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Home FEATURES How Tos How To Process B+W Film

How To Process B+W Film
Thursday, 05 October 2006 04:38
Ray Potes and Jesse show you step by step.
by Ray Potes. photos by Jesse Pollock.

Okay I don't know if this is as epic as peeling skin off a mouse, or cross country roadtrips, but maybe this will help you save money when it comes to processing your black and white film. Some disclaimers: I like to take short cuts and I'm no pro. Some advice: if you've never done this before, most likely you will fuck up but don't let it mess with your mind. Everyone craps out occassionaly, that includes losing rolls, losing cameras, xraying, melting, smashing, etc.. you haven't lived if you haven't waited for your dog to poop out your assignment, bachelor party, safari, whatever...

Your materials:

First:
- your film
- scissors
- a beer opener
- a changing bag

Dishes:
­ stop watch
- stainless steel reels
- stainless steel processing tank + lid + cap
- thermometer
- a container or 2 with liquid measurements on the side
- a stir stick
- empty container for left over chemicals

Chemicals:
- developer
- fixer
- photo flo

Last:
- thumbtacks
- clothes pins or clips

*Note: there are many different recipes for film. Different strokes for different folks. As you get into it you will find your own recipes through experimentation. Today, we are processing tri-x 400 film with tmax developer.

The first step is to put your film onto these reels and into this tank. Make sure you have enough reels and a tank big enough to accomodate them. Today we will be processing 7 rolls. I have a tank that fits 8 reels so I will put an empty one in there to keep those reels from sliding all over the place. You will also need scissors and beer opener.

Unfortunately, this first step is the hardest and most discouraging. First off, this step is suppossed to happen in complete darkness. Most darkrooms will have a small room or closet dedicated to rolling film onto reels. Secondly, if you don't roll your film correctly, it will come out fucked up. If you bend, crease, or tear your film, it will come out fucked up. There are these plastic reels and tanks that make this reeling a little easier but I haven't used them so I don't know. Thirdly, I can't really show you what I'm doing since it's in the dark.

Anyways, we don't have a light tight room to load our film which is why we have the changing bag. The changing bag is normally used by large format photographers who can only shoot one neg at a time. They use the bag to re-load their film holders. We will use the bag to put all our crap in that big ass tank.

Put your film, the reels, the tank, the tank lid, the scissors and the beer opener all into the bag..

The bag has sleeves that your arms go into, all the while keeping the insides all dark and shit.

Action inside the bag: use the beer opener to pop open your film, just like a Corona or Pacifico. Pull the roll out and you will feel for the film leader. Use the scissors to cut that shit off, nice and straight. Grab a reel and find the center of it. In this hub of the reel there is a clip or a piece of metal dedicated to holding your film in place. Jamm that flat piece of your roll that you just made under or into this clip, snug. Now with one hand rotating the reel and the other guiding your film, you have begun "reeling" your film. (you may want to sacrifice a blank roll and practice this in the light.) When you get to the end of the roll, use the scissors to cut off the tape that's holding it to the spool thingy. Boom, that's one roll. Put that in the tank and do it 6 more times or however many times for however many rolls you have.

When you're done with all your reels and they are in the tank, put the lid on and make sure it's on there real proper like. Now it's safe to remove the contents of the bag.

I like to take inventory of everything going in and coming out of the bag. That's becuase if it's not accounted for here, then it's probably inside the tank and will mess up my processing. I should have 7 empty shells, 7 caps, 7 film leaders, 7 spools, scissors, beer opener, and a full tank with lid on it. Check, done and done.

My lid is real loose. It's not as snug as it should be so I tape it up real good. otherwise I lose a lot of chemistry and/or it will fall off and I cry.

The next step is developer. Find a nice clean kitchen sink. You'll need your stop watch, your developer, thermometer, stir stick, and a measuring cup big enough to hold enough chemistry to fill your tank. My tank holds 60 oz.

Again, lots of different combos of times, temperatures, mixtures, etc.. but today we will do normal processing with regular Tmax developer. With time you'll figure your steez out, for instance sometimes I like to process my rolls with flash a little differently than my rolls shot with no flash. This step is where your image quality happens. Good negs means good prints so pay attention to what your doing. Very easy to get distracted by cell phones, tv, skipping cds, roomates, babies, people taking photos of you, etc... so get in the zone.

The regular mix of Tmax developer is 1 part developer to 4 parts water. I need 60 oz so I will pour 12 oz of dev in, and then fill it up to 60 with water. Before I put the water in, I'll take a temperature of the running tap water and try to make it as close as possible to my desired temp, which for today is 75 degrees. Recommended temp is 68 degrees, but I like it a little warmer.

*When you buy film, it will have processing times, temps, etc info inside the box. Also, on the side of the developer bottle, it will have recommended recipes. But if you're ever in doubt, like if a film or dev has been upgraded, updated, re-designed or whatever use this info : http://www.digitaltruth.com/devchart.html

Get that water in there and stir that shit real nice.

After it's mixed up real good, take the temp. It's a little warmer than I want it.

If your temp is too hot or too cold, fill up a pot of water with hot or cold. Stick the whole jammy in there. Stir that thing to even out the temp from top to bottom and get it to the desired temp.

