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!
What attracted you to film photography? How did you get started/introduced to shooting film? How soon after did you start developing?
I needed to slow down and fine tune my people skills so I could get the shot that I wanted at once, instead of taking 2000 photos. I would say that I started to self-develop film the get-go. Also, a stranger on the internet just gave me a near mint Pentax MV with a 50mm f/2 lens. I only used it twice before getting my Nikon F3HP.
What do you like to shoot on a regular basis?
I mostly shoot portraits, fashion portraiture specifically.
What formats, cameras, and films do you shoot? What do you like about the formats, cameras, films you prefer?
On 35mm, I mostly shoot my Nikon F3HP and use a Nikon FE as a backup. My Nikon glass is shared with my digital system. For medium format, I shoot either my Zeiss-Ikon Ikoflex IIa with a Zeiss-Opton Tessar 75mm f/3.5 lens or with my Pentacon Six-system. If I’m outdoors, I probably use the Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 120mm f/2.8 on the Pentacon Six.
What types of film do you develop?
Black and white. If I want colour, I simply shoot digital. For me, it’s not worth the extra mile with calibrating the colour space to get a good scan.
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?
I watched several videos on YouTube on how to develop, and since I got a M.Sc. in Biotech, I wasn’t afraid of the chemical bit (I also did my master’s thesis on thin gelatine films).
However, I was a bit afraid about the bit where you get the film onto the developing reel. I had two rolls of film on my first attempt: one with photos from a party and one with tourist photos. It took me maybe 20 minutes to get the first roll of film onto the reel.
Also, I underdeveloped the film because I had read the developing time from the wrong line in the data sheet for D76 (I used 6m45s instead of 9m45s). I also didn’t check the temperature and just assumed it would be 20C/68F (this was before I realized how easy it is to overdevelop your film). The photos came out quite fine, mostly because I was shooting Tri-X.
What is your development process like now?
After I’m finished shooting, I log online to my photo club and book a darkroom slot. While there, I clean the measuring cups and clean the work surfaces, especially if I know someone else has been there recently. If I’m going to screw up what I’ve put my heart and soul into, I would rather do it by myself than with the help from others.
Then, I measure the amount of Xtol I’ll be needing. If I do several batches I’ll add maybe 10-20 ml extra per batch. Xtol is great for reusing. You can develop easily 3 rolls per ½ litre before you need to add extra time to the development time. The data sheet says 5 rolls per litre before you need to increase dev time by 15%.
When I’m finished with the first batch, I’ll let it rinse under the tap for 25+ minutes, enough time to start the next batch. When the first batch has been washed, I treat it with Mirasol 2000 for 90 seconds and give it a twirl every 15s. I hang the film to dry in a heating fan cabinet (35-38C, at least, but less than 40C so the gelatin doesn’t melt) for 20 minutes before I turn it and then another 20 minutes.
Then, I cut the film in strips of 4 (35mm) or 3 (120) frames. It makes it easier to scan. I keep my film in acid free envelopes that has date, name, location, camera and film stock written on them. At home, I’ll let the envelopes be pressed under a couple of dictionaries. For 35mm film, I let them sit for at least an hour or two. If expired or 120 film, I will leave it for at least a day or two so it’ll get as flat as possible.
Then I scan the film while listening to a podcast to eat up the time. When I’m finished, I shoot the photos to the model and we make a selection together. From that selection of photos, I start to retouch dust and edit in an editing program like Photoshop.
Perhaps the most unique part of my process is my red little notebook (Moleskine Volant; the only one that was small enough and without lines. Lines are bad for your creativity!). Each roll of film has a page. On the front side, I write camera, film stock, date, and each frame’s exposure (aperture, shutter, lens). On the back side I make notes about the development, what temperatures the liquids have, the colours, the smell, how much they foamed and how long each step took.
If something didn’t go according to plan, say that my timer app crashed, I’ll make a note of it. If something went wrong with either the exposure or the development I’ll have a good idea what it might have been.
Do you scan, enlarge, and/or print your work?
I scan my work because I have a digital workflow. For 35mm, I use the Plustek 8100 with Silverfast 8.2 and for medium format I have a second hand Epson V600 + Betterscanning holder with Epson Scan software. Both scanners are very cheap and feel like it. The Plustek has an insane crisp resolution but it’s cheap and you can feel it. All the money to make these scanners went into the optics. Actual resolution is claimed to be 3800ppi. As for the Epson…well, it works. The actual resolution is something like 2400ppi with the Betterscanning holder and gives more or less the same result as an V700 with Silverfast.
What equipment are you using to develop your film and why?
When I develop film, I primarily use Kodak Xtol and Ilford Rapid Fixer. Prior, I used Kodak D76, but since I’ve switched from Kodak Tri-X to Kodak TMax 400 I felt I also needed to upgrade the developer. I try to keep to Kodak, because they still do active research, unlike Ilford that hasn’t released anything new since the 90’s. Regarding Xtol and Tri-X, it gives a finer but sharper grain, so you have to be careful when you agitate so the grain doesn’t poke you in the eye when you view the photos.
When it comes to development equipment, I prefer Paterson tanks and reels. Other brands feel flimsy and don’t really work for me. I own (or at least in part) a Jobo, but I’ve never used it.
Are you content with where you are now with your shooting and developing? Do you have any future plans or ambitions ?
I see the analog process as a way to learn a more distilled method of shooting. The big advantage with analog photography is that you get your shit together and make the magic happen. If you don’t, you’ll get bored very quickly because you just put a lot of work into getting dull photos that you won’t use. I’m fairly pleased with where I am, maybe I’ll get a Hasselblad in the future or try HC-110 or Microphen.
Have you completed any notable projects or in the process of creating something from the film you have shot and developed? Feel free to give a solid summary of each project.
I’m very interested in the female beauty and what makes a woman beautiful and how those factors and ideals change over time. It takes different expressions. For instance, I’ve got an ongoing project with portraying LGBTQ persons. So far, I have done shoots with a drag queen and someone who is gender fluid. I’ve done some gender-bending shoots, too. I think it’s truly fascinating to deconstruct and rebuild the female beauty in the way that they do. Given how important women’s beauty is to our culture, I guess it’s a theme that can take new turns and be an unending source of material for future projects and I will continue to work on the same fundamental questions.
What advice can you give to others who are interested in shooting and developing film but are apprehensive about getting started?
Avoid Pentax M42 mount, it’s a big waste of money. Get something like a Nikon or Pentax K mount. Shoot 20-30 rolls of Tri-X and develop in D76. It’s hard to really fail this way. When you got that covered and know it on your five fingers, move on to TMax400, Acros and Xtol. Life will be good and your photos will come out beautiful.
If you want to shoot medium format, go for a TLR like a Yashica, Rolleicord or a Ikoflex. If you don’t like headaches, then I advise avoiding everything from the Communist bloc. Don’t get me wrong, my Pentacon Six is great, but there are so many things that can go wrong if you’re not careful.
Do you do anything else that you believe is unique to your process?
I’m not sure if it’s really unique, but due to my Master’s thesis on gelatin films, I got a really good feel for emulsion and how the film behaves when you process it. It’s nice to know that I actually got some use of that research. In general, when I develop I just do what the data sheet tells me to. The engineers at Kodak, Fujifilm and Ilford have done the experiments and come to the conclusion what will give the best possible results in terms of sharpness, contrast and tonality. You just need to read it and do as it says, in my opinion.