Top ways students get unsatisfactory results in the darkroom

  1. Overexposing prints and then pulling them out of the developer tray "when they look right." Results: muddy, low contrast pictures with a mottled look. Solution: tell them to always develop prints "to completion" - at least a minute with RC papers - and if the prints are too dark, close down the enlarger lens or make a shorter exposure.
  2. Failure to dilute stop bath properly. Results: severe curl on negatives, student is back in your store buying stop bath too often.  Solution: read the directions. Stop bath is like Tabasco sauce - if you buy more than a bottle a year you're doing something wrong.
  3. Inadequate agitation of prints in the trays. Prints stick together or are unevenly developed or fixed. Solution: insert prints in developer face down, invert, make sure they get thoroughly wet quickly. Don't try to keep too many prints in a tray at once.
  4. Film stuck together on reel. Reason: beginners try to load their first rolls of film in darkness, on stainless steel reels. Solution: give them an outdated roll to practice in the daylight. Have people start with easy-loading plastic reels such as Paterson or a clone. I suspect more students have given up on advanced photography because their teachers made them start with stainless steel reels than any other single reason.
  5. Use of exhausted chemistry. We've had teachers send students back to us saying we'd sold them "defective paper" because no image would appear. Fortunately we have a darkroom and have always been able to make an excellent print from the "defective paper.".
  6. Using the wrong safelight. TV shows red safelights being used for everything. Red safelights fog variable contrast papers. Almost all safelights fog film. A student may inadvertently buy Panalure paper, which is designed for making excellent black and white prints from color negatives. This paper requires the same type of safelight as color paper. One store puts a laser-printed label on every pack of Panalure that says "Special Purpose Paper: for black and white prints from color negatives. Cannot be used with standard safelights. Are you sure this is what you want?"

A simple, repeatable way to develop black and white film

  1. Mix Chemicals in advance:
    • Kodak HC-110 film developer to "dilution B" strength. Use 1/2 ounce full-strength developer and 15 1/2 oz. water at 68 degrees. (20 C)
    • Kodak indicator stop bath: 1/4 oz concentrate, 15 3/4 oz. water at 68 degrees (20 C).
    • Kodafix Fixer: 4 oz concentrate, 12 oz. water at 68 degrees. (20 C).
    • Kodak Photoflo 200 - diluted 200 parts of water to one part of Photoflo - most photographers throw a half-capful into 16 ounces of water.
  2. Load film in tank.
  3. Develop for the following time, with 5 seconds agitation every 30 seconds:
    • Tri-X Pan - 7 1/2 minutes
    • Plus X- 4 3/4 minutes
    • Tmax 100- 6 minutes
    • Tmax 400- 6 1/2 minutes
    • Ilford FP4 Plus @ ISO 125 - 5 minutes
    • Ilford FP4 Plus @ ISO 200 - 8 minutes
    • Ilford HP5 Plus @ ISO 400 - 5 minutes
    • Ilford HP5 Plus @ ISO 800 - 7 1/2 minutes
    • Ilford HP5 Plus @ ISO 1600 - 11 minutes
    • Ilford 400 Delta Professional @ ISO 200 - 6 minutes
    • Ilford 400 Delta Professional @ ISO 400 - 7 1/2 minutes
    • Ilford 400 Delta Professional @ ISO 800 - 10 minutes
    • Ilford 400 Delta Professional @ ISO 1600 - 14 minutes
    • Fuji Neopan 400 @ISO 400 - 6 minutes
    • Fuji Neopan 400 @ISO 800 - 8 1/2 minutes
    • Fuji Neopan 400 @ISO 1600 - 14 1/2 minutes
    • Fuji Neopan 1600 @ISO 400 -  6 1/4 minutes
    • Fuji Neopan 1600 @ISO 800 -  9 minutes
    • Fuji Neopan 1600 @ISO 1600 -  14 1/2 minutes
  4. Pour out developer and discard. Pour in Kodak Indicator Stop Bath, diluted as per instructions. Agitate continuously for 30 seconds.
  5. Pour out stop bath and discard.
  6. Pour in Kodak Kodafix, diluted as per instructions.
  7. Agitate by inverting tank five times every 30 seconds, for a total of 5 minutes (8 minutes for Tri X Pan).
  8. Pour out Kodafix. You may save this for developing prints. If so, after you use it to develop film, dilute it with an equal volume of water before using it for paper.
  9. Wash in running water for 10 minutes at 68 degrees.
  10. Soak in Kodak Photoflo, diluted per instructions (200-1) for thirty seconds with agitation.
  11. Hang to dry, someplace where the cat can't bat at it.

PUSHING film: to increase the effective film speed one f-stop (ISO 400 becomes 800), increase the developing time only by 50%.

All developing times are recommended starting times - should be adjusted for individual preferences.