Light And Chemistry: Jon Wilkening
Several weeks ago on an episode of On Taking Pictures, Bill and I were having one of our not-so-infrequent discussions about film, after which a listener named Jon Wilkening posted the results of some of his experiments in developing his own color film to the OTP G+ Community. I loved the quality of the images straight away, but what made the whole thing even cooler to me was learning that Jon is shooting all of these experiments using a 6×6 pinhole camera. The only pinhole camera I ever used was one I made from a Quaker Oats canister in my high school photography class – and although I was using black and white, my results were nowhere near this interesting. Fascinated by the whole project, I asked Jon if he wouldn’t mind sharing a little behind the scenes of his development process as well as a few more sample images. Here’s what he had to say:
Developing Color Film
The process of developing color film is fairly easy despite what people might claim. The key is achieving the correct temperature of the developer. Once the temperature has been reached, the process follows a protocol similar to developing black and white film.
Color development kits all contain the same basic chemicals: Developer, Blix and Stabilizer.
The choice of a particular kit will not change the end result. This is very different from black and white film development, where the developer choice dramatically changes the final negative.
The standard temperature required is 102F (or 39C). A few tricks help hit the right number. Firstly, a digital thermometer removes the guess work out of measuring the temperature. If the goal is to hit a specific temperature, use the tool that will allow you to accurately determine that temperature. Do yourself a favor, buy one off Amazon, and continue on your day. Secondly, use the largest container you own for the water bath to heat up the developer and blix. Thermal mass is your friend. A larger body of water loss heat slower allowing for a gentle heat transfer from water to the developer. Consequently, I use a large “mess” sink in my basement. A combination of hot and cold water is added to reach a temperature of 103-105F. The bottles of developer and blix are added to the water and let sit for 10-15 minutes. My digital thermometer has a temperature alert feature that is set to 101F. The alarm signals the developer is just about to hit the right temperature. Once the desire temperature is reached, the difficult part is out of the way.
The rest of the process follows below:
1. Add 102F water to the developing tank and soak the film for 1 minute. Do not agitate the film.
2. Add the developer (102F or 39C) and agitate for the first 10 seconds. Then 4 inversion cycles (flip the tank upside down and then back again) every 30 seconds thereafter for a total time of 3:30 minutes. Dump the developer back into the bottle as all the chemicals can be reused.
3. Add the blix (95-105F or 35-40.5C) and agitate for the first 10 seconds. Then 4 inversion cycles every 30 seconds thereafter for a total time of 6:30 minutes. Dump the blix back into the bottle as all the chemicals can be reused.
*After the blix, the negatives are light safe and the top of the tank can be removed.*
4. Wash the film under running water (95-105F or 35-40.5C) for 3 minutes.
5. Add the stabilizer (room temperature) agitate for the first 15 seconds for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
6. Let the negatives dry. Do not wash the negatives after the stabilizer. Please note, the negatives start out rather cloudy and clear up as they dry. So do not panic the first time you pull out the negatives. The negatives require a few hours to dry and then it will be ready to scan.
If you developed black and white film, you can definitely develop color film. Nothing in the digital process compares to the moment right before you open the development tank. The emotion cocktail of anticipation, fear, dread, and excitement swirling in your head is magical. Repetition reduces the wonder a little but it still remains one of my favorite things in the world. Developing color film only added to the mental roller coaster constructed by light and chemistry.