DIY black-and-white negative developing

I’m very much a fledgling photographer: unsure of the processes, mystified by some of the terminology, and none too accomplished. Because of this, my photographs are often governed more by good fortune than sound judgement, and I’m always quietly surprised when one of my efforts turns out quite nicely.

Given this relative ignorance, then, my decision to blunder into the jargon-filled, process-heavy world of DIY negative development may look a little rash, but spurred on by a friend in the UK already chatting development tanks, stock solutions and stop baths, I thought it was worth a crack.

In a fit of purchasing fervour, I bought most of the required bits and bobs over one weekend, spending about HK$600 in the process. The rest of the kit was acquired over the following week for around HK$200 more. It was then time to work out what the devil I was supposed to do with all these unusual new playthings. The internet beckoned.

There are many in-depth and accessible explanations of DIY development on the internet—many with step-by-step instructions, images and even videos—but after reading a few of these tutorials it soon becomes clear that, like snowflakes, no two explanations are alike. These variances are in part down to what combination of film, developer and fixer is being used, and are in that sense somewhat inevitable, but even folks using the same chemicals and equipment will subtly tweak their methodology to suit their own needs.

This made my initial research slightly bewildering, but with persistence I read on, and eventually a few common threads started to emerge. It was then just a matter of concocting my own mishmash methodology and hoping, praying, pleading for the best.

Should anyone wish to do the same, here are some invaluable resources:

Well, anyway, enough of this chatter, this is what my first batch turned out like, and, for the record, this is how I did it:

My equipment:

The equipment I used in the method explained here:

  • Ilford Pan 400 black and white film
  • Developer: Kodak HC-110
  • Fixer: Kodafix
  • Wetting agent: washing up liquid
  • Dark bag (large)
  • Development tank (Kaiser Fototechnik 4297)
  • Thermometer
  • Glass storage bottles (1 litre juice bottles x2)
  • Marbles
  • Washing up bowl
  • Plastic bottles x2
  • Measuring jug (that can measure down to 50ml)
  • String
  • Crocodile clips
  • Scissors
  • 1 litre of distilled water

Other equipment you could have but I didn’t have (and didn’t need):

  • Chemical stop bath
  • Photoflo

My method:

Preparing the roll of film
Equipment needed: dark bag, development tank (with spool, lid, etc.), roll of film in camera, scissors

  • Finish taking a roll of beautiful photographs.
  • Wind back film slowly until you hear a ‘click’—this sound is the film leader coming free of the spindle. (If you carry on winding past this point, you’ll have to pop open the canister using a bottle opener.)
  • Take the roll of film out of the camera, cut off the leader (the funny shaped bit at the end of the film) and curve the corners of the film using scissors.
  • Put the roll of film, the development tank (with spool, lid, etc.) and scissors in the dark bag.
  • Seal up the dark bag.
  • Put your arms in dark bag and ensure no light can get in at the sleeves.

Loading the roll onto the spool and loading the spool into the tank (all done inside the dark bag)
Equipment needed: dark bag, development tank (with spool, lid, etc.), film canister, scissors

  • Pick up the spool and check you have it held the right way. (For me this means that the ball bearings that load the film are furthest away from me.)
  • Feed the film onto the spool and rotate the spool backwards and forwards until all the film is loaded (i.e. when the empty film canister jams against the spool).
  • Cut the film free from the empty canister.
  • Load the spool into the development tank and secure with clip (if you have one).
  • Securely screw on the top of the tank and then put on the lid.
  • Take the sealed up development tank out of the bag.

Preparing the chemicals
Equipment needed: developer stock/working solution, fixer working solution, two clearly labelled plastic bottles (with ‘D’ and ‘F’ printed on them), washing up bowl, measuring jug, thermometer

