Developing your own film – A bought experience – Pt. 3

The Developing Process

Things to keep in mind:

  • Determine is the amount of chemicals you will be using. Since I am using a single reel tank I use about 300ml of each chemical in the process
  • Keep all the chemicals at hand
  • The process follows a strict order, if you change it the film will be ruined
  • Chemicals act upon their contact with film, each chemical will work for a specific amount of time on the film.
  • All chemicals must be used at a similar temperature, a +/- 5 degrees Celsius difference is allowed.
  • Agitation is important, it must be done firmly but gently, you are not mixing a drink after all. I agitate as follows: turn the tank upside down twisting it counter-clockwise as you do it: i.e. you hold the bottom of the reel with your right hand and the top with the left hand facing to the 3 clock direction.
  • Each film must use its own recipient, I use beakers measured in ml

The Developing process consist of the following steps:

  1. Developer
  2. Stop bath
  3. Fixer
  4. Hypo Clearing Agent
  5. Final Wash
  6. Wetting Agent
  7. Drying


Once we have mixed the D76 components as stated in Part 2 of this series, we will have a working solution. This working solution is ready to be used on film. However this working solution may be diluted in water at a 1:1 or 1:3 ratio (that is 1 part of working solution and 1 or 3 parts of water). The use of a diluted developer will depend on the film you are using (not every film allows a diluted D76 developer, specially if you are push processing the film).

What is push processing?

Most black and white film – some more than others- have a wide latitude, that is they may be used one, two or even 3 stops higher that its specified speed. The speed of film is stated at an average ISO value, however this value is only a recommended speed in order to measure the exposure, for example some people state that TriX real ISO is 320 and consequently they expose it and process it at such speed.

TriX and HP5+ have a nominal speed of ISO 400, but they may be “pushed” to ISO 800 (1 stop), 1600 (2 stops), or 3200 (3 stops).  When pushing a film, two elements come into play: the exposure and the development time, therefore you need to expose the film at the desired speed and then develop it as if it where of such speed.

The rule of thumb when push processing is to increase the developing time 15% – 20% per stop increase.

There downsize of pushing a film is that you lose detail, resolution or sharpness in the image, since a pushed film tends to have more grain than if it were exposed and developed at its nominal speed.

Why to dilute the Developer?

A more diluted developer works at a slower rate on film, therefore it built the grain more slowly on the negative, as a consequence you get a reduction in the physical grain size and a reduction in the overall grain of the negative.This comes handy when pushing film because it compensate the reduction of the film’s resolution.

The process

  • Open the small lid of the tank and pour the Developer. Close it.
  • Agitate 5 – 7 times every 5 seconds for 30 seconds.
  • Agitate 5-7 times in 5 seconds every 30 seconds (Kodak Method) or Agitate 10 – 12 times in 10 seconds every minute (Ilford Method)
  • Start to pour out the Developer 10 seconds prior the end of the developing time
  • Dispose the Developer after use

Developing Time

You may find the developing times at different temperatures for Kodak TriX 400 here and the Ilford HP5+ here

In my case, I always use a diluted D76 1:1 and my chemicals are often at 20 C, therefore my times are:

  • TriX at 400  = 9 min 75 sec
  • TriX at 1600 = 13 min 25 sec

Stop Bath

  • Open the small lid of the tank and pour 300 ml of water. Close it.  Use bottled water, do not use tap water is possible.
  • Agitate 15 times, pour out the water
  • Repeat 4 times


Fixer is the second most important part of the process. Fixer is used in its working solution and it may be reused, 1 liter of fixer may be used for around 20 films, after that it is said that the Fixer is exhausted.The more you use the fixer the longer you should leave it to fix. I fix for 6 minutes the first 5 rolls and increase the fixing time for 1 minute every 5 rolls until 20 rolls have been fixed, then I dispose the Fixer and prepare a new batch.

  • Open the small lid of the tank and pour 300 ml of Fixer. Close it.
  • Agitate 3 times for 3 seconds every 30 seconds
  • Fix for 6 minutes
  • Pour the fixer back

Hypo Clearing Agent

The HCA is prepared in a stock solution, it must be diluted in a 1:4 proportion.

  • Open the small lid of the tank and pour 300 ml of diluted HCA. Close it.
  • Leave it for 2 minutes. Agitate 5 times at the end of the first minute

Final Wash

For the final wash I use the Ilford Method with a couple of amendments.

