Processing Film Yourself - Part 5.

So are we ready for the big show yet? I know I am…

I don’t have a darkroom, so if you remember from my earlier remarks, I have to improvise and set my towels out in my cleared kitchen work space. On go my old work clothes too.

I get all my bottles of chemicals and other glass and plastic ware out and in my work space, even if I think I won’t need it, everything gets set out JUST IN CASE.

About 10 minutes before I want to start and depending on how I feel, I’ll either fill my plastic water bath tub OR my sink with water heated up to about 170 degrees. This often takes several trips to the microwave or using a kettle. Be careful as you don’t want to burn yourself with boiling water! There is no need for it to be all THAT hot anyway, it's just to heat up the chemical INSIDE the storage bottles.

The bottles of chemicals with the caps still fully on and closed go into the water bath. I know some people use a microwave oven to heat the chemicals, but while it is indeed faster, I find its less controllable than using a water bath.  

The instruction sheet also tells you to place the film tank in the water bath too. This warms the film so it is also as close as you can get it to the temperature of the chemicals. If you are using a plastic tub for this, it also means that any spillage is more likely to go into the tub and not on the floor.

Be patient as everything gets up to 102 degrees. When that moment arrives, and 102 degrees is it, I use a measuring jug of filtered water heated in the microwave also to 102 degrees as the pre-soak. This goes into the tank and before putting the tank down, I gently tap the tank on the counter top a couple of times to make any air bubbles float off the surface of the film.  I press the “start” button on my cell phones stop watch app and wait for 1 minute.The pre-wash water gets poured out of the tank and down the drain. I reset my timer to zero.

Next comes the developer. GENTLY pour the developer into the tank. So long as the quantity of liquid covers the film on the spiral (most tank makers print this on the bottom of the tank or on a box or instruction sheet), you are good. Again, a tap on the bench/counter top and I press start on my timer.

I used to spend the next 30 seconds or so in a life or death struggle to get the water tight cap on top of the tank well enough to stop the liquid leaking out ALL OVER THE PLACE when I did the tank inversions.

So now I don’t.

What I do now is to use the rotation stick/stirrer and GENTLY stir the film from side to side for the next 10 seconds and finish off with a tap on the counter top/bench. The idea is to agitate the film inside the liquid to ensure an even coverage of fresh liquid on the surface of the film, and the recommended method of tank inversion is just one way of doing this.

I will let you guys try these methods (the metal tanks usually don’t offer the twirl/rotation method by the way), to find the one you prefer. Oh yes, if you are using an expensive roller tank machine kind of device, then you should follow the instruction chart for that kind of device. Ultimately, the time/temperature is a reciprocal and lower temps equal longer times, but thinking about these matters is beyond the scope of this discussion.

I redo the twirl/rotation/inversion thing every 30 seconds until we get to three minutes and thirty seconds. This means it is twirled/rotated/inverted at 30 seconds, one minute, one minute thirty, two minutes, two minutes thirty and at three minutes. That is six sets of 10 second GENTLE twirls each followed by a quick tap on the counter, which just leaves the last 30 seconds for the film to soak undisturbed in the developer.

When the time is up, I reset my stop watch/counter app and pour the developer out into the jug I marked as “Dev”. This lets me easily pour it out of the tank and move onto the Blix.

The process for the Blix is identical as for the developer (in it goes, agitate for the first 10 seconds and then again once every 30 seconds), but we are doing it for six minutes and thirty seconds.

I use the time between each 30 second agitation to clear up. This means that the first time gap, I get the funnel inserted into the dev bottle. Then I have to agitate the tank. Then pour the dev back into the dev stock bottle. Now I have to agitate the tank. I then screw the cap back onto the Dev solution bottle. Next it’s time to agitate the tank. Wipe down the bottle and agitate the tank. Rinse off the funnel. Agitate the tank. See the pattern here? One step in clean up between each agitation – with an eye on the clock all the time to pace yourself.

