First stab at developing and printing

So, as may have seen in my last post, I had a go at printing some pictures myself with the darkroom kit I bought but had mixed results, with the prints coming out almost completely dark, or looking like they were taken in the Crimean War (not necessarily a bad thing).

I’m quite keen to get control over the full process though, and as the kit included a development tank I thought I’d have a go. My wife and I went to Hunstanton and shot a roll of Kentmere 400, trying not to be too precious about the shots in case we ruined them. We then came home to develop them. Unfortunately at this point I realised I really needed a changing bag as nowhere in my house is completely dark during the day. I used to have one in my pinhole camera days but sold it, thinking it’d be highly unlikely for it to ever get used again. There’s a lesson there somewhere.

After looking at some solutions online, I managed to throw together a contraption of which Heath Robinson would surely have been proud. I took a couple of bin bags, cut arm holes in them, taped them together so they wouldn’t move about, and then put an old coat inside them, sticking the arms of the coat through the holes in the bin bag. I then inserted a foil lined freezer bag into the bottom. I now had a changing bag! To make doubly sure, I sat inside my wardrobe to try and keep the light out. As it was a hot day it wasn’t the most comfortable of experiences, however, as instructed, I had practiced removing the film and putting it onto the reel with a ruined film in daylight so I was able to do it relatively easily, sealing it inside the light-tight container.  I was now ready to develop!


I found this guide from Ilford extremely helpful in terms of helping me to decide what chemicals to buy and the basic process. I enlisted the help of my wife and our trusty utility shed/darkroom while we played around with chemicals. After around 15 minutes – success! We had our first batch of negatives.

After hanging them up on our shower curtain for a hour or so, they were dry and we were able to take them down and cut them into smaller pieces. Luckily I had bought some negative file pages to help to store them as I know dust isn’t great for negatives. Now it was just a case of printing them.

Last time, the prints didn’t really work, coming out completely black. At the time I blamed it on the chemicals (which are out of date), but after thinking about it I think I probably overexposed them, completely blasting the photographic paper with light. I also realised that the aperture was too wide and that it needed to be stopped down a lot more to reduce the light hitting the page. Once I had taken these simple steps, we soon started seeing our first proper images emerging from the chemicals. It is still a magical process to me.20170611_104200

And here are the finished articles! I am aware that I am probably making the whole process very long-winded by taking them, developing them, printing them, scanning them in, and then posting them online, but I never said the whole thing made sense. Besides, I still get a pleasure out of film that I just don’t get from digital.


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Next step? I took a lot of pictures with my Diana camera using the ‘exposed sprocket holes’ setting. I’m interested to see how they will come out..


First foray into the darkroom

One of the reasons I decided to pursue film photography over digital is I love the process – I even enjoy loading the film (especially 120).  I think it’s the physicality of it I enjoy. As part of that, my dream has been to be able to take control of the whole process without having to use a computer. To that end, I recently bought a second hand version of Paterson’s ‘The Complete Darkroom Kit’. There are more up to date versions of this now – I think my one was made sometime in the early 1980s, but it includes all of the equipment needed to develop and print your own films, including an enlarger.

I have no experience of this, other than an early venture into film photography about 10 years ago when my parents bought me a pinhole camera kit for Christmas. As well as the camera itself (some pieces of wood with a hole in it), the kit also included everything you needed to develop and print your own pictures. I was living in rented accomodation at the time, so I waited until everyone went out, sealed myself in the bathroom (literally – I had to put tape over the edges of the door to stop the light getting in), and set about developing my own pictures. I’ll never forget the first moment a fuzzy image emerged on to the paper – I was absolutely enchanted by it. I remember having a real urge to experiment more – however, at the time I had no idea what I was doing, and didn’t know how I’d go about taking it to the next level, once I had exhausted the tiny bottles of chemicals. Funnily enough, it never occurred to me that taking up film photography might be a good idea..

Here’s one of my shots from that time. Not bad for a pinhole ‘selfie’. The conservatory behind had the bathroom with my improvised darkroom in it.


So, coming back to the present day, yesterday I made my first attempt to print from a 35mm negative using my 1980s enlarger. With the kit I got all of the chemicals I needed, but they are all a few months out of date. Therefore, I was prepared to get no image at all.

This time, instead of a bathroom our utility room (read – former coal shed in our Victorian house) has become my darkroom.

So, after setting up the equipment, measuring out the chemicals and doing my best to try and keep the temperatures stable, my wife and I had a go at trying to print from a reel of negatives we took in Norfolk a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the first few attempts ended in failure – the minute we put the exposed photographic paper into the developer, it immediately turned completely black. I’m not sure what was going wrong here – I suspect it may be that the chemicals have gone off. Otherwise I guess it’s something to do with the temperature of the mix, or getting the ratios wrong, but I was fairly careful with those.

Lastly, in frustration, I tried just dipping the photographic paper in the developer for a few seconds rather than the 90 odd seconds recommended on the bottle, and managed to get a usuable image. Hurrah! I then decided that I had nothing left to lose, and that if the developer was too concentrated for some reason then it wouldn’t hurt to slosh some water into it and water it down. From this, I managed to get a slightly better looking print (see below).

Both are obviously pretty inadequate as prints go, but I’m happy to have managed to get an image, considering the state of the chemicals. I also quite like that the prints look like they were made about 150 years ago. They are both of Ely cathedral.



Next step I think, is buy some fresh chemicals and have another go…