Part of the Process is a series of posts that puts the spotlight on film photographers and DIY film developers. These features provide unique experiences and perspectives on shooting and developing film while also showcasing diverse talent and film photographers around the globe. If you are interested in being featured, feel free to contact me!
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
What other websites or blogs do you keep up with to feed your photographic interests?
What attracted you to film photography? How did you get started/introduced to shooting film? How soon after did you start developing?
What formats, cameras, and films do you shoot? What do you like about the formats, cameras, films you prefer?
So far I’ve mostly shot 35mm film, with the occasional roll of 120mm. Mostly Black & White film stock, but occasionally I dabble with color.
Within 35mm film, I initially shot Fujifilm color stock, but quickly moved to Ilford B&W films. I have since learnt to love and respect Ilford HP5+ and Delta 100 as my go-to film stocks. As I begun to develop my own stock I tried a lot of B&W films but was quickly drawn to HP5 due to its versatility. In my mind, HP5 is virtually bulletproof. Variations in development that could potentially ruin other films, can be overcome when working with HP5. Furthermore, the ability to pull HP5 down to 100, and push it to 6400 gave me a relatively cheap way with experimenting with different film speeds. Delta 100 caught my attention as I sought a slow speed, fine grain film. After sampling a variety of films, I found that I enjoyed the contrasty tone curve Ilford films provided me, particularly when pushed a stop.
Being a massive Canon fan boy, the first film camera I picked up was a Canon AE-1. I have since expanded to owning both a Canon AE-1 & AE-1P, a Nikon F3, and a Yashica Model A.
Moving from a mid-range DSLR to my AE-1, it was an externally liberating feeling as I found it removed many of the distractions associated with modern photography. Where I would previously spend countless moments taking test shots, making sure the histogram is evenly distributed, and my focus perfect. The AE-1 forced me to surrender this control. Not being able to immediately refer to the image taken was the first step of surrendering control.
Secondly, being forced to shoot at a set ISO for an extended period of time (an entire roll of film), was another control loss for me. While at first I resented this lack of complete control, I realized by removing certain variable involved in the image taking process I could focus on other aspects of greater importance.
Moving from my AE-1, I purchased an AE-1P, partly for the slightly more accurate meter, but also so I could have two rolls of varying ISO film loaded simultaneously. The Nikon F3 was a major purchase for me, as I mainly viewed the AE-1’s as hobby cameras, but I would definitely consider the F3 as my work horse. The Yashica I occasionally use was actually my grandfather’s, so it’s mainly a sentimental piece for me. The choice of shooting 35mm film, was mainly made for me. Practically speaking, I couldn’t afford to purchase a medium format camera initially or maintain the increased price of film.
What do you like to shoot on a regular basis?
Primarily I’d define the majority of my work as street photography, although I’ve recently been venturing out into the world of fashion photography.
What types of film do you develop?
I have exclusively developed black and white film so far. Although, I would love to try my hand at C41, but sourcing the chemicals has become increasingly hard in my country, particularly for a student requiring small quantities.
Tell us about your first experiences in developing your own film. How did you muster the courage to give it a shot? What resources did you use?
Developing my first roll of film was an absolute nightmare.
After watching a demonstration of the process, provided by a member of the UCT Photographic Society, I determined that it wouldn’t be hard at all and ventured alone into the dark room with film in hand.
I ran into my first, of many, problems the moment I flicked the lights off. First, I couldn’t pop my film canister open. After fumbling around for 5 minutes I finally freed my film from its metal prison. Next, all I had to do was load it all onto a developing reel, easy enough right? Wrong. I fumbled around in the dark again for 15 minutes struggling to figure out how to load the entire roll onto the reel.
Eventually, after my trial and error, I had my film inside the Paterson Developing tank. Mustering up the last of the confidence I had, I eagerly poured the chemicals into the tank, and rushed through the developing process eager to see my film. Unbeknownst to me at this point in time, developer is temperature sensitive. After pouring out the fixing agent, mere moments after I’d poured it in, I frantically popped open the tank eager to see the results of my hard work, and was utterly disappointed. Having loaded the film incorrectly, I had “white spots” all over my roll where the negative touched itself not allowing any development.
I had twisted and bent my negative, and later found rips through several sprockets. Inspecting my negatives in front of a light, my spirit dropped even further. Since I did not correctly fix my negative, it had a bright purple milky color to it, but worst of all: as I had not adjusted the developing times for temperature, I could not see a single image on the negative.
All in all, my first experience, although negative (pun intended?), taught me a lot about the development process, and helped me discover some of the tips and tricks that I now use.
What is your development process like now?
I tend to get my developing done in larger chunks of 4 rolls rather than individually as I’ve shot them. As such, I immediately label my rolls when I take them out my camera. I include details such as the date/event I shot the roll at, and the speed I’ve metered to if I’m pushing or pulling the film (which is basically always).
As my negatives hang up to dry after developing, I transfer the information I placed on the canister, onto the pegs that they hang on. I normally leave my film to drip dry for 48 hours, not because I believe it takes that long, but mostly because I forget about them for that amount of time.
Following this, I cut up my film and place it in archival sleeves, transferring the details of what camera I’ve shot them on, the lens attached, the speed I metered at, the developer and dilution ratio, and any other details I’d like to remember. Finally, I place the archival sleeves into a large lever arch file, with dividers separating each month, or large event.
Do you scan, enlarge, and/or print your work?
As with many film photographers, I like to have full creative control over my images. So after having multiple bad scanning experiences done by my local photography shops I ventured into scanning my own work.
Scanning was the initial choice for my negatives, as I maintained a large social media following at the time. I first started scanning my negatives using a scanner at my university, but it turned out being of terrible quality. Discovering that they where several enlargers and a large stock of paper at my university, I started printing my own work this way.
Although I have since struggled to source high quality scans, I now rest assured as in my mind, printing your images in the darkroom produces certain characteristics that cannot be replicated digitally. I am planning on giving digitally scanning my images another try, and as such as looking forward to receiving an Epson V750 I recently ordered.
What equipment are you using to develop your film and why?
I am lucky to have a darkroom available to me on my university campus, and I primarily do my developing there. I utilize Paterson tanks. My go to developer is Ilford ID-11. While experimenting with different film stocks, I found ID-11 performed decently across a wide range of stocks and speeds. As I begun pushing my films, I experimented with different dilution ratios of ID-11. Eventually, I came to settle on certain combinations I particularly enjoyed such as: 1:1 dilution with HP5 shot at 800, or 1:3 dilution with HP5 at box speed. As I begun to use fine grain films, I searched for a more nuanced developer, and eventually settled on Perceptol to be used when I either pull HP5 or shoot Delta 100.
What advice can you give to others who are interested in shooting and developing film but are apprehensive about getting started?
The single thing I wish I heard more during the beginning of my journey was that “it gets better”.
Its an unavoidable part of film photography that you’ll make mistakes. Maybe you’ll pop the door on your camera open while there is film inside, or forget that you’ve pushed the film 3 stops when developing. Regardless of what mistakes you make, just know that these are all part of the process, and you will get better and become more competent with and over time, so just keep practicing. Also, it always helps to have a friend with you. It doesn’t matter if they’re shooting or developing film with you (although it’s great if they are), or not, but having a friendly face close by always cheers me up when I run into hard times while shooting or developing.