Developing C-41 At Home, part 1

After my last experience with film developing at my local pharmacy, I was a bit wary about taking film anywhere. I did some research and found that many places—including Walmart and virtually any store that has to send off your film to be developed—no longer return negatives.

This probably makes sense for most people, maybe—those that get a free single use at a party or something and decide to shoot it and develop it and that only want to post some small files to the effbook, anyway—but for anyone with a passing interest in analog photography and a way to scan film, the tiny, low quality scans you get from Walgreen’s mail-order service just don’t quite cut it.

So I had film stacking up—a single-use camera that expired in 2002 and had been stored in a metal filing cabinet for many years before finding its way into my hand, where it was kept in a drawer until I pulled it out and took it to the Udhiya on Eid al Adha; a roll from the Ricoh 35 ZF that I started in 2011 (I think); a couple of rolls from the LC-A of various vintages; one recent one from the Espio—but no place to develop them locally after I heard that BWC stopped processing (though its website still claims to handle everything…).

Ted Forbes shared some C-41 developing notes (part one, on supplies; part two, where the fun actually takes place) on The Art of Photography, but I didn’t really want to spend the $100 or so, and, to be honest, I was a bit scared.

But then I won another award at Equifax and suddenly had a gift card that would cover all the supplies (and I had an ulterior motive that, sadly, did not work out), so I said “Bismillah” and went for it: I ordered two sets of chemicals, some brown glass jars, a tub, a Paterson Super System 4 two reel tank, a darkbag, and a couple of other things that I didn’t end up using.

Everything arrived much quicker than I expected and then they sat around the office for a bit, looking a bit intimidating.

Then one day—I’m not exactly sure how many days elapsed, or what day I started… the first attempt was scanned 21 December, 2014, but I think that was the second scan, after I learned some new things: more on that later—I got home from work and with a “Bismillah” went for it with the film from that expired single use and the recent roll from the Espio.

I’ll spare you the play-by-play: Ted Forbes does a great job, and the instructions that come with the chemicals are clear. I might one day shoot some video of the process or something, though I don’t really know what I’m going to get up to this year on the blog: no projects planned, but I do hope to shoot a good deal more film.

I do have one piece of advice, though: the Paterson tank holds a surprising amount of liquid.

 

This is what happens when you stop filling the tank when a bit of bubbles appear: the bubbles will pop and leave the top-most reel half-submerged. The picture above is from the end of the roll, where it was taped to the spindle. The top half was in the developer for the appropriate amount of time; the bottom half only got it during the inversion cycles (but did get a full dip of the blix).

This error made for some fun with the processing.

Following the process described by John Amon, I first invert the negative. (It took some fiddling with the tone curve panel, so I made a preset straight away.)

I then set the white balance from the frame counter, or some other object a the edge of the film.

I then tweak until I get something that looks good-enough. These were scanned backwards due to some unfortunate twisting in the developed negatives, so I flipped it too.

Voila!

Impressive, yes?

(Note the cloud-shaped form in the lower left third… Hard Water is not the at-home film-developer’s friend.)

It was fun playing with the results, though I wonder what this roll would’ve looked like with appropriate processing. I expect it would’ve been a bit purple.

 

With the Graduated Filter tool in Lightroom, I found I could get close to a picture that looked something like what I saw.

And converted to black & white, I could get something approaching interesting, almost.

But I’m glad I didn’t make this error with other, later developing attempts (and I’m glad the roll on the reel at the bottom of the tank got a full dose of developer: a few good ones on that roll, methinks…).

I do quite like the picture at the top of this page, though, just as it is, and I think with some prior planning, this error could turn into a technique worthy of further exploration.

Winn Dixie-branded Fuji System 800 disposable camera, presented to Hank (my dearly departed step dad) in a Christmas stocking in the late 1990s, if I recall, developed at home, and processed in Lightroom 5.

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