Playing The Long Game: Outdoor Photography With Telezooms

The first film


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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The first film

20 Apr 2020 9:24AM   Views : 414 Unique : 274


So you’ve got your equipment, and you’ve run a film through a camera. Now, the daunting bit: loading the first film into your developing tank, and using the chemicals on it. Both are really easy, once you’ve done them a few times.

Loading a tank requires a little bit of dexterity, but mostly it works because you do the right things first. For instance, the tank spiral needs to be clean and dry: if it’s damp, things WILL go wrong.

You need to work in the dark. This can be in a darkroom, or a changing bag (a black cloth bag with elasticated sleeves so that you can get your hands in, but light can’t follow them. Or you can do it under the bedclothes in your bedroom at night, or under a dark coat under the bedclothes. Or even in a large wardrobe in a darkened room (I did that once, at university, for someone who was having a lot of trouble loading a tank. It took me under a minute – but the first time, it may well take longer!)

Preparation is everything. Make sure that the spiral is on the centre column, with the locking collar in position. Have the tank body and inner lid easily to hand, so that you can find them in a couple of seconds by feel. Get the end of the film ready to feed into the spiral by shaping the end so that there are no edges to catch on the spiral.

Most cameras leave quite a length of film without images at the start, so it’s sensible to engage the film with the ball bearings in the spiral before you go dark.

Then, with the light off, or under the bedclothes, move the two sides of the spiral back and forth, winding the film into the spiral. Only stop when you can’t pull any more film out of the cassette.

Put the spiral in the tank, with the film at the bottom, and put the inner lid on, turning until it clicks locked.


The only other thing you need under the duvet and coat blackout is a pair of scissors, to cut the film off next to the cassette.

Now, to the wet side…

First, mix the fixer and put it in the bottle. Add a clear label – ‘Film fixer, prepared 20 April 2020’.

Wash the measuring cylinder out – those who did chemistry at school will know you need to do this three times to be sure. Don’t miss a drip on the underside of the pouring lip.

Put the bottle to stand in a couple of inches of warmish water in the kitchen bowl.

Mix cold and hot water in the measuring cylinder, stirring with the thermometer, adding and pouring away until the temperature is 20ᵒ Centigrade. Then pour away a little water so that when you add the concentrated developer you end up with precisely the right volume – for instance, if you are using Rodinal, pour 12ml away from your 300ml of water.

Measure the developer with the small measuring cylinder or syringe, and add to the water. Stir for a moment.

Now the tricky bit: you must follow the process now until the developer is out of the tank and you’ve got some rinse water in. Time and temperature are critical. Either use a countdown timer on your mobile, or the secondhand on a watch to be precise.

Pour the developer into the tank, and put the outer lid on carefully (but rapidly!) Turn the tank upside down a couple of times, then tap it on the draining board. Every 30 seconds, turn the tank upside down three times.

Fill the measuring cylinder with water and put it in the kitchen bowl so that it is the same temperature as the fixer by the time you need it.

30 seconds before the end of the developing time, unclip the outer lid, so that right on the dot, you can pour the developer out and pour the rinse water in.

Pour the developer out as fast as you can, and pour the rinse water in. Use the agitation spindle (usually known as the twiddler) to move the film around in the water for 30 seconds, then pour out the water and pour in the fixer.

You can now unlock the inner lid and look at the film. If you’re very fast, you’ll see the milkiness of unexposed emulsion before the fixer ‘clears’ it. Use the twiddler to agitate the film in the fixer every few seconds for as long as the instructions suggest, then pour the fixer back into the bottle, and pour in plain water.

Change the water a couple of times, making sure that you rinse the outside as well as the inside of the tank.

Then use the Ilford archival procedure to wash the film. It’s really important to remove all the fixer from the emulsion, as well as the surface of the film.

The method involves three changes of water. Use water at or slightly above the developing temperature, and:
1 with the first tankful of water, lift the spiral out and put it back in the water ten times;
2 twenty times with the second tankful; and
3 forty with the third tankful.
This should take at least a couple of minutes, allowing fixer that has been absorbed by the emulsion to seep out into the wash.

Finally, change the water again, and add a couple of drops of washing up liquid and agitate the film. This will help avoid drying marks on the film.

After a minute to soak, hang the film up to dry is a place where it can remain undisturbed for a couple of hours.

When the film is dry, take it down and cut into strips of six frames each. If you have 37 or 38 exposures on the film, cut strips of five and six, to avoid having a strip of one, two three or four frames, which are more difficult to handle if you do darkroom prints. Store the strips in an envelope, or, ideally, negative sleeves.

Phew! That was hard work – both writing down methodically – and doing, if you have done…

Additional tips:
1 A little planning helps a lot. Shape the end of the film so that the corners are rounded, and there are no sprocket holes right at the edge.
2 If you’re nervous of loading the spiral, it’s worth using up an expired and remaindered film to practice: best to use an unexposed film, though – you never know what might be on a film that’s in a camera!
3 Make sure that your hands understand everything, as well as your brain. For instance, practice locking the inner lid of the tank onto the body repeatedly, so that you know from the feel and the sound precisely when it’s engaged properly. It’s so frustrating when the top falls off and a partly-developed film spills out into the sink.
4 It may help to write out the essential steps on a sheet of paper, with any notes that you will find useful. Writing out the list for yourself will help you embed it in your memory.


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chase Avatar
chase Plus
18 2.5k 682 England
20 Apr 2020 10:36AM
Reminds me of the days of film processing in the big hospital darkrooms, red lights, light traps ( ooo so much mischief Wink ) and the chemical smelly stuff.
We could always tell when it was silver recovery time.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
20 Apr 2020 10:59AM
Many years ago, I was a DHSS NHS external auditor. I did have a bit of a special interest in silver recovery, and the various ways it was done.

I love the way that a big darkroom can have a maze to avoid any risk of light getting in: and my friend Matt at Ag Photogrpahic has acquired some of the rotary light trap doors, like the security doors that you sometimes see in modern spy stuff: different in that the photographic ones are black metal instead of bulletproof (I assume) Perspex.

My darkroom may be tidy enough to post a picture by the end of the week. Possibly. The light trapping consists of black matt paint in hte door rebates, and Jessops black plastic blinds permanently attached to the window and glass panes in the door. And a sign my wife kindly got me that says 'Black Hole'...

It's so small that it's embarrassing to have anyone in there with me. social distancing is not possible.

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