How to Develop Photo Negatives in a Dark Room

Written by gary macfadden
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How to Develop Photo Negatives in a Dark Room
You can develop black and white and colour negatives in your own dark room in less than a half hour. (filmroll image by NatUlrich from

Developing photo negatives is not difficult, and it’s fun to open the developing tank at the end of the process to see what images you have captured. Fewer chemicals are required for developing negative film, and the tolerances for maintaining times and temperatures are looser, than for colour transparency (slide) film.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Developing tank and reel
  • Developer solution
  • Stop bath solution
  • Fixer solution
  • Plastic tub for water bath
  • Timer or stopwatch
  • Clothespins

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  1. 1

    Place your measured chemicals in glass or plastic containers in a water bath that is at the correct processing temperature. A plastic dish washing tub works well for this. Consult the developing chart that came with your film. There is usually a combination of time and temperature, e.g. a development time of 7 minutes at 20 degrees Celsius, or 5 minutes at 23.9 degrees Celsius.

  2. 2

    Turn off the lights to load film onto the developing reel. Before opening the undeveloped film, let your eyes adjust so you can make sure there are no light leaks which can strike and fog the film. Open 35-mm film canisters with a bottle cap opener, or carefully remove the protective paper around a 120-mm roll of film.

  3. 3

    Wind the film onto a metal or plastic film reel with the lights still off. Fitting the film into the grooves of the film reel requires some practice. Place the loaded film reel into the developing tank and put the lid on. If you are working with a daylight tank, you can turn on the dark room lights once the film is in the developing tank with the lid secured.

  4. 4

    Fill the developing tank with water at the correct processing temperature, and rap the tank smartly on the bottom to dislodge any air bubbles. Continuously agitate the tank, letting the water swell the emulsion. To agitate a stainless steel developing tank with a capped lid, hold the tank with your thumb securing the lid so it won’t fall off. Smoothly tilt the tank to the left, then to the right. Some plastic developing tanks have a stem in the cap that you twist to agitate the film while the developing tank remains in the water bath.

  5. 5

    Pour the water out of the tank and pour in the developer solution. Start a timer for the correct developing time, and continue to agitate the film at consistent intervals during processing. Consult your film’s development instructions for the correct agitation interval. When you’re not agitating the tank, keep it in the water bath to maintain the solution temperature.

  6. 6

    Pour out the developer solution five seconds before the end of the development cycle and immediately pour in the stop bath solution. This slightly acidic mixture will halt the developing action. Agitate the tank continuously for 30 to 60 seconds. Then empty the stop bath out of the tank.

  7. 7

    Pour the fixer solution into the tank. Agitate the tank continuously for the first minute and then every 30 seconds for a total of five minutes, or for the period of time specified in your film development instructions. In many development combinations, the developer and stop bath solutions are poured into the drain, but you can save the fixer for processing additional rolls of film.

  8. 8

    Open the developing tank at the end of the fixer cycle and let clean water at the correct processing temperature run through the tank for five minutes. Carefully unroll the film from the reel and gently dip the film through a shallow dish filled with a soapy solution called Photo-Flo. This will help the film surface dry without residue on it. Hang the film with film clips or clothespins in a clean environment where it will not be disturbed while drying, such as a bathroom after you’ve run the shower to fill the air with moisture.

Tips and warnings

  • You can sacrifice a roll of film and practice with the lights on, and then with your eyes shut, to get the feel for loading the film correctly. Film that is crooked on the developing reel can touch adjacent layers in the spiral and ruin your images.
  • You can develop colour negative film using the same procedures, but you’ll have several more chemicals, depending on the chemistry that you use. For example, some developing kits combine a bleach and fix solutions. You’ll also need to pay closer attention to maintaining the chemicals at the indicated processing temperature when working with colour film.

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