The Guide to B&W Film Development: Part 1 – Introduction to B&W Film

Welcome to Part 1 of my Guide to B&W Film Development.

Part 1 will deal with an overall view at the process.. the jargon.. the film.. and what you are looking to achieve. The main idea is that by the end of the 5 days there will be a guide with enough information for you to purchase, prepare, develop and then scan your own film. I wont look so much into the history of film (I can save that for another time) but almost think of this as a science experiment. Now I will say right off the bat.. this is for Black & White development only.. NOT c-41 process/colour negative or E-6 (slide)/colour reversal film development. I will write guides to those processes.. as I learn them myself.

I will start with the jargon that might be thrown around over the next 5 days of posts. Dont be scared to look it up (I have linked to definitions for easy viewing) and I certainly didnt remember what did what the first time through and to be fair you cant really write a guide without it. Ill try and follow the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) rule as much as I can but I figured I may as well get some of the jargon out of the way.

Latent Image (Undeveloped Image)

Developer (What develops the negative)

Stop (What stops the developer)

Fixer (What makes the image permanent on the negative)

Photoflo (A product that cleans the negative, assisting in drying and removal of streaks from the negative)

Rodinal (A type of developer, one used to create this guide)

Negative (The film that the latent image is originally stored on and then developed to become the usable film negative)

Tank (The container you develop the film in)

I will assume by this point that if you are interested in developing your own film, that you will most likely already have a film camera or the intent to buy and have some knowledge of what they do! Basically the film is a plastic sheet that is coated with an emulsion of light sensitive silver halide salts which when exposed to light create a latent image (as explained above). This emulsion can have many attributes too it and be made up of many layers which control the sensitivity (ISO/ASA), contrast and resolution of the film (colour/saturation too.. but more about that another time). Films come in a variety of sizes.. so many sizes but the most common available (and used by people new to film) are 135 (35mm), 120 and 220.  This is where the camera and it’s dials come directly into play (and you of course), as this defines how the film is exposed to light (to create the image). The development process is simply the chemical reactions to convert the latent image into a permanent image. I am of course keeping this all very high level but for some more technical information have a read here.

Once you have shot your roll of film and wound it back the magic begins as you use a change bag to load the film on a reel and put it in the tank. You then go through the development process (dont worry, these will be covered during the week).

The what happens in the development process (In a Nutshell).

  1. The developer converts the latent image to metallic silver.
  2. The Stop halts the developer converting the image to metallic silver.
  3. The fixer dissolves silver halide salts on the negative, making it light resistant and permanent.
  4. Wash stage washes out any excess fixer and ‘cleans’ the negative. This can be improved by using a washing agent like Photoflo which can assist in removing drying marks when the negatives dry.

Sounds simple eh? Well it sounds simple but it gets a little more complicated.. mixing things so you are ready for the process.. preparing chemicals at the right temperatures based on the developer you are using, the film you are developing and the exposure time. All these wonderful things I will get too in due time. Now unlike traditional film development I dont actually create prints of my negatives.. nor have a dark room or the full setup to do this. Advantage? In some ways yes.. it is definitely cheaper. I take a new school approach of digitising my negatives (some may call it archiving) by scanning them in 12 at a time (two strips of 6).  WHAT? No Darkroom?!?! Well yes.. isnt it fantastic? For those of you who thought you needed to tape your bathroom windows up with garbage bags, or find a cupboard that you can make light tight and then ghetto up a red light torch to do your developing in a small nook at cranny.. well never fear.. modern technology is here. There is a plethora of scanners now that can scan film negatives.. from your very basic flatbeds to much higher end dedicated film scanners.

So I know Part 1 is a little light on specifics in sections.. mainly so that I can explain certain aspects of the process in more detail when its place comes up in the guide. So why go to all the effort? Well.. its part of the fun.. part of the hobby.. you create the photo on digital by pressing the button.. but with film you create the photo by exposing the shot and then developing it.. it adds a whole new dimension of fun.

This is one of my favourite self shot and processed shots thus far. The way the range of the film is nice as well as the DOF and the way the light is captured. It is hard to beat. Note: Quite a few shots in this guide might look sepia like as above, this was due to my originally scanner only having a colour setting (scanning B&W as colour..) I have now acquired my new scanner but yet to re archive my old shots :)

So here is the end of Part 1.. I hope you have gained a little insight into the process and the way it will come together over the next few days. Would love to have some thoughts on anything I may have missed or left out.. or any questions people have and would like some further explanation. I am myself still fairly new to developing my own film so I will take some time to share my mistakes along the way.


  • Good guide mate :) Will read through it all when I get a chance!

    June 1, 2011
  • Awesome Jezza :) been following your Canadian adventures already.. I cant believe you have already gone.. seems like only yesterday we were talking about the idea of you doing it!

    June 2, 2011

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