  • Open the small lid of the tank and fill it in with bottled water and invert the tank 5 times, pour out the water
  • Fill in the tank with fresh bottled water and  invert the tank 10 times, pour out the water
  • Fill in the tank with fresh bottled water and  invert the tank 20 times, pour out the water
  • Fill in the tank with distilled water and  invert the tank 40 times, pour out the water

Wetting Agent

  • The film is no longer sensitive to light so you may now open the tank.
  • Fill the tank with distilled water and put 1 drop of wetting agent (I use Johnson baby shampoo)
  • Leave it for 2 minutes. At the end of the time agitate it a little and pour out the water.
  • If there are traces of soap bubbles, fill the tank with bottled water and rinse the film.


After washing hang up the film in a dry place free of dust. Let the film dry for 2 hours, you may then cut it and place it in a protective film sleeves.

You may wipe the film with a film squeegee. This is not recommended since you may scratch the negative, but if you do it, first soak the squeegee in water and then wipe the film.


Portraits part 3 – Perfiles – Izquierda – Derecha

Light is everything. Glass is king. Film is the choice. All is all is Perspective.

Leica M6 – Nokton 50mm f1,5 – Ilford HP5

Leica M2 – Nokton 50mm f1,5 – Ilford HP5

Leica IIIF – Rollei Sonnar 40mm f2,8 – TriX

Leica M6 – C Elmar 90mm f4,0 – TriX

Leica M2 – Canon 50mm f1,8 – BW400CN

Leica M6 – Rollei Sonnar 40mm f2,8 – TriX @1600

Developing your own film – A bought experience – Pt. 2

B.    The Chemicals

Chemicals come in powder or liquid presentations. It is said that liquids are easier to use since you only have to dilute them in the specific proportions required by your film. However, due to transport and access limitations, I have only used the powder presentations.

The chemicals that you require to develop film are the followings:

  • Developer. The developer converts the latent image to metallic silver,  that is it brings out the latent image from the negative. This is the most important element of the process, the developer you chose may exploit the best of the characteristics of your film or it can totally ruin it. There are many choices for developer, but as a starting point you can’t go wrong with Kodak D-76, this is a very versatile developer that has been around for decades and almost any normal purpose film may be developed with D-76. Other developers can provide better results but this one comes in powder presentation, therefore it was my first choice. Later you may try Xtol, which also comes in powder presentation as well, but I have not yet fully tried it to the extent to give a proper opinion. For starters I would buy Kodak and not third party developers, there are a lot of “D-76 like” developers but the price difference is minimal.
  • Fixer. The fixer makes the image permanent and light-resistant by dissolving any remaining silver halide salts, in other words as it’s name implies it “fixes” the image brought out by the developer from the negative. As in developers there are many options to choice from when it comes to fixers, but they mostly come in liquid presentations. For me there only option was Kodak Fixer because it comes in powder presentation. I have also tried a Fixer from Foma but my local supplier ran out of stock, so I bought a 5 gallon pack of Kodak fixer at the same price I acquired 1 litter of Foma Fixer. I have read from many sources that one fixer or another won’t make any difference in your negatives. This is true to a certain extent, just read the recommendations of the film manufacturer, for example while developing efke films it is recommended the use of non hardening fixers.
  • Hypo Clearing Agent. Abbreviated HCA, it helps to wash out the film from any residual chemicals. If a HCA is not used, some films may present a tint dye purple or pink. Any HCA will do the job. Kodak’s HCA comes in powder.
  • Wetting Agent. This helps to a uniform drying and to eliminate drying marks such as water spots; applying a wetting agent will make the water to slip through the film when you hang it to dry. It rinses the film at the final step, it does helps a lot.
  • Distilled Water. This is not a chemical but it is of outmost importance for mixing the ones above referred, also it will be of great help during the final wash of the film.

Tips on mixing the Chemicals

Mixing powder chemicals requires patience and to follow some security measures.

Items required:

  • A ventilated place
  • Latex Gloves
  • Mouth mask
  • Measured Beaker
  • Thermometer
  • Distilled Water
  • A mixer (glass preferred)
  • The Powder Chemical

The two principal elements that you require are the chemical and the water where you will dilute the chemical.

