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Photoprocessing Do's and Don'ts

By Ronald J. Lamarsh

Although I am not an expert by any means, I have been processing my own B&W film for over ten years. During that time I have discovered some good "do's and don'ts." Hopefully these will help you from wasting time on the same mistakes I've made.

First of all DO process your own film; it is the only way that I know of establishing the controls needed to get reliably good prints. A studio photographer with controlled lighting can probably get by with a custom lab. But if you want to take full advantage of the many different developers that are available, you have to do your own.

Never take anything for granted especially when it comes to the strength of the acid stop bath. In the past I would just keep using my old stop bath, rarely mixing new batches, and leaving the negative in for any old amount of time with no agitation. I assumed everything was ok....not! I had just developed some beautiful 4x5's with great potential, only to discover that when printed there were tiny black spots on the print. When I took a closer look at the negative, I found small pinholes in the emulsion. Apparently, over time my stop bath had gained strength. Letting the negatives sit in it for over ten seconds was disastrous. The combination of an overly strong solution and no agitation caused the emulsion to blister. The negative was ruined. This was a crushing blow considering I had spent two days backpacking with 60 lbs to take the shot.

Do double check the chemistry you are putting into your tank, and Don't be in a hurry. I had just mixed two new half gallons of D-23 eagerly anticipating some Zen time in the darkroom with my latest batch of film tests. Well...I rushed myself. I pulled out the container I thought was fixer (all the dark jugs look the same) without checking my labels, and dumped it into the tank. After the required fixing time I turned on the lights only to watch the negatives turn black before my eyes. I had put one of my new half gallons of D-23 in the fixer tank! So not only did I ruin the negative my new developer was contaminated with stop bath and I had to mix new developer and do the tests over.

The moral: slow down, turn off the phone, lock up the kids, and focus on what you are doing.

Ronald J. Lamarsh is a Seattle, Washington-based photographer who has been doing Black & White since 1987. When he isn't learning from his darkroom mistakes, Lamarsh works days repairing medical x-ray equipment for GE. He can be reached at

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