  • If you haven’t already done so, make up your stock solutions and store them in glass bottles (see the information printed on the bottles for the dilutions). As developer reacts with oxygen in the air, it’s also a good idea to reduce the amount of air in the bottles by displacing the solution with marbles.
  • [For my developer (HC-110), the stock solution ratio is 1 part concentrate to 5 parts water (1:5).]
  • [For my fixer (Kodafix), there isn’t a stock solution as such, just a working solution, which is made up of 1 part concentrate to 3 parts water.]
  • From the stock solutions, you need to make up your working solutions for your development and store them in clearly labelled plastic bottles.
  • [For my developer (HC-110), the working solution (Dilution B)  is 1 part stock solution to 7 parts water. This varies for different film/developer combinations though, so you should check both the bottle and this website for your particular dilutions.]
  • Fill a washing up bowl with water from the tap and add hot/cold/iced water as necessary until it is at a stable 20c (or whichever temperature is required for your development). Keep the thermometer in the bowl so you can monitor the temperature as you go.
  • Put the plastic bottles containing the developer and fixer into the bowl of water for 20–30 minutes, keeping the water at a steady 20c as you go.
  • Check your developing times online and make a note of your timings, equipment and processes before you start.

Developing the roll
Equipment needed: sealed up development tank (with film loaded in), developer working solution, fixer working solution, sink, washing up liquid, thermometer

1.  Prewash

  • Take the external lid off the tank (i.e. don’t unscrew it) and fill the tank with water.
  • Agitate (shake) the tank for 10 seconds and then pour water down the sink.

2.  Developing

  • Pour in the developer working solution (at 20c) and start timer as soon as you finish pouring.
  • Agitate the tank for 10 seconds and then tap the tank hard on the counter to dislodge any air bubbles that might be attached to the film.
  • Agitate the tank for 10 seconds every minute for the duration of the development.
  • [Using Ilford Pan 400 film and HC-110, the development time is 6 minutes.]
  • With 10 seconds to go, pour out the developer.

3.  Stop bath (water method)

  • Immediately fill the tank with water from the tap.
  • Agitate for 30 seconds then pour away water.
  • Repeat this process twice.

4.  Fixer

  • Pour in fixer working solution (at 20c) and agitate for 10 seconds.
  • Then agitate for 10 seconds every minute for 10 minutes.
  • Pour fixer back into a storage bottle (fixer can be reused a number of times).

5.  Rinse

  • Fill the tank with water from the tap, agitate for 30 seconds, and then pour away.
  • Repeat this process twice.

6.  Wash

  • Fill the development tank with water from the tap and agitate for 60 seconds. Then pour the water away.
  • Unscrew the lid of the tank and run water from the tap straight over the spool until the tank is around half full.
  • Screw lid back on the tank and agitate for 30 seconds. Then pour the water away.
  • Repeat the last two steps 10 times.
  • Run tap water through the tank for 5 minutes. Then pour the water away.

7.  Wetting agent

  • Add 1 or 2 drops of washing up liquid to the tank and pour in distilled water. This should be done fast enough for a few bubbles to appear, but not so fast that it starts frothing.
  • Tap the tank on the side to dislodge bubbles that might stick to the film.
  • Pour the water away and open the tank. Use more distilled water to clear the remaining bubbles if necessary.

8.  Finish

  • Take the spool out of the tank and shake it vigorously over it the sink.

Drying the roll
Equipment needed: development tank (with film loaded), crocodile clips, (string), silk glasses cloth, distilled water

  • Release the two halves of the spool and take the film out carefully by holding both ends.
  • Clip the negatives up in the shower, using a weight on one end (I use crocodile clips) to make sure the strip hangs straight.
  • Shake the negatives to remove any excess water droplets. If some persist, you can slowly pour more distilled water on the film and repeat as needed. Other droplets can be removed using two wet fingers, but it’s obviously best to avoid this if possible, seeing as how grubby human beings are.
  • Leave to dry for around 5 hours.
  • After the strip has dried, you may see some water marks on the negatives (hold it up to the light to check). I used a silk glasses cloth to clean these off and it seems to work very well. Just gently rub the negatives until the marks are gone.

Finishing off
Equipment needed: scissors, sleeves for the negatives to go in, scanner

  • Take the dried film and cut into strips to put in the negative sleeves.
  • Scan or print the negatives!


  1. johnroseadams · April 7, 2010

    Good grief, you are a manual! I mean that nicely. Not like “Good grief, you are a tool!”

    • lefolly · April 8, 2010

      That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.

  2. Brendan · August 16, 2011

    fantastic resource, thanks for sharing.

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