The importance of the distilled water: distilled water is des-mineralized, tap water and bottled water comes with high to low levels of minerals depending on where you live, this is called “hard water”. I found out that in El Salvador neither tap water nor bottled water is apt for mixing chemicals; many people in other countries with less “hard water” use distilled water for mixing the chemicals.

It is recommended that you heat up the distilled water to 50 C for an easier dilution. If you are making a gallon, heat up 1 litter pour it into the beaker and then pour in the whole chemical package mix. Here comes patience comes to play, you need to stir gently for whatever time is needed to dissolve the powder, if after 10 minutes it does not dissolve what I do is I pour the entire beaker content (liquid and non dissolved powder) into the gallon jug where the rest of the distilled water is, mix it gently and the whole thing will be dissolved in a couple of minutes.

After mixing the chemicals is always wise to let them rest for a day; I usually mix them at night and check them in the morning. Keep the mixed chemicals in air tight containers otherwise they will get depleted very soon. I use plastic containers to keep the large batch and small glass containers to actually use during the developing process.

Next: The Developing Process

Developing your own film – A bought experience – Pt. 1

My grandmother used to say “experiences are bought”; which means that to learn something requires time, effort and more often than not money.  This statement is even more valid when there is no one to teach you or somewhere to go and experiment, as it is the case of developing black and white film in El Salvador where allegedly there is only one university lab that still does so and only two small photo studios process (poorly) B&W negatives.

There is a lot of information on line about how the process is done, videos, tutorials, advice in forums, however everyone must  walks his own path, sort out the obstacles of its own geographical area and work with the tools at hand.  In this post I will share with you my experience in developing my own film.

  1. The Reason

I will start with the following facts:

  • I love film and I will try to stick to it as long as possible.
  • Due to the lack of infrastructure to build my own dark room and provided that there are no accessible dark rooms in El Salvador of the digital era, I decided to scan my own negatives

My first approach was to focus on shooting and to send my negatives to a local studio to do the film development process. I did this for almost two years; however the poor results obtained on the negatives which almost always had spots, scratches or some sort of defect lead me to take the plunge and try to do my own film developing.

2.      The Learning

In short you need 3 things: the equipment, the chemicals and know the process.

A.    The Equipment

Another saying that applies to this process is “cheap is expensive”. Do not go cheap in your equipment, my poor judgment in this area cost me money and 2 or 3 films completely lost and another 4 with pictures lost, which to me is a lot given that I shot 2-3 rolls tops in a month, and a stop of one month in my development process while I got my new reel.

The equipment that I am using with good results is the following:

The loading

  • Hewes – 35mm Stainless Steel Developing Reel.
  • Kalt – Stainless Steel 35mm Tank with Plastic Cover
  • Kalt – Changing Bag Double Zipper with Elastic Arm Holes
  • Scissors
  • Cotton Cloth Gloves


To develop film you first have to extract it from the canister and load it into a reel and then place it into a tank where the chemicals will be poured and the developing process will be performed. There are plastic and steel reels and tanks. I chose the steel version because they seemed sturdier; I have no experience with plastic tanks and reels.

If you are using a manual rewind camera such as a Leica, the first recommendation goes way back when the film is still in the camera. When you finish your roll do not rewind it until the whole film gets into the canister, you will hear a distinct sound when the film disengages form the take up spool and you will feel less resistance in the rewind knob. Then open the camera back and extract the film, it will look just as when you loaded it to the camera but a little bent in the end. If you use an auto rewind camera or you fully rewind the film then you will need a film retriever to extract the film lead from the canister, or a film cassette opener which is just like a bottle cap opener that you use to open the rear end of the canister and extract the whole film at once.

Loading Film onto the Reel

The second recommendation goes to the reels. If you chose to go with steel reels do not but any other brand but Hewes. The first time I bought generic brand steel reels and they were a catastrophe; I believe they were slightly bent and therefore could never be able to properly load a single film on them, even when I thought I had; when the reel is not properly aligned some sections of film will touch other section and those sections will be totally fogged. The steel reel needs to be well built and this quality control cost money, so save yourself some pain and frustration, not to mention your precious film and images, and buy a quality reel.

The film loading on a Hewes reel is really easy and intuitive. The things you have to keep in mind are: the reel is loaded form the center to the end border; the reel follows a direction, which from my perspective is counter clockwise: in the center there are to pins that fit exactly where the sprocket holes of the film are, following the counter clockwise sense you will see where the reel starts to take the film and goes on as a spiral, should you try to load the film in the wrong sense your film edges will bent and at some point it will be impossible to load, say goodbye to that film.

