Otherwise known as “third time’s the charm”.
I have recently decided to plough on with my goal of developing film at home and here is the story of my first 3 rolls.
I have developed in a lab setting with a mentor before, so I knew the basics and opted to purchase the chemicals that I had used in the lab to reduce my incessant researching and because I was happy with the result that I got there. That is Ilford DD-X and the Ilford Stop Bath, Fixer and Wetting Agent – yes I know you can do without some of these and homemade variations can be used but I decided to follow instructions to the letter whilst I’m a beginner.
Master the basics before you begin experimenting as they say.
Ilford HP5 Plus. Shot at box speed through my Pentax ME Super.
I spent about an hour preparing; making sure that I had everything set out, everything labelled, step by step instructions next to me to follow, timers set up, and I also practised loading the tank with an old film until I was confident in the technique. I got the relevant bits and pieces into my dark bag and began. And that’s where it fell apart for me.
I spent another hour fumbling in the dark bag, unable to get the film onto the reel. It was getting incredibly hot in the bag and I was feeling frustrated, disappointed and just so, so gutted. In the end my husband said “get in the coat cupboard where you’ve got some space to work”. That’s the trick. Getting it all out in the open meant I could get the film loaded so much more easily. (My coat cupboard is light tight as proved by the next couple of rolls).
My next error was not checking the temperature of the chemicals first and thinking that I needed to warm them up. Currently room temperature is 20 degrees and so, once I realised they were too warm, I had to wait around for the temperature to come down.
Once the developing process began it all went fine. No hiccoughs. But when I pulled the film out at the end it was a completely black roll of film.
I don’t even have a word that covers how I felt at that point.
I did some troubleshooting, looked at “The Darkroom Handbook” by Michael Langford and worked out that somewhere along the line the roll had been exposed to a lot of light. I was pretty sure it wasn’t the camera as I’ve had some successful rolls through that recently and I was confident that the developing tank was light tight and so that just left the loading process to look at.
I realised that my dark bag has arm holes that are far too wide for my arms, the supposedly tight elastic is too baggy and, with having spent an hour fumbling around, a lot of light was getting in. Needless to say I will not be using the dark bag again!
Agfa APX 100. Shot at box speed through my Chinon CX.
I knew something was wrong with this roll from the moment I tried to rewind it. It was far too slack almost straight away. My first thought was that the rewind mechanism might be faulty and not locking to the cartridge or perhaps that the film had unspooled completely from the cartridge. Either way I didn’t try to remove the cartridge until I was in the coat cupboard.
As I gingerly felt inside the camera for some clue as to what had happened I realised that I couldn’t feel any film. It was all back inside the cartridge. So I took it out, opened it up and loaded it onto the reel as normal. This time the chemical process went much more smoothly. This time I pulled out a perfectly exposed but blank roll of film.
For crying out loud.
My first instinct would be to say that I hadn’t loaded the camera properly as this is the most likely cause of this sort of error. However there are some odd markings and creases in the film which give me reason to doubt that theory. The folds in the film were present when I was loading it onto the reel, straight out of the cartridge, I’ve tried to photograph the effect but it’s hard to capture how prominent these folds are. The severity of the folds leads me to think that the film has been stored folded and not that it has folded in the course of removing it from the cartridge and loading. From the point of the first fold the film has unusual stripes across, from sprocket hole to sprocket hole which may be a result of the folds affecting the evenness of the development.
A final theory is that my camera may be malfunctioning as it has been sat unused for a few years and sat in a window where it could be exposed to extremes of temperature. (I know I shouldn’t treat my cameras like that!)
Agfa APX 100. Shot at box speed through my Canon 1-N.
I decided not to take any chances this time, I pulled out my trusty Canon which is the easiest to use 35mm camera I own and which has successfully shot a couple of rolls recently so I could be confident that it was in good working order.
With my previous 2 rolls of film I had taken a long time over shooting them as I am also really trying to work on my exposure and composition. Feeling like I had wasted 3 weeks, I shot this roll relatively quickly over a couple of days.
There was an extra layer of nerves to this development as my best friend of 20 years had decided she wanted to watch along and learn about the process. I wasn’t sure how I would cope with a semi-public, third failure.
I actually enjoyed playing the Blue Peter host (sorry if you don’t get the reference) and it wasn’t until we started the rinsing process that I began to feel those nerves surface. What if it was another failed roll? What could have gone wrong this time? I was wracking my brains to remember anything that could have been an error.
I began to pull the roll off the reel and, lo and behold, IMAGES!
Beautiful black and white negatives!
And so now I feel I can relax a little. I’ve decided to only shoot relatively cheap black and white film for now (Kentmere 100 and Ilford HP5 are in my stash) and I’m holding off on any 120 film until I’ve had a few more successes but I’m happy. The next task is to learn to digitise them myself (my darkroom dreams are still a little way away), I’m just waiting for one final bit of kit that I need and then we can see whether the images are any good.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed this and that it may be of use to others who are thinking of starting to develop black and white film. If you are interested in following along with my learning journey I have more posts on my website and I also post on Instagram.