Your Guide to Film Photography

Updated: Apr 25, 2021

For this month’s photography tutorial, we will take a look into the vast world of film photography and discover how to process film.

So grab your film camera and your roll of film and let’s get started.

What you’ll need:

  • A film camera

  • At least one roll of film

  • A Darkroom

  • Developing equipment and chemicals

  • Darkroom chemicals

  • Darkroom Photographic Paper

  • Enlarger

  • Divided plastic pockets (4 sections for large format and 7 sections for 35mm film)

  • Developing Trays

  • The Viewfinder

  • Sink

  • Extra Tray

  • Glass pane and thin cardboard

  • Plastic Tongs

  • Masking Frame

  • Focus Finder

  • Drying Machine for Enlargements

Pull up the rewind knob, located on the left side of the camera, until the back of the camera opens.

Pull enough film into the “take-up spool” and place the film in the left side of the camera, pushing the rewind knob to make sure the film doesn’t fall out of the pocket.

Insert the narrow end of the film that you took out of the slot on the right. Use the film advance to ensure the film is way inside the spool and won’t come off. Do this twice with the back open.

Close the back of the camera and use the film advance again twice so the exposed film is out of the way.

If the film has been loaded properly, the rewind knob will turn every time you can crank the film advance lever and take a photo.

Make sure the film speed is to your preference by rotating the shutter speed ring to your preferred speed. This controls the length of exposure.

Make sure your light meter is never below 60 as this will make your negatives underexposed.

When you are unable to advance the film any more, the film is finished. Under the camera is a little button, which is called the rewind release button. Once pressed, the button will lock into place.

Pull the release handle up (on the left side of the camera).

There will be an arrow, indicating clockwise movement. Move the handle in a clockwise motion until the red line on the right side of the camera disappears, or until it becomes easier to rewind. This means the film is back inside the canister. Open the back of the camera and take the film canister out.

The rest, you MUST do in a darkroom.

You will need a developing tank and a reel for when you go into the darkroom. The containers and reels have to be dry.

Make sure you have all the components to the container: the lid, the inner core, the funnel, and the container itself. You will also need scissors or a canister opener to take the film strip out.

Cut off the first part of the film that is smaller than the rest. Load your film onto your reel, making sure the silver balls on the reel are lined up.

Pinching the film gently, insert the film onto the reel and over the ball bearings. Ratchet it on by moving the two sides of the reel in opposite directions until the entire film roll is on. Cut the canister off.

Place the inner core in the container and place your reel(s) over it, so they slide down. Place the lid and funnel firmly in place, ensuring the funnel is locked in place and no light can get to the film.

If all the chemicals are ready (the correct temperature of the water is 20 degrees celsius and the chemicals need to be diluted), you can begin developing the film. You need 300ml of each solution per 35mm film (or 500ml for 120 film).

First is the pre-wash. Pour the water into the container and close the lid tightly, pinching the sides. Agitate the container continuously for two minutes by tilting it side to side. Then pour the solution (water) down the sink.

Pour your developer solution in and tighten the lid. Agitate constantly for the first thirty second and then five agitations every thirty seconds for the next seven and a half minutes, tapping the container after every agitation to ensure no bubbles stick to the film.

Next is the Stop (water again). The solution will stop the developing process to prevent overexposure. For this, you must agitate constantly for for one minute.

After this is the Fix. The process is the same as the Developer (agitate constantly for the first thirty seconds then five agitations every thirty seconds) but for five minutes this time instead of eight. Make sure the fix solution is returned to the correct tub after processing instead of pouring it down the sink.

Now you can take the reels out of the container because next up is the wash. The wash is twenty minutes in a beaker of cold, running water.

After the twenty minutes, put your film reel into a tub (or back into the container) of water with one or two drops of wetting agent. Agitate twenty times by dipping in and out of the container. Remove the film strip from the reel and hang the film to dry using two pegs, one on either end so the film can’t curl up. The dryer settings should be on heat setting ‘1’ for 18 minutes, or you can leave it overnight.

Cut your film into strips of six negatives once dried. Put these strips into the plastic pocket sections. This will prevent dust and dirt getting onto your film strips, allowing perfectly clean contact sheets, enlargements, and no marks when you scan digitally.

Your film strips are now ready for darkroom work. Get your enlarger and photographic paper and let’s get started.

Assuming all your developing trays are all set up, you can now turn off the lights, except for the red safety light - if you’re working with colour film, you must be in complete darkness - and align your film strips.

First, we’ll do the test sheets. The test sheets determine how bright your enlarger light should be and how long the paper needs to be exposed to light for. This is where the cardboard comes in handy.

Set your light brightness to two-three clicks less than the brightest setting. Turn the light off and place your paper under the enlarger, glossy side up, making sure the light will cover the whole paper.

Place your film strips on top and then the glass pane to flatten the strips. Your cardboard will stop the light from reaching the strips so you can do different amounts of light on the one paper. Section the paper with the cardboard so only a piece of film is exposed and turn your light on for two seconds.

Then move the cardboard up, exposing a little bit more film. Turn the light on for another two seconds.

Repeat these steps until the whole piece of paper and all the strips have been exposed for at least two seconds.

Then you put the piece of paper in the first developer tray, agitating slightly for one-two minutes. Then pull it out with plastic tongs - this helps to avoid finger print marks.

Lightly shake the developer off and move it into the stop tray. This one is for 10-30 seconds, whilst agitating. After the thirty seconds repeat with the plastic tongs and move into the third tray. The paper will stay in here for one-two minutes while you agitate constantly (only ten seconds is needed if it’s a small test strip and not a full page).

Remove the sheet into your extra tray and leave the darkroom so you can see the test strip in the light. Decide which amount of time produced the best exposure and create another test strip with that timing just to double check. But the test strips in a sink or tray of cold, running water for at least 30 minutes.

With your final contact sheet, you can see your images clearly and choose which ones you want to make enlargements of.

This time, instead of putting the film strips under the enlarger, put them into the enlarger and align them so it’s just the one image in the light and no other light can get through. If the light can shine on the black parts of the film strip, it will show up on the paper. Using your masking frame, decide how big you want the image and change the light size and focus of your image accordingly. You can check the sharpness of your image using your focus finder.

Turn the light off and place your test strip paper. Repeat the previous steps of creating a test strip and developing it and then make the final enlargement when you’re ready.

For drying, small strips must dry naturally but larger strips can be dried quicker using the enlarger drying machine. Now, let’s look at our final images.

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