Since film loading must be done in complete darkness, it is recommended to get used to the “loading mechanics” with the lights on using some wasted film. Do it! It is better to ruin one unexposed cheap color film than a precious B&W film with the pictures of a month or an special event. Once you are used to the process then it’s time to try it in the dark.

The film loading follows these simple steps:

  • Get the film ready. Take the leading tongue outside the canister, put your cotton cloth gloves on, pull some film out of the canister and cut the lead tongue in order that you have a straight cut end.
  • Then place the film, the reel, the tank, its cap, and the scissors inside the changing bag.
  • Now grab the canister with is flat bottom facing down, grab the end and slightly bend the film towards its center and hook the sprocket holes into the two tips that the reel has in its center for said purpose, you will just feel when it happens, the film won’t go if you pull it, and it’s really easy. After you have secured the end of the film, you are good as done, pull out some film from the canister and roll it into the reel by just turning the reel counter clockwise, you don’t need to push the film it will just fall into place by turning the reel. If the film is misplaced you will feel that it goes out from the reel line borders, in such case just unroll it and roll it back in.
  • When you reach the end of the film, cut it with the scissors and then place the reel into the tank and close it tightly.

Next: The Chemicals

Portraits part 2 – Street portraits

In San Salvador, as in any city from a developing country you may find people on the street selling bags, flags, toys, sun glasses

muppets, yetis and frogs

cleaning windshields

and sharing

or just standing there,

“waiting for someone or something to show you the way” ….

This is was shot while waiting for a light to change. As I was arriving to the crossroad I saw this sir and calculated that I will be stopping there, right next to him, I grabbed the M6 paired with the Nokton, guessed for the exposition, gave it a full 1,5 aperture and the closest focusing.

That was one of those days that I have a color film on my camera, I don’t know why I do it without a specific reason to load a color film. I just did it again last week. I guess is to not forget.

… or asking for some coins,

Some weeks later at the same crossroad.

People wait…


thew work and they wait

but it wont come any time soon

but never fear, the trendy fashion lives here (“La moda se vive aqui” slogan from an important department store)

Portraits part 1

I almost always carry a camera with me, whether i am attending a concert, having a meal with friends, going to a wedding, etc. It happens to be that when you expend so much time with people around you end up taking portraits.

I am using here the term portrait in its broad acception.

Reviewing the portraits I have taking during the past year I could realize the evolution of my photography both while taking the photo and editing it. At some point I added some color to my black and white images, later I dropped that approach and improved my scanning methods as well as the basic photoshop skills I had. I’m no expert now, but I think I have improved (hope so)

This was my first portrait, and also one of the first pictures I made with my Leica M2. At the time I had a canon 50mm 1,8 lens. It was shot at full aperture 1/30 of a second on TriX. I do not have neither the Leica nor the Canon lens. Only the TriX remains, although I am more found to HP5.

Yes, I was into the coloring black and white. I may do it again someday. Leica M2 – Canon 50 1,8

Leica M2 – Canon 50 1,8 Maybe one of the last rolls I shot with it.

The canon was my only lens. I sold it for a Leica DR Summicron 50mm 2,0

This photo was the last from a roll hence its cropping. Leica M2 – DR Summicron 50mm 2,0

Like I said in a previous post, sometimes I use color film.

Leica M6 – Voigtlander Heliar 50mm f2,0

Many of the pictures I take are indoors, in low light conditions, at night. That was the reason I switched into a faster 50 this time at 1,5

This was a rather difficult shot, Leica M2  – Nokton 50mm 1,5 at full aperture, shutter speed was 1/4 of a second I believe- Rollei 80 film

I really enjoy the Nokton, it is difficult to part from it, but I am in need of different focal lengths…  Now that I am developing my own film and may be able to push the HP5 to 800 or even 1600 I may live at f2 …. right?

Is it the Nokton 1,1 an upgrade? I will check that out.


El Salvador is in politic campaign. The elections will be held on March 11, 2012. A new voting system to elect senators will be implemented. The voting places will be according to the residence of the citizens.

(Three months of pure and cynical visual contamination)

Things are changing. The opposition as well.