Processing your own film is a rewarding exercise and all part of the fun with black & white film photography. Matt Parry explains all.
If you grew up with film photography then you will no doubt remember the plethora of processing labs in supermarkets, high street and photo retailers. These labs were geared towards processing and printing the large volume of colour film that was being shot.
Despite evolving into online or mini-lab services catering primarily to digital prints, there are still many colour facilities on the high street, whereas the options for black & white film have always remained relatively limited. This is mainly because black & white film requires different and high street lab equipment was rarely configured for this process – justifiable given the once significant market share of colour film. While colour films would be processed in store, a black & white film would typically be outsourced to a specialist lab, or in larger chains sent to a central-processing facility. This often meant that the swift turnaround you could expect from your local lab was just not possible with black & white film.
While you may not find dedicated black & white labs on the high street, there are some excellent options that offer processing, prints, scanning and enlargement services, also offer true black & white prints from digital files, thus avoiding metamerism: colour shifts under different lighting caused when printing a black & white image using colour.
You may wonder why, in an article about processing your own film, I have started by talking about labs. Well, I have started this way because, typically, this is the path that most photographers take. It is therefore important to understand the options available as well as the context and merits of each. While the number of black & white labs is still fewer than colour ones, it is far easier to process a black & white film at home than it is to process a colour film. This makes home processing an excellent choice that all black & white film photographers should try.
When to retain control
As photographers we know that capturing the image is only part of the process. That final image is rarely concluded in-camera, and in both film and digital photography we have further options and control over how that image will look.
While people are generally familiar with the concept of darkroom printing as the precursor to certain Photoshop techniques, many don’t appreciate that when processing your film, the choice and development times can also affect the final look.
Labs will typically use the regardless of the film stock (with processing time adjusted to the film speed and any push/pull instructions from the photographer). While this achieves a consistent and balanced output and removes any risk of processing error, you may like the way a certain
works with your preferred film stock, that is, exploiting the film’s speed or reducing its grain structure. Processing your own film retains that option.
Sending a film off to a lab is certainly easy and the wait to get your and not excessive. However, for those who need quick access to the negs, then home processing definitely wins out.
The kit required to process your own film is simple and affordable. This makes the route a very cost-effective method. The standard kit comprises a few specialist pieces of equipment plus a number of regular household items, which can be upgraded as needed. The only true ongoing costs.