When I open up my refrigerator there are more rolls of film than food. When I travel I have to carry an extra baggie just so my film does not go through the x-ray. I spend countless hours developing scanning film in my free time, Why? Because of images like the one above.
There is nothing like shooting film. Think of that feeling you get when you take a shot with a digital camera; not a half a second goes by before you preview it on the back of your LCD screen while you bask in the glory of your amazing photo. With film there is no preview screen, you have to wait, and wait then you get to see your photos all at once. Seeing photos that you developed yourself for the first time is the most pleasurable photographic release.
I love the texture of it, the natural grain. There is something about it that separates what comes out of a digital sensor. Most of all it slows me down. No more spray and pray, just 36 shots to work with per roll. It makes you choose wisely and it forces you to improve on your composition.
The hardest part for me to start shooting and developing black and white was to start doing it in the first place. It’s very intimidating looking in from the outside and that’s why many people stay away, but once you start doing it, you will absolutely love it.
Like all things in life now, I learned how to develop my own black and white film on YouTube. This is the exact video I watched. I must have played that video at least 50 times. I won’t go into a step by step tutorial, but I do want to include some tips that I learned on my own that may help you on your journey. I strongly urge you to watch the video if you want to learn how to develop your own black and white film.
First you need a camera, but you don’t need a fancy pants one like mine. I started with my father’s plain old Nikon FG. You can get manual film cameras for $20 or less at thrift stores. I like using the Leica because it’s like a fine watch: you don’t even need batteries, and it works forever.
In terms of chemicals, I prefer to save some costs, so I mix my own. I mostly use Kodak products because of the availability and price. One tip is to use distilled water to mix your chemicals, because it is much cleaner than tap water. This is important because any tiny spec of mineral will show up on film when you scan it.
Here is my basic tool kit. Most people think that you need a dark room to develop photos, and that is true if you are printing, enlarging etc… but I like to publish to the web, so I scan in my negatives. I just use a standard changing bag to load my film.
Black and white negative film is very expensive to get processed and you run the risk of labs damaging your film. There are plenty of reasons to develop your own film. It’s also nice to have full control as later on you can apply more advanced techniques (pushing, pulling etc…)
Many tutorials suggest using a bottle cap opener to open the film canisters, but I found a cheap set of pliers to work the best. Because you can’t actually see your hands while you are loading the film it’s good to familiarize yourself with your tools.
To practice loading your film practice with a new roll outside of your changing bag. I like to cut the end of my film to make it easier to load, but it depends on what what kind of reel you get.
Because I have to do this in the dark it’s very easy for me to insert my film into the reel when it has a sharp end.
I highly suggest getting these plastic reels as they provide very even spacing in between the film, but you have to be really careful as it’s very easy for the film to come off track.
When it’s all loaded in it should look like this.
You see how evenly spaced the film is? This is important because the chemicals needs to spread evenly throughout the surface of the film.
I am using Kodak D-76 here, which is very reliable and easy to work with. I pour out just enough for my tank so I can dump it in all at once.
The thing I like the most about developing black and white is the chemicals are not as temperature dependent. It’s very easy for you to adjust the develop times based on the temperature of your chemicals. If you need to adjust the temperature a little bit then just run it under hot water or put it in your refrigerator. For my first batch I was developing the Kodak T-Max 100, which called for 7 minutes at 75 degrees Fahrenheit ( 24 degrees Celsius)
In the video the guy uses a tank that requires you to flip to agitate. Mine comes with a stick that I can turn, which makes it a lot easier.
I use my cell phone as a timer since it has a stopwatch app. It also lets me listen to my tunes while I’m waiting.
It’s always a good idea to mark your chemicals every time you use them so you can keep track of when they get exhausted.
Washing is a very important step. If you don’t wash enough there will be a fog on the film, which will show up if you scan them. If the fog won’t come off then it may be a good idea to leave the film in the fixer for a few more minutes. I found that some films require 10 minutes in the fixer. Most name brand films like Kodak or Ilford will be much quicker.
I rarely use the Photo Flo product that is mentioned in the video, but I used it for this tank. It’s basically just soapy water – it helps keep water spots off. It’s also a good idea to wash your film one last time even after Photo Flo with distilled water.
One trick that I found to dry film faster is flicking off as much water as you can while it’s still in the reel.
This is what it should look like when you open the reel. Perfectly spaced.
Hang your film up to dry. I sacrifice the use of my pool table for a few hours every time.
This should be your finished product. Once it’s dry it’s ready to scan. As for scanners, I use a dedicated film scanner. You can pick up some nice ones now for a few hundred dollars. Or you can use a flatbed scanner, which seems to work well for many people.
Here are some more photos that happened to be on the same roll. A few days before Bonneville I went to a Vorsteiner reveal of the McLaren MP4-VX.
I brought my film camera as I figured it was a more relaxed event where I could shoot a few photos for fun. Film is perfect for just that.
Shooting in black and white even makes just a couple of brake rotors interesting.
I guess this was sort of a camera selfie. It’s really fun guessing the exposure with these shots because there is no way the in camera light meter can tell you how long to shoot in bulb.
Last time I was at Bonneville was in 2010 and I kicked myself for not bringing along a manual film camera. This time I went all out and I had a new friend to accompany me too.
Photographers have been shooting this event ever since it began with manual film cameras – digital cameras are only a recent thing. I wanted to experience the challenges that they had to face.
These images are far from perfect: there’s lots of dust and it can be hard to get things tack sharp with a range finder.
There’s always the abnormalities that come from the camera you’re using, to the way it was developed, but I think it’s great.
What I really love about it is the dynamic range. There’s so much detail it’s incredible.
It probably won’t be long till digital SLR cameras match the dynamic range of film, but until then film is the way to go.
This guy had a salt party and it seems he invited everybody.
Hopefully I’ve convinced a few of you guys out there to go backwards with me and help out with the film movement. I have all the digital cameras I could ever want, but I definitely have the most fun with a roll of film and my Leica.
I included many desktops for you guys to really appreciate the texture and quality from these scans. I scan all of my negatives at 16 megapixels, so it is very easy to enlarge them while still retaining sharpness. As always if you guys have any questions for me feel free to leave a comment below and I will answer it as best I can.
Photos by Larry Chen