The whole idea behind my Instagram account as well as this blog is to showcase the images that I have hand-developed myself. Since I have picked up a bit of a following since starting both platforms, I have fielded several inquires regarding my “bath-tub” centered C41 process I proclaim to use in my Now.Developing Instagram account. Fortunately, for this tutorial I had a lot more space than my bathtub. Unfortunately, it’s not as authentic as my Instagram bio. Instead, I’ll be using a drop sink and counterspace at my job, where I instruct my students to develop film. However, I think we will be just fine moving forward.
My process is haphazard, but it is my process. It’s definitely unique and I like to think there’s some beauty in that. I enjoy the results I get and they are good enough for me regardless of the (most likely unnecessary) issues I encounter by not putting in the correct safeguards (a constant water temperature would definitely be one of them).
The point of this post is to show you that this is not as hard as it seems and that you can do this on your own at home if you really wanted to give it a shot.
I’m going to try to be as succinct as possible, but I will also add some notes, caveats, and justifications to my process. I will also be skipping over the chemical set up process. It’s easy, just read and follow the directions that come in the box or check that Lomography article I linked to above. Anyway, let’s get started.
My materials list is as follows:
- Adorama Large Changing Bag
- Bottle/Can Opener
- Patterson Super System 4 Development Tank
- UniColor C41 Development Kit
- Light Safe Bottles for Chemicals
- Thermometer (I personally use a digital one)
- Beaker Set
- Plastic Bin (big enough to fit the bottles)
- A Roll of Film
- Rags for drying and clean up
Updated addition(s) as of 9/4/2017
- Sous Vide (Water Heater)
I tried to link as many materials to the Film Photography Project Store. Please, please, please buy as much as you can from Michael Raso and his team. They are absolutely amazing people and have supported me and my students in our film endeavors over the years. They also have a wonderful podcast that you should be listening to if you are not already!
Step 1: Preparing the Chemicals
I start running the faucet on hot for a few minutes to let the water warm up. The water from the faucet in the photos runs pretty hot, easily over the necessary 102° Fahrenheit/38.8° Celsius needed to develop. Since the sink is a bit of a tight space, I place the bottles of developer, blix, and stabilizer in a bin on the floor nearby. I transfer the hot water from the faucet to the bin nearby using a beaker. I fill the bin until the water covers most of the length of the bottles. I let the bottles sit in the hot water until the chemicals in the bottles heat up above the necessary 102° Fahrenheit/38.8° Celsius. I periodically check the temperatures of the chemicals inside the bottles. You don’t necessarily have to heat up the stabilizer, but I just do it because “YOLO”. Once the chemicals are a few degrees over the target temperature, I remove the bottles and set them on the counter. I have read that you have a little bit of leniency with temperature, up to 2-5° Fahrenheit in either direction and still get solid results. But obviously, if you work quickly and you will stay closer to your target temperature through the process.
Update as of 9/4/2017:
I now use a sous vide to keep a constant water temperature, which has also been added to the materials list above. It is an amazing tool to keep constant water temperature and doesn’t require me to take the temperature of the water/chemicals numerous times when prepping everything. Just set it and go do other things as the water heats up to temperature!
Step 2: Preparing the Film
While the water is heating up the chemicals in the bin, you should be getting your film ready. You simply throw all necessary materials in the light proof bag: scissors, film, can opener, and developing tank pieces. This process is not easy for beginners, but trust me, if my middle school students can do it, then so can you. It just takes practice. Simply use an exposed roll to practice reeling the film outside of the bag. Or if you want to be in on a little secret or an easier reel to use, buy the Adorama tank and reel. The Adorama reel has a better guide to get the film past the ball bearing and started on the reel. Although I find pouring the chemicals in and out of the Adorama tank to be more of a mess and hassle, it is easier to reel the film especially when it comes to 120 film. At the end of the day, it’s really user preference here. Use what you feel most comfortable with. Both reels will accept 36-exposure rolls of 35mm film.
So, throw all the materials in the bag. Use the can opener to pry the bottom of the film cartridge off. Slide the film out of the cartridge. While holding the edges of the film only, unravel it off the inner core. When you get to the end, find the scissors and snip the end of the film off the core. Take that same end that you cut, insert it into the reel entry and ratchet the film on. When I started, I used this video. I still show this to my students on their first development day and think it’s an amazing resource. Prof. Agar does an amazing job breaking the process down. Granted, this sounds so easy, but it can be just as annoying when things don’t go your way and your hands are sweating with frustration in that hot, humid bag.
After the film is on the reel, insert the tank core through the reel, place it in the tank, insert the saucer, then the agitator, and place the lid on top.
Step 3: Chemicals!
Before you start fiddling with your phone’s default stopwatch, please download a development app. I use Develop! for iOS. Here is a screenshot of my settings for my C41 process:
Again, make sure your chemicals are as close to the target temperature as possible. You could use an aquarium heater, but I tried it, and found them more troublesome than helpful. It’s also hard to get one that gets warm enough for film development.
Take the lid off. Using the hot water in the bin, dunk the tank in the water until it fills/the liquid is above saucer level. Continuously agitate (spin the agitator back and forth) for 1 minute. Pour the water down the drain.
The UniColor kit says to develop for 3 minutes and 30 seconds, but I set my timer for 4 minutes after getting some underexposed rolls in the past. I could just have a old or bad batch of chemicals, but you can adapt as needed.
Pour the developer in the tank. Agitate by twisting the agitator for the first 15 seconds. After 15 seconds, put the lid back on. Let it sit for 30 seconds, when the timer dings, you will agitate by tumbling/inverting the tank back and forth four times. Continue the tumble/inversion agitation every 30 seconds for the remainder of the time. When time is over; unlid the tank, pour the developer back into the bottle, this can be reused for up to 30 rolls or so before you need to make new chemistry.
Pour the Blix in the tank. This stuff stinks and stings if you have open cuts. As an anxiety-ridden, chronic nail-biter, I would know. Follow same steps for developer but for 6 minutes. Unlid, return blix to bottle, as this can also be reused.
Again, using the water in the bin, fill up the tank. No need to put the lid on. Agitate with the agitator for 15 seconds. Let the tank sit for 3 minutes. Pour the water out down the drain.
Fill the tank with stabilizer. No need to put the lid on. Agitate with the agitator for 15 seconds and let it sit the remaining 45 seconds. Pour stabilizer back to its bottle as it can be reused.
I have had trouble with squeegee streaks in the past, so a recently added step is this one. I highly recommend it for even, streak-free drying.
Fill the tank with PhotoFlo. Let it sit for two minutes. Some say pour it down the drain, I keep the PhotoFlo for a few development sessions. Haven’t seen an issue.
Rinse it for a bit, maybe 5-10 minutes to get rid of all of the residue.
Step 4: Drying
Take the film off the reel. Attach a binder clip at each end of the film. Hang on a push pin for a couple hours until completely dry. I know it’s hard to fight temptation, but the wait is worth it! I have tried scanning wet film, and it doesn’t work. Don’t be me, don’t be an impatient child, haha.
Here’s a couple sample images from the rolls I developed in this process:
Eventually I will follow up with Black and White developing, but it pretty much follows the same structure, but with different chemicals and times. I guess that makes a substantial difference, though. Anyhow, if you found this helpful or have any suggestions for me, I would love to hear from you, feel free to get in touch.