When it's ready, take the cap off your lid and pour that sweet stuff in. Fill it all the way up.

Our dev time is 5 minutes. Begin with "agitation" for at least 10 seconds. After that we will agitate for 10 seconds every 30 seconds for the whole 5 minutes.

Agitation is taking the tank and rocking it side to side, or top to bottom, while rotating the tank too. The idea is to spread that developer all over the nooks and crannies of that film. Don't be a wuss about it.

Shake that shit.

Pay attention to your time.

At each end of each agitation, tap the bottom of the tank against the side of the sink. Do it twice if you want. This will release any bubbles youve just created that may be stuck to your film.

When your time is up, pour that stuff out.

When it's empty, fill that thing up with water. This step is called the "stop". This is stopping the developer from developing. Some people use chemicals for stop but water is just fine. Put the cap back on and agitate for at least a full 30 seconds. Then pour it out.

Next step is fixer. This is used to "clear" the film and "harden" it. This particular fixer is mixed with 1 part fix and 3 parts water. Temp isnt as crucial so I just use cold water. With a fresh batch of fixer, 4 minutes should be good.

Pour it in and agitate every 30 seconds.

Fixer can be used at least 2 or 3 times. So when your done save it.

Pour in a container and make sure you mark it, good to even date it. You can buy a chemical to test of you fixer is good or "exhausted" or when you find your fix times are way long, that's when it's no good. When it is no good, you're not supposed to pour it down the drain. Bring it to any photo lab, they have a machine that filters the silver out making it safe for the environment and they recycle the silver in it and are required by law to do it. This includes walgreens or any 1 hour photo lab or school or whatever.

After your done fixing, open your tank and dump out everything. You're gonna want to un-reel it all and look at it but don't do it. That fix is stinky and it's starting to get everywhere. Just inspect your film enough to see if it's done. You can tell if you need to fix for longer if your film is purply and/or creamy looking. If so, put everything back in and fix for another minute or 2. If everything looks good, the next step is to wash your film.

This is no way to wash your film. You should have a "tornado film washer" which is a tube that fits your reels with a hose at the bottom of it. This thing is shooting water through your film and cleaning it real nice. Wash it for at least 5 minutes. Go take a smoke break. I don't have real film washer so I put the reels in a big thingy and run water over it. N bueno. I'll leave it for 5 minutes, rotate the film, and then another 5 minutes.

Next step is photo flo. Back in the days some people didn't like to use it, but I think now it's pretty much standard. Photo flo puts a nice anti-static slickness coating over your film. I like to think of it as like wax for a car. It protects your negs and keep them shiny. It also helps them to dry evenly and without water spots. After your done washing empty out the whole thing. Drop like literally 3 drops of photo flo into the bucket. Fill it up to the top with water.

Some people don't like the bubbles and try to keep them to a minimum when using photo flo. I personally dig them and try make it bubbly as possible. Drop your shit in there.

Agitate for 30 seconds.

Now your film is ready to hang and dry. Take out a reel from the photo flo, don't worry the others can chill in there.

Start un-reeling that stuff. There are all kinds of materials available to dry your negs. they make these squeegee things, they makes these tongs with sponges on the ends, they have "tissues". in my experience all that stuff scratches your negs. those sponges over time gather a sediment and eventually hardens and scratches your shit, same with the squeegees, I just use my fingers as squeegees. make sure your hands are clean and don't have sand or rocks or griptape on them. and don't really squeeze too hard at all, youre just trying to get some of that excess liquid off.

After that find a nice clean place free of dog hair or cat hair to hang dry your negs. Use the thumbtacks to hold it up.

Use clothes pins or clips to put some wieght on the end to keep your film from curling up.

Keep that shit streched out when hanging it, you don't want your film to touch itself at this point. That would leave weird drying marks on your film.

While that stuff is drying, do your dishes. Wash all that stinkyness off, be courteous for your roomates that way they can get used to you doing this all the time.

If you are photographing someone else processing film, make sure to get "the angle".

Trip out on stuff.

It's not super necessary, but if you want to speed up the drying process get yourself a vidal sasson ionizer.

Keep it on the lowest settings. Too hot your film will curl and get water spots. If it's blowing to fast, it will blow the film off the wall and fall on the ground. Keep your hand behind it to prevent that. If it does fall on the ground and it's still pretty wet pick it up by the edges and try not to touch the surface. The littlest piece of dirt can ruin it. Throw it in the sink and hose it but real gingerly, then re-reel it and re-wash it, you want to make sure all that stuff is off it. Then re-photo flo it.

That's it. Let it dry completely then cut it up and put it in some neg sleeves.

Stay tuned for chapter 2: making contact sheets. {moscomment}

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contact FF

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The Albatross and the Shipping Container

Beautiful piece entitled "The Albatross and the Shipping Container", Ink on Paper, Mounted to Panel, 47" Diameter, by San Francisco based Martin Machado now on display at FFDG. Stop in Saturday (1-6pm) to view the group show "Salt the Skies" now running through April 19th. 2277 Mission St. at 19th.


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For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to quit my job, move out of my house, leave everything and travel again. So on August 21, 2013 I pushed a canoe packed full of gear into the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, along with four of my best friends. Exactly 100 days later, I arrived at a marina near the Gulf of Mexico in a sailboat.


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