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Developing a C41 colour film

Being in complete control of your results helps ensure better photographs. One way is to process your own C41 colour films.

| Film Developing

Developing a C41 colour film

Words Paul Gurney

I am often asked if I enjoy wedding photography and my answer has always been yes - but only because I develop and print my own films. I would not accept a booking if I could not do this. You can only obtain a first class print from a first class negative, so the initial part of the equation is to obtain that perfect negative.

C41 is the generic term for all colour negative processing. Many photographers think that all C41 film developed in any lab will always have the same results. Wrong - diverse brands of developer, bleach and fix affect the colour mask of the film, also a blix (Combined bleach/fix) will leave residual silver on the film, which appears as grain on the print.

One of the main advantages of developing your own colour film is gaining consistency in the negatives, which will lead to easier printing. Take a film to a lab that has just changed its chemicals and you will find differing results from those developed prior to the change. The machine is designed to replenish at a given rate per film, but many things affect replenishment rates. Humidity and ambient temperature are two of the main factors.
Also a lab will seldom push/pull negative films, but I do it most of the time, due to the fact that wedding photographs are rarely taken in perfect light on a perfect day.

What you need
Chemical requirements are a good quality C41 developer and keeping to the same manufacturer and supplier. If you switch brands the colour balance of prints will alter. Most important is a separate bleach and fix for the reasons I have previously stated. (I have tried many Blix's and have not found one that has been successful).
   Having used many types of processors over the years, Nova's Dip Dunk has proved itself the quickest and simplest to use and clean. Temperature control is most important and the Novastat, which controls the Dip Dunk, is very efficient in maintaining the temperature at 38C. Although half a degree over is acceptable, any drop in temperature, however small, is totally unacceptable.

Complete darkness is essential, no LED, red, orange, green or amber - any light will fog the film.

1 Load your film onto a spiral. If you use an llford film retriever you can pull out the leader, clip off the tapered bit and connect the film onto a spiral with a light on. 

2 After starting the film, turn all lights off and complete the loading onto the spiral. Slide the spiral on the centre column and you are now ready to start developing. A little piece of advice, remove only the cover from the developing pot at this stage so you cannot accidentally place the film in anything other than the developer. Slowly lower the centre column with spiral into the developer.

3 Start the timer (normally 3 minute 15 secs) and gently agitate up, down and round for 45secs. Rest for 30 secs and agitate for 15 secs.

4 Before the finish time, lift the spiral gently out of the developer, allow 5 secs to drain then lower into the bleach, the cover for which should have been removed after the film was lowered into the developer. Agitate as before, the length of time depending on manufacturers instructions and remove after the appropriate time.

5 Lower into fixer and agitate like you did with the developer and bleach.
The most important point in developing films is that the agitation should be consistent for best results.

6 Remove and allow to drain, than wash for 10mins in warm water, if you use cold water reticulation will occur, which will cause a coarse grain effect to appear on the print.

7 Remove from the water and shake off any excess. I wipe the film with a very soft chamois leather that has been boiled for a couple of hours, hang and allow to dry in a completely dust free atmosphere.
I dry films at 80C for 10 minutes, the heat is then turned off and the films are allowed to rest for a couple of hours.

Remember good quality negatives lead to happy and stress free printing


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