A little background first. A few years ago I was having some serious issues with my negatives in the darkroom, and at some point I thought I had it narrowed down to a misuse of Photo Flo. I took to the internet to get advice from the community on best practices for using it and instead of answers, what I got were more questions. The following are just some of the ONLY ways I should be using Photo Flo. Skip to the end if you want to keep your sanity and read my recommendations. You have been warned.
The ONLY Way…
“Dilute per instructions. Use to rinse film after washing. Hang film to dry.”
Seems simple enough, by the book. 7/10
“Very simple. Make sure there are no bubbles or foam on top. Dip your negative for 30 seconds and then hang to dry fast. Do NOT squeegee.”
Close to the first suggestion, but I like bubbles, they make me smile. 6/10
“There is a number on the bottle; Photoflo 200. That number tells you the recommended ratio of photoflo to water. In this case 1 part chemical to 200 parts water. I usually use it at about half that concentration with distilled water only. It works very well. After the final wash you dip the film processing holder in the diluted solution of Photoflo and hang it to dry in as dust free, air movement free area as possible. Let the film hang until dry. Do not try to squeegee the excess moisture off with a film squeegee your fingers or anything else, you will scratch the film.”
Thorough, detailed, but a little condescending. 5.5/10
“I like a couple drops undiluted in the tank and agitated for a minute or so. Squeegee with fingers never a squeegee.”
Alright, so yes to squeegee, but an organic squeegee, got it. 7/10
“Dip a knitting pin in the photoflo. Then dip it in the final rinse water. You just want to break the surface.”
What the fuck is a knitting pin? -2/10
“I prefer Edwal LFN. One drop to about a quart of tap water. No big deal. Never had a problem with LFN.”
Brand alliance and use of the imperial system rather than metric. Also, tap water? Really peasant?! 2⅐/10
“I use 2ml photo flo per 500ml of water. Mixed in a tank without the film reel (try to avoid creating excessive bubbles), slowly lower film into tank, and soak for 2 minutes. Steam up the area I’ll be hanging the film, and hang as quickly as I can. No wiping. That’s my method, people will say it’s way too much photo flo, but I get fantastic results every time.”
Saves on cleaning time by keeping the reel out of the picture, but not sure I agree with dramatically altering the humidity at the last minute by steaming up the room with what I presume to be the shower. 5/10
“I process my film in a 2500 series Jobo tank that holds about 2 liters. After washing the film in the tank I fill it with fresh tap water. I empty a cap full of photo flo 200 into the tank. I agitate the film by raising it out of the water and lowering it back in several times. After about a minute I hang the film up to dry. I never squeegee and have never had an issue”
Tap water again?! What are we, savages?! 1/10
“I use a drop of unscented dish soap. Works great!”
Softens hands while you clean negatives, I’m sure. Dish soap is pretty ghetto though and flo is dirt cheap. 3/10
“I use 1/2 cap full to the developing tank once it’s full after the final rinse. Lift the reels up and down a few times. I squeegee between my index and middle fingers and hang to dry. Been doing it that way for 25 years w/o a problem.”
Simple. Straight forward. Time Tested. 8/10
“3 drops for a 500ml… never had an issue”
Neither has anyone else here bub. 5/10
“The biggest area of uncertainty for me is whether to use it in the processing tank (before taking film off the reels), or whether to use a separate container to dunk the film in it (after taking it off the reels).
I used to do the former, and now I do the latter. Mostly because you see random comments in every one of these discussions (and somewhere in the depths of Jobo’s product instructions) telling you to always do this step off of your processing equipment. This is because it apparently can leave hard-to-clean deposits on things that aren’t your film.
Also, in nearly every comment thread about the difficulty of loading plastic film reels, some smart ass will swear that your problems are because of accumulated wetting agent gunk on the reels (even if you flat-out state that you’re using brand-spanking-new reels and not ones that have 30 years of questionable prior use).
Also test the final solution, making a puddle on a mirror, and let it evaporate. Make sure there’s not a severe sediment left behind.”
While not a complete guide, solid advice. 8/10
“3 parts distilled water, 1 part isopropyl alcohol, and 10 drops of Kodak photo flo. It works best when used in conjunction with a VPI Record Cleaning machine.”
Yeah, I want to turn my film into a Molotov Cocktail. You know they stopped making Nitrate film for a reason. 0/10
“A little dab will do ya”
Technically the truth. 5/10
You Were Warned
Do you have a headache now? So did I. It’s pretty clear everyone has their own method (and their own way of spelling Photo-Flo) and we’ll have to take their word on if it works. I’ve sworn by workflow methods before only to find out later I was messing up big time. The “it’s the way I’ve always done it” is dangerous. As film photographers we need to constantly question our methods.
My Current Work-Flo
I read through all of that and came up with the following solution (see what I did there?), which I have done ever since with good results.
First thing, is I have a dedicated 1 liter container that I use for nothing but flo. Only the film goes inside, no reel, and it is washed separate from everything else. This prevents accidental contamination of other items, an issue I have dealt with before, and shortens overall washing time as I don’t need to scrub the container within an inch of its life.
The mixture I prepare uses approximately half the recommended amount. I use only distilled water to prepare it and remove the negatives from the reel before placing in the mix, avoiding bubbles, much to the dismay of my inner child.
I let it sit for about a minute while I tidy up, and this is the important part, I dip my fingers in the solution and squeegee as I pull the film out. I don’t squeegee with dry fingers. I hang it in my cabinet, dip my fingers in again and squeegee one more time. I’m not trying to choke out my film just get rid of the excess.
Is this perfect? Nope. Photo-Flo is a fickle mistress. Too little and you have spots, too much and you have streaks. Don’t use it at all and you risk differential drying. Make sure you rinse your film clips too, as build up will cause streaking. I’ve considered using wood clothes pins and just tossing them after each use, due to this issue.
I know many of you will want to leave a comment telling me you’re “I’ve never had an issue” sure fire way of using Photo-Flo, but I’d much rather hear comically wrong ways to use it. I’ll start: Pour entire bottle into the tank, add two drops of water, mix vigorously.
Hope you enjoyed this bit of fun. The truth is if you don’t have spots when its dry, and you don’t have streaks when you shine a flashlight on it, you probably did fine. If you like my word formations, check out my You Tube Channel.
Until Next Time, Stay Classic!
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