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My Top 4 Mistakes in Developing Black and White Film

Old St. Mary's Church in Detroit on Kodak T Max 100

In my journey to make film a core part of my photography, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. I managed to mess up and lose 3 1/2 of the first four rolls of film I tried to shoot. I decided to stick it out and bought a roll of Kodak T Max 100 black and white film to do some architecture and street photography around Detroit. Taking my Canon AE-1 Program and two lenses I walked down Gratiot Avenue to the Renaissance Center and back up the water front.

The shoot went great, but as you may have gathered, I have a bad habit of learning only through trial and error. In this case the error meant trying to learn and mix the chemicals properly as the film was sitting in the tank developing.

The above shot of the inside of Old St. Marys is the only shot on the whole roll of 36 exposures that is presentable. All of the other photos look like this.

These photos are grainy, fuzzy, loaded with air bubbles, and covered in water streaks.

Here’s How to Avoid My Mistakes

One, buy three graduated cylinders to have your developer, stop bath and fixer mixed to the proper dilutions before you start developing. I bought three 1000ml cylinders on amazon, but you could probably get away with 600-700ml depending on the size of your tank.

Two, give the tank a couple of taps on a hard surface to dislodge the air bubbles on the film per agitation cycle. Those circular white spots are caused by trapped air keeping any developer from touching that part of the film. Angular or more square white spots on the film are actually chemical deposits from using hard water. Which leads me to …

Three, use distilled/demineralized water for your chemical mixes and final rinse. This is more of a timesaver than anything, since any decently filtered water (even from a well) won’t be hard enough to cause permeant defects. However, when the non-distilled water dries it will probably leave water spots over the non-emulsion side (the glossy side) of the film. These spots then need to be manually cleaned with a microfiber cloth which can waste another 15 minutes.

Four, use ONE DROP of wetting agent (Kodak Photo-Flo, Ilford Wetting Agent) per 600ml of water in the final rinse. Not using the wetting agent can lead to water spots or streaks. Using too much, like I did, also leads to soap streaks as you have essentially dunked your film into bunch of dish washer detergent. One drop is really all you need; give the film a couple of dunks and spins on the reel while in the wetting agent and you should be golden.

Correcting these mistakes, I’ve since made many successful black and white developments using Rodinal. Here’s a frame of Ilford Pan F+ I took over the weekend.

Bridge Across a Dam

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