed between 3 sheets of blotting paper, place a weight on top of the stack to flatten them out and leave the prints for about 1 hour.
- Start again (4-6) by forming a third stack. Leave the prints until they are completely dry. The flatness will then be perfect.
Retouching the printSpecial retouching brush, RAPHAEL Martre Kolinsky n°2 and 3 and retouching ink sold in specialized shops. See bibliography. Use for example SPOTONE, in several different shades. Do not use Chinese ink or gouache if possible, as their texture is too thick, making them difficult to apply, swelling the gelatine and leave raised marks.
SPOTONE is a dye that penetrates completely into the print emulsion and leaves no trace of surface appearance.
It is diluted with water and can be removed with diluted ammonia.
Darkroom organizationOne can, if one has the means to do so, install his laboratory in a room comprising a window which will be covered with inactinic film in 2 thicknesses (Make inactinism tests with photographic paper).
This allows to receive the daylight and not to lose the notion of time during the development phase paper or film, the red light and the combined time quickly becoming very taxing on the nervous system.
2 parts in a laboratory: 1 wet part (baths) and 1 dry part (enlarger).
Paper bath trayWash them quickly after discarding chemicals and wipe them dry. It is also important to be able to transfer the trays from one place to another, the fixer cleans the developer tray by dissolving the silver particles. Do not wait too long as this will cause irreversible oxidation. It is better to use hard plastic trays which are more resistant to chemicals. This is similar for film tanks.
Darkroom equipmentUse of MEOPTA framers, inexpensive and reliable.
To wipe everything down, install a paper towel reel.
If possible, use glass test tubes, which are easier to clean and more resistant to chemicals.
It is better to develop with print tongs, because fingers have secretions on the surface which oxidize the products and run to their loss. It is necessary to arrange them in glasses so they don't fall into the developing baths. The same clamp can be used for the fixer and stop bath, but one and only one for the developer.
WaterTo keep water always at the right temperature, prepare a large quantity in a bucket. This also allows you to have at the bottom of the bucket the impurities likely to scratch the prints or films. Then gently remove it from the surface or moment of use with a container specifically designed for this stain.
You can also take a clean bottle and fill it with tap water filtered at the right temperature to develop films. 1 bottle is enough to do the developer steps at the first washing bath for a 250 ml tank film.
MiscDrying rack: Very soft mosquito net stretched over frames, with the photo-sensitive emulsion down (or tulle on a cardboard...).
To clean the enlarger's lenses, provide a bulb of high flow enema (pharmacies), an antistatic cloth for the discs (which can also be used for films).
Bond the enlarger to the ground to obtain less static electricity.
Darkroom temperatureThe ideal temperature is 20°C and the variations in Tp° are similar to those of the film developing baths. It is not necessary to use a Hot Stick but rather to put the room of the laboratory at the Tp° of the baths. Below 15°C, the chemical reaction is not complete. Conversely, above 25°C, there is a risk of deterioration of the gelatine, so photosensitive layer.
Throw or recycleAmong photographic film processing products, developers and fixers are a risk of pollution. They must be treated and then disposed of in specialized channels. In France, and I guess Europe also, bring your concentrated photographic products, expired or unused, to your waste disposal centres. Precautions:
- Leave the cap on to prevent spillage.
- Even if they're empty, don't throw them in the recycling bin.
- Do not empty the remaining contents into the sink or toilet.
It is best to call your local waste disposal centre to find out how to return used or expired solutions and bottles. Thank you for our environment!
Bibliography & addresses
c/o Gilles Mora.
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