B&W chemistry film processing and printing

Film processing

One of our tasks for the Techniques&Processes module was to learn how to shoot, process and print photographs using black and white chemistry film and paper.

To begin with I want to mention that it was quite fascinatingly to photo shoot in black and white using a film camera. You don’t have a chance to view an image after it was taken and so you don’t know whether it was made correctly or needs another try. You have to make decisions, take a photo and cross your fingers hoping that everything went fine. In my case everything didn’t go fine at first because I didn’t understand how the focus works, so a part of my photographs aren’t in focus. The second challenge was necessity to imagine world in monochrome. To do that I tried to squint my eyes so that colours wouldn’t be so bright but light and shades would be seemed clearly. That’s a little tip from drawing lessons. And the final difficulty was that I had only 36 exposure film. Comparing to digital camera it’s almost nothing, so you really have to think twice before shooting.

On the other day we were processing our films in a darkroom and here I have to say that I feel disoriented in the dark. Eventually we had a chance to practice to put a film on a spindle before we turned the lights off. Also we were told about health and safety in the room – no drinks or food; gloves, googles and coats are provided for those who need them, don’t splash or drink process liquids, remember what and where is located.

So we had to turn lights off and to stay in full darkness until films were fixed. At first I had to open a film box with an opener, take the film out, cut it, put it in a spindle, wrap it and cut the other end. Because I had cut the minimum of the film from the both sides and had a long film of 36 exposures, I couldn’t wrap all the film, so I had to leave it as it was. When later I saw ready negatives I understood that I could cut much more without damaging negatives. Then we put our spindles on a tube and sank them in chemistry for 7.5 minutes agitating it every 60 seconds to distribute chemicals evenly. Then into water for 30 seconds. Then into fixer for 5 minutes shaking it every 60 seconds again. And finally, after the films were fixed, we switched the lights back on. I had a feeling I spent hours in the darkness. After the fixer had done it’s work, we put the tube with our spindles in water for 20 minutes or more. At last we covered our films with cleaning agent, wiped it and put to the drying cabinet hanging until dry.


Printing from negatives is done in a darkroom with only red lights on to prevent light-sensitive paper from exposing. Health and safety rules in the room are similar to those in the film processing darkroom – no drinks or food, no splashing or drinking process liquids, personal belongings should be kept away from working and walking area.

Photographic paper should be kept in dark envelopes or bags and taken out of it by one sheet only when you’re ready to print from a negative. Negatives should be kept clean or you can get an image of dust printed on photograph. Darkroom has a system of two doors, so no light comes from outside of the room if someone is going out or in. When you’re leaving the darkroom while someone is printing from negatives, you should knock on the first door to make sure no one is currently opening the second door. If you hear no response, walk through the first door, close it and only then open the second one and exit. The same system works for entering the darkroom.

At first we had to print a contact sheet by placing all the negatives on a photographic sheet of paper and exposing it. Then the sheet is put into developer until it stops becoming any darker. Then it’s put into water, then into fixer and into water again. After that it should be left for drying. Technology is pretty much similar to film processing at this point. After contact sheet is ready, you can choose which negatives to print.

contact_sheet 001

To print from a negative I placed it into an enlarger upside down, changed cyan, magenta and yellow values to get grey grade 3, adjusted focus to get sharp image, covered most of the paper with a card and turned enlarger’s light on. Then I moved card to leave more area of the sheet opened and turned the light on again for 3 more seconds. I repeated this process 4 more times. After developing and fixing the photograph I had an image with 6 different exposure times – 18/15/12/9/6/3 seconds.

3gg_3-18sec 001

I evaluated the result which was the best for 9 and 12 seconds and made one more print with exposure time 10.5 seconds. It was better, but still not perfect. Contrast was two large and details weren’t visible in the dark areas. And the image was too dark so, maybe, 9 seconds would do better job.

3gg_10-5sec 001

So I changed the grey grade to 2 to reduce the contrast and increased the exposure time to 11 seconds to avoid making the photograph too light. More details became visible, but it lost advantages of more contrast image.

2gg_11sec 001

Finally, I decided to use the average grey grade of 2.5 to let more details in and to keep the contrast at the same time. I reduced the exposure time to 9.5 seconds.

2-5gg_9-5sec 001

In the result I achieved this compromise between the details and the contrast that I was aiming for.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: