I started playing with film about a year ago. In a cycle opposing most photography careers, I started all digital and turned to film recently for a break from the noise. No, not sensor noise, just noise. I used a Canon AE-1 with two lenses–35mm and 50mm–and mostly Kodak Gold films with a few Porta binges. My film workflow used to go something like this: Shoot – Negative Only Process @CVS – Scan to Digital File – Edit in Aperture and/or Photoshop. Now, I have added Kodak Tri-X into the mix, replacing CVS processing with my own.


Developing film in house is more expensive, time consuming, and prone to total screw ups. It is however, a chance to study photography in its traditionally slow-paced, hands-on form.


Here are the materials I am using.

D-76 Powdered Developer Kodak (Developer)
Powdered Fixer Kodak (Fixer)
Powdered Hypo Clearing Agent (Optional, Helpful in Washing)
Isopropyl Alcohol (Optional, Helpful in Washing)
Water (Stop Bath and Washes)

developer in snow

(Rapid Cooling of Developer)

3x 2 Liter Container Jugs
Digital Thermometer
Dishwashing Gloves
Bottle Opener
Binder Clips
Vinyl Gloves
Micro Fiber Cloth
Plustek Film Scanner
Kodak Black & White Dark Room Guide (For Step by Step Instructions and Time Dial)(Good Online Resource)

20130219__MG_0415 20130219__MG_0418

FIRST ATTEMPT- Successful, but spotty and exposed.

It seemed like there were so many chances for the developing process to go downhill that it surely wouldn’t come together my first try. I mixed the chemical wrong, or twisted the film in the tank, or took an inaccurate temperature reading. But, to my pleasant surprise, images did start to emerge. Although far from perfect, the pictures were there. Here is a raw scan, which shows the major problems.


The defects are obvious.
1. The shadow of another section of the roll was cast.
2. Light leaks formed along the edges in some areas.
3. Heavy drying stains littered the emulsion.

hanging film

It did not take long to troubleshoot the cause of the first two problems. In an attempt to be industrious in creating my own safe light (a candle in a red, glass holder), I had exposed the film momentarily with just enough light to cause the leaks. I learned that you are better off practicing loading till you have it perfect than to cheat with a light. Now, for other processes involving open containers and more technicalities, I would consider purchasing a real safe light. For 35mm in a reel tank, keep it to the dark.

Solving the third problem continues to be a challenge. More on that in a moment. Here is a picture where I retouched most of the dramatic leaks and stains to create a usable portrait of Teddy.


SECOND ATTEMPT- Much better, not quite perfect.


Round two was dual purpose. First, to practice developing and improve my results from the last time. Second, to create a new graphic for my website. So for this roll of film, I set up some lights and had Rachel grab some photos of me being an idiot. Here’s a few.

selfports18 selfports12 selfports06

After shopping online for a solution to my drying stains problem, I came up with isopropyl alcohol. Many photographers raved about the clean negatives produced by mixing alcohol into the final wash. In my last wash I added 50ml alcohol to 1/2L of water, swished it around, and ran it through the tank. While the negatives are still peppered with stains, they had noticeably cleaned up since the first trial.

For the long term, I aim to keep studying these traditional processes. I want to first master this 35mm development with clear negatives and the continue with different films, formats, and chemistry.



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  1. alessandro ciapanna says :

    Oh, this post made me so nostalgic for the darkroom days. All the best to you in this wonderful, wonderful journey…

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