First Experiences of Developing Black and White Film

Barcelona SOS - Black and White Film Photograph


After much trepidation, I finally processed a set of films at home – and surprisingly, they seem to have come out reasonably well. These were all taken using Ilford HP5+ and the Zeiss Sonnar lens (the softness in the first shot is from shooting the lens wide-open with a ND filter stack – not the processing!).

I expected that the most difficult part would be loading the film in to the spiral and tank. This has to be done in complete dark, and I used a large bag rather than a dark room. The practice run at doing this was a complete disaster, resulting in the film coming off the spiral and crumpling up badly enough to crease (I am not good at anything mechanical…). However, four of the five films that I put through loaded perfectly first time – and although the fifth jammed, I managed to open up the spiral and re-load it without damage.

Temperatures here are an issue for developing. Even with the air conditioning running, the ambient temperature indoors was 26ºc. Without space for a bath to cool the liquids, that was going to be the temperature to be used rather than the reference 20ºc that most documentation seems to assume. To work around this, I used a weak developer solution and adjusted the development time for the conditions. Using Ilfosol 3 with a 1:14 dilution, the developing time was 6:30 – almost half that for 20ºc.

Here is an example, taken with a medium orange filter and with the lens stopped down to f11 for best sharpness:

Yacht, Port Vell, Barcelona - Black and White Film Photography

The following is a crop of the above image, which was scanned at 4800 DPI and is unedited apart from sharpening and micro contrast in Lightroom:

Yacht - Crop showing grain and resolution - Black and White Film Developing

Overall, the images appear to be slightly less grainy than the commercially processed negatives – possibly because of the weak developer solution. All five films appear to have come out similarly, although one was a little over-developed and will need more care in scanning.

Although it needs care, the developing process is quite straightforward. I used the instructions from Ilford (since I was using their film and chemicals), together with a Jobo plastic tank and spirals. Lastly, Christopher Crawford’s excellent tutorial videos were very helpful to understand exactly what the instructions really mean in practice.

Surprisingly, the main problem turned out not to be the developing, but the washing and drying of the films. Quite a lot of residue was left afterwards and the negatives needed additional cleaning before scanning. I am not sure if this was because of inadequate washing (10 minutes…), or simply the (very hard) water here. It is not clear what can be done about this, as rubber-squeegees are mechanically harsh on the film emulsion and my calibrated finger-squeegee was clearly not sufficient. It may also not help that the cold water used for the washing varies between 15 and 35ºc, due to the pipework running up the side of the building and acting as a solar water heater…

The experience of developing the films was relaxing (all that rhythmic shaking and banging?!), unnerving (will it work?!) and satisfying (it did!). There are many steps that can go badly wrong. Getting to the end of the process and opening up the developing tank and finding that there really are pictures still on the film is as satisfying as it seems surprising.