First Roll - Home Process

Since getting the film camera back from the repairers, I have spent my time shooting an ongoing series of work about the people and place of Broome. While it is entirely shot in colour, I've been shooting separate photos in monochrome, that aren't part of the main body of work. A series set in the Kimberley, with this light, demands colour photography. Then again, all those tones, shades and textures are perfect for monochrome.

However, my transition back to film isn't just about the quality, colour and slow pace that is endemic with medium format photography. It's about process and part of that is developing film at home. Over the past few months, I have been getting the necessary equipment together: including a light proof bag where you unpack the film, a developing tank where you place the film and the three main chemicals which must be poured in a specific order, for set periods of time, to process the film..


I shot a fine grain film with a mix of landscape shots. Several were taken on low tide at Crab Creek at the foot of the mangroves focusing on the hundreds of shoots growing through the sand. A combination of soft light from the setting sun and the shadows from the overhead trees provided dividing lines and contrast. I composed it abstractly, making the photo more about texture, lines, and light. There were also two detail shots of a 3 ft  shark that had been washed up which I managed to capture just as a fly landed on its head, giving it a perfect sense of scale.

When it came to the development I aimed to be meticulous and double check my processes. The mistake I made was multi-tasking when I watched a YouTube video on home development on the laptop, in the kitchen, while dicing onions in preparation for dinner. I thought a quick chili con carne would simmer away while I got involved into processing my first film at home. I had done it a few weeks previously,with a friend so I figured the video would simply refresh my memory.

Wednesday night was my first solo attempt

Once the food was cooking I went back to the office, stuck my arms in the light proof tent and was ready to unwrap the film when I stopped and noticed that the zip was only closed halfway. That simple mistake would have let light in and ruined it. Then I unraveled the film, loading the edge onto the reel, threading it through the loading mechanism and ratcheting it along so it was neatly coiled and ready to sit in the development tank.

The thing is, it takes about two sentences to describe the process. It took me twenty five minutes to actually do.

Inside the bag everything got messy, quickly. The protective paper on the outside of the film was  strewn around like streamer paper at an office Christmas party. For the most part I wasn't 100% sure if what I was loading onto the reel was the protective paper itself or the actual film. I didn't want to leave fingerprints on the roll. so decided to wear white cotton gloves that I normally wear when handling negatives and therefore I could hardly make any sense of what I was handling. Added to that the humidity increased inside the bag making everything damp and more difficult to work with.

However, I managed it and went to get the food finalised while nostalgically imagining having a freshly cooked dinner twenty minutes later, as the negatives dried in the shower.

So naive.

The first step of development process is mixing the correct ratio of developer and water, which needs to be 20 C. It's a four minute process of agitation, rest, agitation and so on. Then you add stop solution to halt the development. Finally you fix the film with fixer so light no longer affects the negative, Simple. Should take about 15 minutes in total.

I was on course and had made it to the final stage. Out of habit, I shook the bottle of fixer and a drop landed on my foot. Did I open it beforehand and not remember? However, in the bathroom I saw the bottle of developer on the sink and realised I used the wrong chemical from the outset. This was confirmed when I opened the lid and saw that the foil was in tact. After a quick debrief with a friend I decided to start again to see if there was something to salvage from the negative.

Mid-way through the first stage he text me saying:

‘Sorry mate. My prediction is you will come out with completely clear film. But that’s just my prediction, lets see what happens :)

I knew he was probably right but I had to carry on. Once I completed the three step process again I sent him a pic of the results and jokingly asked:


'think it's underexposed?'

Humour is hard to convey via text.

He replied,

“Nah, like i said the fixer removed all the unprocessed silver halide, which was everything... because it hadn’t been through the development process of darkening and processing the halide that had come in contact with the light.”

As a result of getting the chemicals mixed up the film was entirely wiped clean. I've since mentioned this to three photographers about developing and cooking at the same time and on every occasion, every one of them winced at the thought of the multi tasking fiasco described above.

Lessons learnt. Do one thing, do it right.

And always read the label.