Picture the scene, A big box of photographic goodies has just arrived and you are unpacking everything. Lots of stuff to go over and look at.

By all means take the leaflets out of the boxes to read, but don’t lose anything. For the chemical kit I scanned it (it’s only a regular size sheet of paper printed on both sides) and have it ready to view whenever I need it on my computer. The last thing you want is for the vital sentence to be obscured by some splash of chemical!

So you now have a collection of gear and are ready to get going.

We will but first we need to think about chemicals and how to handle, mix and use them without either killing yourself, children, a pet, staining everything in the house with weird splash patterns of bright red that won’t come out, or burning holes in the carpet. I'm joking with most of this list, as the chances of any of these things happening are very remote indeed - well, perhaps a stain or two is possible. None of the chemicals that we use in photography are usually a problem for most people at their normal levels of concentration and if handled properly. I’m going to emphasize this phrase: if handled properly.

What does all that mean? Basically this:

  • Don’t drink any of it!
  • Don’t let any get in your eyes.
  • Don’t get any into cuts or open wounds.
  • Don’t breath in any of the fumes.

And above all else:


If you feel at all unwell while using chemicals stop what you are doing immediately and get some fresh air. Take a drink of cool water and clear out your air ways and lungs. Don’t take risks.

If any chemicals do happen to get onto an open cut or splashes into your eyes wash it off with running water for at least 15 minutes. Yes – that long. Seek medical attention as soon as you can. The chances are that it won’t do more than sting badly, but do not take any chances. If you happen to swallow any of these chemicals, you MUST induce vomiting (as nasty as it might sound, bring it all up as quickly as you can) and go to an emergency room as soon as possible – take the instruction sheet with you to show the doctors.

WOW! Such drama!!

Remember, this is the worst possible situation you might encounter. It’s most unlikely you’ll ever have to do any of this. EVER! Just so long as you handle the chemicals properly. 

So let’s move on. At last...

The chemical kits that I use are sold as powders that you mix up into the stock solution. You can get some color chemical as stock solution in gallon quantities but you’d need to have about 30 to 50 rolls of film ready to develop to make it worth your while buying in that kind of quantity. Why?

Once you start to use the stock solutions, the clock is ticking. They have a shelf life of about 3 months before they really will lose the ability to work predictably. I’m not saying that they WON’T work well for you or even at all, but you want this part of the film process experience to be as predictable as you can get it so you can reproduce good results time and time again.

Color chemicals are also reused, not thrown away like “one-shot” B&W chemicals. They will also get diluted and to some extent polluted by the previous chemical in the process, which also lowers the strength each time you use them. Expect about 10 or maybe even 12 rolls of 35mm film per liter of chemicals. That’s about $2 per film! Not at all bad compared to the $10 or $12 plus postage and the time involved for sending the film away.

There are two main brand names of powder C-41 chemicals, As far as I can tell, they are both actually identical. B&H and Freestyle in the USA sell them – see the previous part of this series for more information. Also Freestyle sell C-41 kits in larger quantities from Rollei, if you really do need five times the powder kit quantities and are going to get through that many films inside the expected shelf life, then go for it, to start out however, there is no need.

One tip I will pass onto you all is that at the time of writing this, B&H were selling the Tetenal C-41 Press Kit for about half the price that Freestyle were asking. Go figure!

So once you have everything you need and have the chemicals, we should get to work by mixing up the stock solutions.

I use filtered water for mixing up the stock solutions. I get water from the filtered water faucet on my fridge. Oh the luxury of American life!! I am sure a Brita filter jug will work as well, but the idea of this is to remove all the bits of minerals and other stuff that is usually floating ‘in suspension’ in tap water. This will help to reduce the quantity of spots and other things that you’ll have to deal with in post processing.

Wash out the storage bottles. You are just trying to remove any little bits bits of junk and any left-over plastic shards from manufacturing. Label one of these now cleaned out bottles with the words “Dev”, another “Blix”, and the third “Stab” so you know what they are (Developer, Blix [Bleach-fixer], and Stabilizer). USE BIG LETTERS, as I certainly have got the developer and blix the wrong way round at least once... 

Make sure that if you mix the stock solutions in the same container as the previous chemical, that you wash it completely between mixing the next chemical.  You don't want to contaminate these stock solutions before you have a chance to use them even once, now do you?

So, just follow the instructions in the kit to do the mixing and pour the new stock solution into the brown chemical storage bottles. Easy.

Another tip - I heat the filtered water in my microwave to the 110 degrees F for mixing. You are diluting these powders, so will have to stir everything. Use something plastic and clean for this. Wash it between chemicals too.

Make sure that the lids are screwed on tightly as exposure to the air is going to lower the strength of these solutions – and also note that the blix can smell a bit.

The Stabilizer does not have to be heated for mixing or when used.  Room temperature is fine.

Clean-up is as important as anything else in this process. Blix especially has a reputation for being a liquid that stains anything it comes into contact with permanently, but I don’t find it to be quite that bad.

Another tip - I do the mixing and filling of bottles outside in my back deck/porch area. Any spills don’t matter on the grass. At least I assume you don’t live with a manicured grass lawn and the odd bald spot son't matter! Wipe everything completely and make sure any drops split or splashed are wiped away.

I store the bottles in the 5 gallon bucket along with any other items that will fit. This is an easy way to carry the kit from where I store it to where I’m going to use it and back again. Two layers of plastic to ensure that in the event the bottles do fail somehow, then the bucket is there to catch the spillage.

Let everything cool and you are ready to get the film loaded into the tank – but that will have to wait for the next part of this series.

Back to Part 2     On to Part 4