How To Develop Film At Home

Having worked in a film lab for for a few years, photographer Hunter Lacey shares her knowledge on how to develop your own C-41 & black and white film at home.

Ilford - How to develop film at home.

I’ve been taking photos with film for a few years now, but was always heavily reliant on my digital camera when I needed a fast turnaround on my photos. In 2018, though, I began doing research for darkrooms in the area I live in (Dallas, Texas), and came across Lone Star Darkroom. That place became my hub for developing my latest rolls and I became a bit addicted to the process (and how quickly I’d get to see my photos, often the same day I shot the roll.)

When the pandemic hit, shooting film became an even more necessary outlet for me. I knew I’d need to figure out an at-home setup for developing if I wanted to see my photos as quickly as I’d gotten used to.

At that point, I was primarily a color film shooter, so that’s what I started with.

My favorite color films to shoot with are Kodak Portra 800, available in 35mm and 120mm, and Kodak Portra 400, also available in 35mm and 120mm. Something else I love to do for more casual, daily life shooting is just grab a disposable camera and go. It’s amazing how much you can get out of a little box of plastic if you shoot in good daylight or use the flash.

Photo By: Hunter Lacey

Photo By: Hunter Lacey

Photo By: Hunter Lacey

C-41 (Color) Developing

For chemicals, Cinestill makes a kit that includes all the chemicals you’ll need to create the developer, blix (bleach and fixer combination), and stabilizer. Mixing up the chemicals is surprisingly easy – you just follow the instructions included on a sheet in the box you receive.

It’s important to note that the water needs to be 120 degrees Fahrenheit when you are mixing up both the developer and blix chemicals. It only needs to be 102 degrees Fahrenheit, though, when you’re actually developing the film.

Here’s what you’ll need to develop all your film at home:

Not a need but will make your life much easier:

After you’ve acquired all of those things and mixed up your chemicals at the proper temperature, set your chemicals in the basin filled with water set to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (set and regulated by the sous vide).

Then, you’ll need to go into complete darkness to load your film onto reels that you’ll place directly into the developing tank and close with the lightsafe lid. I’ve found that a closet with a towel placed up against the bottom seam of the door works perfectly for complete darkness. You might want to draw the shades on any nearby windows for extra safety.

After you’ve loaded the film into the developing tank, you simply follow the instructions included in the Cinestill kit. The instructions say to “agitate” the chemicals occasionally throughout development. This involves gently turning the tank upside down then right-side up. Agitation occurs during the first 10 seconds of each minute of development, typically.

Once you rinsed and stabilized your film, it’s ready to hang up to dry. I’ll typically hang my film from our shower rack which my husband just loooves (hehe). Film dries in a few hours, typically.

This is my C41 developing setup. The sous vide warms up the water which in turn warms up the chemicals, and it regulates the temperature for the entire session.

Once those chemicals are at 102 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re ready to go!

Developer goes in! The cinestill C41 kit comes with a guide that I stick to my mirror. It tells me exactly what to do and for how long. Developer stays in the tank for 3.5 minutes and I agitate for ~10 seconds every 30 seconds.

Developer goes back into its chemical container.

The blix chemicals then go into the tank for 8 minutes. Agitate ~10 seconds every 30 seconds. Blix goes back into its chemical container.

Rinse the tank in running water for 3 minutes.

Stabilizer (which is kept at room temperature) goes into the tank for 1 minute. You’ll agitate for the first 15 seconds.

Stabilizer goes back into its container.

The best part!

From this... this!

Black and White Developing

I began developing black and white film a couple months after I learned color film development. Black and white is actually easier because you don’t have to worry about the temperature as the chemicals will do their job at room temperature. What is interesting about black and white developing, though, is that every film stock has a different developing time.

I typically use Ilford chemicals and I almost exclusively shoot on Ilford HP5 Plus. I guess I’m an Ilford girl to the core. What’s your favorite black and white film stock?? Convince me I’m wrong that HP5 Plus is the best (okay, I do like Tri X and T Max, too).

An app I highly recommend is Massive Dev. It is about $10 to download, but you’ll use it all the time if you like to shoot black and white. Not only does it tell you how long to take each step of the process, but it tells you when you need to be agitating the chemicals and when you don’t need to. When you use the app, you’ll tell it what type of developer you’re using and what film stock you shot with. The app will guide you from there.

To add black and white developing to your home setup, you’ll need:

To mix up the developer as well as the fixer, you’ll mix the chemicals with water at a 1:4 ratio. So, to make a liter of developer, you’ll add 200 mL of developer and 800 mL of water. The same for fixer. To mix up the stop bath, you’ll mix the chemicals with water at a 1:19 ratio. That means it’ll be 50 mL of stop bath to 950 mL of water. The rinse is just a dash (truly) of wetting agent in a liter of water.

And that’s it!

From left to right, on the back row, the wetting agent, patterson tank, developer, stop bath, fixer, funnel and measuring cylinder. On the front row, the roll of film and the film reel.

Developer goes in for 6:30 minutes, and the app tells me when to agitate.

Developer goes back into the chemical container.

Stop bath goes into the tank for 1 minute. Then, fixer goes into the tank for 5 minutes. Again, the app will guide you through agitation.

The water + a splash of wetting agent mixture (it’s called the final wash) goes into the tank and stays there (no agitation necessary) for 10 minutes. Dump the rinse out then run water through the tank for 30 seconds.

After you’ve developed, stopped, fixed, then rinsed your film, it is also ready to hang up to dry! Hope your roommate(s) enjoy you taking over the bathroom!

Once your negatives are dry, you’ll want to scan them.

Go from this... this!

Negative Supply has developed an at-home scanning system that makes it possible for you to create professional grade scans in your own space. You can use a Negative Supply Basic Film Carrier 120 if you’re shooting medium format film. The carrier holds the film flat while you use a digital camera to capture the invert the negatives. The same is possible for 35mm film with the Negative Supply Basic Film Carrier 35.

Last of all, we’d love to see what you make, so feel free to tag us on Instagram when you post your latest film shots! Happy shooting, and happy developing!

Moment lessons willem verbeeck film photography featured


Your Journey into Film Photography with Willem Verbeeck

Willem Verbeeck gives you a deep dive in film photography. You'll learn how to properly expose film and how to get started with a film camera.

Buy for $99.00

Shop Film: