I love color. Black and white photography holds a special place in my heart, but 90 percent of the time I gravitate toward color imagery in my own work. When I started shooting film again, I decided that I would most definitely learn to develop my own black and white film. From choosing your film stock to mixing super-secret developer cocktails guaranteed to make your images sing, there are tons of resources out there for the aspiring hobbyist. When it comes to color, however, I had always heard that the machines needed were expensive, the process complicated, and the chemicals harmful. Not so!
Cheap Kit, Expensive Setup
For the low price of $19.99, you can have your very own developing kit. Unicolor makes four part kits that you mix yourself, keeping down packaging weight and shipping costs. I got mine from Film Photography Project. There are four parts to each kit: developer, blix A, blix B, and stabilizer. The instructions are dead simple. But before we start mixing away, there are a few things you're going to need: A graduated cylinder, photography thermometer, mask, chemical bottles (3), changing bag (or changing tent), funnel, mixing spoon, and bucket. The initial outlay of cash for the equipment is a little daunting, but once you've made the investment, you're good. There are far more expensive areas of photography, and if you're not developing too much at home, I guarantee home developing is cheaper than taking it to the lab. Plus it's so much more satisfying! So, once you've got all of that you're ready to get mixing and develop some film.
Each part needs to be mixed in 110 degrees Fahrenheit water, so make sure you're not using your mom's garden hose.
The actual process for developing C-41 film at home is actually pretty similar to developing black and white film. There are tons of resources out there describing the techniques required, so I won't bore you with those here, but here is one of my favorite videos on YouTube explaining the techniques:
Definitely check out Ted Forbes' channel, The Art of Photography. It's a fantastic resource for photography in general, but there are tons of videos on all things film.
So yeah, ya got all that? Good!
The Developing Steps
Ready for the super complicated instructions? Here they go:
- Developer: 3.5 minutes
- Blix: 6.5 minutes
- Rinse: 3 minutes
- Stabilizer: 1/2 to 1 minute
- Hang to dry.
That's it! Not so bad, eh?
There are even times listed in the instructions for pushing the film up to two stops. Each one liter kit is rated for about eight rolls of 35mm film (36 exposure) or eight rolls of 120 film. Personally, I've gone way beyond those numbers and still gotten good results. Some have reported 20-plus rolls developed. Your mileage may vary.
Some Notes About the Process
If you've never developed film before, either black and white or color, I guarantee that the thing that's going to make you want to rip your hair out the most is getting the film on the reel in complete darkness. I highly recommend getting reels that have wide starting teeth. Samigon makes some that I highly recommend. They made my life a lot easier. The blix (bleach fix) is exothermic in its reaction and will put off a fair amount of gas, so be sure that you're releasing the pressure occasionally when you agitate. Nothing sucks quite like getting blix all over you. Speaking of which, an apron might not be such a bad idea. I should get one of those.
Below are some shots I've developed with the kits, and definitely take a look at the top video for more details with the actual mixing.
Any questions about the process? Sound off below!