The kitchen sink darkroom

If you’ve ever thought of developing your own black and white film but don’t have the space for a darkroom, don’t despair. As long as you have a kitchen sink, a table or worktop and enough cupboard space to store a washing up bowl you have plenty of room. And there’s even better news – you don’t need to spend money on making your kitchen light-proof. Most of the work can be done in the light.

Doing it yourself saves you money. Once you’ve got your hands on the equipment, the chemicals you’ll use can work out at just a few pence a film so you’ll soon recoup the set up costs in savings on lab processing. Plus it’s fun – there’s nothing like that moment you see the negatives fresh from the developing tank and know that you’ve done the whole thing yourself.

picnic bench

Outside the Schönbiel hut, above Zermatt

And once you’ve got some experience you can try different developers and techniques to get the best out of your negatives. You’ll be able to finely tune the process to ensure you get the outcome you want, not what the lab thinks you should have.

I’m not going to go into the how to here, that will be covered in another blog post. This is more of a what and why.

Essentials

You can buy most things from a good camera shop or on-line. And you probably already have some items  you’ll need lying unused at the back of your kitchen cupboard and the rest you can get second-hand. (Try your local freegle or freecycle as an alternative to ebay.)

home developing kit

Click on the photo to view the annotated version on flickr

Keeping it light-tight

You’ll need a developing tank – this is the one thing you can’t easily improvise. The tanks have a baffle system that exclude light while allowing you to add chemicals.  The major brands are Paterson and Jobo and each have their devotees.

You need a dark place to load the film – though I’ve heard of people getting under the duvet with the curtains and bedroom door closed, I wouldn’t recommend it as it would be impossible to know for sure that you’d excluded all light.

If you do have a room that you can make light-tight, check it out by making it as light-proof as you can and waiting at least 5 – 10 minutes. It takes your eyes longer than you’d think to adjust to the dark so take your time. If you can see any light at all you need to seal it up and test again.

The other option is to use a changing bag – a black bag made of dense fabric with two arm holes – mine is a double layer with a zip at one end for putting the tank, scissors and a can opener to open 35mm film. There are elasticated sleeves at the other end so you can slip your arms in without any light entering. Once your hands are inside and the film is out of the canister you shouldn’t remove them until the film is safely inside the tank.

An old bottle opener helps get the film out of the canister, but you can buy a purpose-built film retriever to pull the film out without opening it up. You’ll need a pair of scissors to trim each end of the film.

Mixing it up

You’ll need something to measure out the chemicals – you can buy graduated measuring cylinders from specialist shops or get some accurate measuring jugs from a pro cook store for a fraction of the price.

For mixing you can improvise with an old plastic chopstick, or something similar.

You’ll need some containers to mix and store your chemicals in. Some people use cleaned out and clearly labelled plastic drinks bottles but purpose-made storage bottles can make it easier to mix, pour and measure temperature.

A darkroom thermometer is vital – mine floats and has the optimum temperature of 20 °C clearly marked. You should be able to pick one up fairly cheaply.

Drying

You can hang your films to dry in the bathroom or the kitchen. Unless you have a washing line in there you’ll probably need a length of string to hang the film on – looped around the shower head or anywhere you can leave your films with some air gaps around them. A pair of clips – you can use bulldog clips or clothes pegs but you really need some weight on the bottom clip to help the film dry straight. Curled negatives make the scanning process much harder.

Storage

Use a large washing up bowl or a plastic storage box to stow your gear. It can double up as a water bath to help get your chemicals to the right temperature.

Equipment list

  1. developing tank
  2. film changing bag (or light tight room)
  3. measuring jugs
  4. thermometer
  5. mixing bottles x3
  6. funnel
  7. film clips
  8. developing tank
  9. can opener or film retriever
  10. storage bowl or box

And that’s it. Home developing is really easy if you get some good instructions and follow them. So why not give it a go?

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