An important note here - be careful with Blix. It “gasses out” (a technical term for “smells”) as a part of the process, so I have a portable fan blowing the fumes away from me. In a real darkroom, the air flow is properly organized so the fumes are always pulled away from where you are working, but that’s another subject entirely. Blix is also a dark red color and it can stain, so take your time and try to avoid splashes.

Better to let the film be in the blix for a few extra seconds while you clean up a splash than let the blix sit on a sensitive surface for 10 seconds while you agitate the tank.

From time to time, you will splash a chemical. Wipe up any splashes and spills as soon as they happen.

At five minutes, I also start the water from the faucet. I find it gets to about 95 degrees which is where it needs to be in about a minute, which is great for the next stage.

At six minutes I get the Blix jug ready.

At six minutes and thirty seconds I GENTLY pour the Blix into the Blix jug. Go slowly and try to avoid spills and splashes.

As soon as the liquid is out of the tank, I place the tank under the water flowing from the faucet.

While this wash is underway, I carefully get the Blix back into its stock solution bottle.

The film needs a good 3 minute wash and once I have rinsed my hands so there is no chemical residue left on them I open the tank.

A quick glance at the negative roll usually reveals enough visual information to see that the negatives are fully formed and ready. I put the lid back on the tank and back under the wash water for the rest of the time.

I also try to rinse out the jigs used for the chemicals so far while the film is washing, but I don't always get them done inside three minutes. That's OK. Its not a race. More wash time is fine.

After those three full minutes in the wash water (you can empty and allow the tank to refill with fresh water several times if you like), it’s time for the stabilizer. Unlike the rest of this process, the stabilizer is used at room temperature. This means about 70 degrees or about the same temp as the space the film will be drying in. Empty the tank of all wash water and put the stab in. Give it 10 seconds of agitation as per the start of the dev and Blix. Wait one minute.

Pour the stabilizer into the jug marked ‘Stab’ and DO NOT wash the stab off the film. It is there as part of the process. It will ensure the long term life of the negative. It needs to not be washed off from the surface of the film.

Take the film to wherever you are going to let it dry and hang it up. The leader and trailer portions are always the last to dry and they don’t matter anyway. I use a space in my garage with a small pan under the film to catch drops of Stabilizer. I fold the leader over at the top of the film on a wire frame shelf that is about six and a half feet off the ground and the film hangs down without touching anything. A clothes pin/peg/clip holds the film to the shelf and another at the bottom to stop if from flapping about lose.

We squeegee excess stabilizer off the film. I personally also run my fingers gently down the film to remove the larger drops of stab from the film. This also spreads the liquid more thinly over the surface and remove those large blobs, so there are no or far fewer “water stains” left over. These of course are NOT water stains but chemical.

C-41 for me seems to suffer much less than B&W from this kind of problem. That said, I know some people also use photo-flow in C-41, but I find I just don’t need it. You might find differently, in which case use it in exactly the same dilution as you would for B&W and add it to the in the stab phase.

I now take the tank, spiral etc back into my kitchen and pour the stab back into the stock solution bottle from the jug.

Everything now gets washed. It must all be 100% clear of chemical so it takes more than just a quick rinse. I dry everything on clean towels and put it all away.

Just a quick word about the negatives. They will not appear to be completely clear and “orange” as you might expect from C-41 color negatives when they first come out of the tank. So long as the Blix is in good shape and you immersed the film in it for enough time (six and a half minutes) at the right temperature, then it will clear fully and take on the kind of color you expect as it dries.

When the negative strip is completely dry take it down and on a clean dry surface, cut off the leader and trailer. My storage bags take negatives in rows of five frames per row, so I cut the film into strips of five frames and insert them into the bags.

You might struggle to get negatives in the bags, in which case there is usually either too much moisture in the air or the cut edges of the film are catching on the storage bags. Heat the room a bit more to remove the moisture or try to hold the film flatter when you push it into the bag.

The next installment in this series looks at Black and White film processing and how it differs from C-41.

Back to Part 4     On to Part 6