How To Develop And Scan Your Own Film

If you’re a film photographer, you have probably considered learning how to develop your own film. In the days of darkrooms, the only way for you to view your images was to learn the process of development and printing. A method that now seems to be one of the past, has since found its resurgence in the dedicated community of photographers still relying on film as their main photographic medium.

Although shooting with film is like no other, the costs of purchasing the stock, development, and scanning can weigh heavily on the pockets of a budgeting photographer. In attempt to keep the process alive and well, many creators are turning to at home development and scanning to save on production costs.

Here is the way you can begin to develop and scan your own film.

Photo by Carianne Older

Purchase a Starter Kit

Developing your own film will require a handful of tools as well as specific types of chemicals. A great photographic resource is the Film Photography Project, who sells a starter pack for developing both color and film camera through their online store. The initial startup for the package is $160 – but once you have all the tools, you are set to develop many rolls of film. The kit includes:

  • One FPP C-41 Powder Chemistry Kit (1 Liter)
  • One Development Tank with Two Reels*
  • Two Rolls 35mm Color Film
  • One Film Changing Bag
  • One Thermometer
  • One Squeegee
  • One Measuring Beaker
  • Three – One Liter Recycled Bottles
  • One Funnel

From their website, they advise that all you will need in addition to the kit is table space and running water.  They have created a crash course for developing your film in 10 minutes – we will outline the main steps, but if you want a more comprehensive visual guide you can watch the video here.

Photo by Carianne Older

The Step by Step Process

  1. Start by heating your Developer and Blix to about 103 degrees Fahrenheit, you can do this by placing them under scalding hot tap water in a bucket. You will need a thermometer throughout the process.
  2. Load your film into the development tank while in the dark. This is done by using your changing bag.
  3. When handling the chemicals, you will want to use gloves to avoid directly touching the product.
  4. Quickly rinse over your film that is in the development tank (medium temperature)
  5. Add 4 minutes to your timer
  6. Pour out the water from your rinse.
  7. Take your Developer, pour it into the tank to fill it. Move the chemical around in the tank – agitate it every minute
  8. Pour the developer back into your container using a funnel and seal it. Rinse the funnel.
  9. Pour your Blix into the tank to fill it. And set your timer to 6 minutes
  10. Repeat moving the chemical around to agitate it.
  11. Pour the Blix back into your container using a funnel and seal it. Rinse the funnel
  12. Rinse your film that is in the development tank
  13. Take out the two reels that have your film and drop them into your bucket of water for cleansing
  14. Clean out your development tank and add your Stabilizer chemicals
  15. Unwind your film from the reel and place it into the tank with your Stabilizer chemicals
  16. Leave the film in the Stabilizer for 1 minutes
  17. Use your Squeegee to dry the film
  18. Hang your film to dry

Photo by Carianne Older


Scan Your Film

Once you have developed your film, you can now digitize the images using a flatbed scanner. To begin, you will need a scanner with the capability to process color negatives – any normal scanner will not have this capability, so you will need to make sure you purchase a scanner that has the ability to scan film. A recommended scanner option is the Epson V550.

Cut + Flatten

To begin, you will need to cut your film into strips of about 6 frames each. Since you have hung your negatives to dry and they will have curled in this process, you will need to make sure that they are cut and stored properly to be flattened. You can even place heavy objects on the negative holders to speed up the process.

Load Your Film into the Holders

To scan film, you will use the holders that are compatible with your machine. You will place the negatives with the shiny side facing downward. Make sure the negative is straight and properly aligned. You can then use an air spray to remove any unwanted dust, dirt or even a gentle microfiber cloth to wipe down the negative.  

Start Scanning Your Film

Depending on which scanner and software you use will determine these next steps. But it is always necessary to make sure you select either the color negative or B&W film options when scanning your rolls. Set your DPI to around 3200 for best resolution and change your image type to 48-bit for color film and 16-bit grayscale for your black and white images.

You can create previews before you scan to make sure your image is straight and fully in the frame.

Once you have finished scanning, you can then import the files to Lightroom to make color adjustments and edits. Scanning can sometimes flatten the image, so you will need to go in and adjust contrast and values to bring the detail back into your image. This is where you can be creative with your photographic style and retouch the film as you see fit.

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As you can see, developing and scanning your own film at home is a fairly simple process – a truly hands-on method that allows you to understand the process of film photography and be creative with the images you produce. Are you a photographer that scans their own film? If so, let us know what you thought of this tutorial in the comments below!

Photo by Carianne Older

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