Home Process in Film Photography

This is not an easy question to answer. For example, I am using digital SLR most of time but I still enjoy film photography as hobby; I enjoy the adventure of photo discovery in the field as I seek out new subjects to explore. However, I do not enjoy spending time with chemicals in the dark doing what others do better than I do and in less time. With film photography, I work almost exclusively with color transparency material, straightforward slide processing does not make much sense for me. I used to set up several darkrooms in my photographic life from rudimentary bathroom variety to custom-designed, electronically controlled units complete with commercial temperature controls and automated processing machinery. In all instances, I came to realize that the darkroom was not where I could be most creative. However, I also recognize that wonderful and exciting things happen in darkrooms. Many individuals derive great satisfaction from the work they do there. For large numbers of people, it is a wonderful experience to see full color emerging from the haze as slides dry or prints develop.

If you opt for home film processing you should be able to cut processing costs a lot, and since most of the film processing shop is shutting down nowadays, home film processing might be the only choice left for those who still have a space for film photography.

A case can be made for home processing if, first, you cannot find a consistently good lab close enough and quick enough to make its use practical; second, if you enjoy it; third, if you intend to process film at other than standard times or with exotic chemistry; and fourth, if you want to ensure your film is being processed in the freshest chemicals, using absolutely correct procedures.

In addition to all of this, there is a down side to sending film out to be processed commercially. A small risk always exists that your film will be damaged or lost. Also, random problems at most labs result in substandard results that often can’t be corrected. Industry research indicates a well-run processing laboratory should experience a problem rate of less than one-tenth of 1 percent. Additionally, home processing is not without risk itself. Failures do occur to even the most fastidious darkroom experts. The question of whether to process film at home or not ultimately comes down to the question of how fulfilling it is. If processing your own film is enjoyable and satisfying, by all means do it. On the other hand, if it becomes a tedious chore, find a dependable, consistent commercial processor.

Finally, if you intend doing a great deal of black-and-white printing, you should strongly consider developing your own film. Locating a lab that does custom black-and-white is difficult and the results are expensive. Much of the creativity in black-and-white photography begins with precise exposure and processing. Black-and-white film development is not as critical as color, so a relatively simple darkroom arrangement will suffice.

Suppose you decide to have your processing done commercially. How does one find a first-rate lab? First, ask experienced photographers for their recommendations. Next, send away for lists of services found in the back of leading photo magazines. Be careful of labs offering services priced much lower than the competition. You can also inquire at local colleges or tech schools offering photo courses. Try contacting the instructors of black-and-white courses.

Be careful to read advertising carefully. Ads for processing and printing services sometimes imply custom work, which should mean all services are performed by hand rather than by machine. Advertising claiming “individual video analysis” of negatives is not custom work but a semiautomatic procedure whereby negatives are automatically printed after a split-second decision is made about contrast and color by an operator viewing a video screen. The phrase “each roll individually handled” is also misleading. In order to put your film into the automatic processor, your film must be “individually handled” at one point or another, if only to take them out of the mailing envelope.