An Experiment in Eco-Friendly Developing

Disclaimer: This is not so much a lesson, as a journal entry in our film developing process. It was the first time we developed using household chemicals, so there’s much for us to learn. Still, it is hoped that you gain something from this. Special thanks to Daniel Keating for sending this starter kit. -Nick

A family friend in California, Daniel Keating, has been called the “MacGyver of Film” by my Uncle. I only knew of one way to develop film, with the Ilford/Cinestill/Kodak commercial developer kits. Daniel reached out to me wanting to know if I would like to try developing with household chemicals and a 5% phenidone/glycol solution. Of course I want to learn a way to develop that is not only cheaper, but better for the environment. So, I awaited eagerly for the care package of developing material to arrive! They came all wrapped up in plastic and Nick and I were joking about my drug mail (haha). I transferred them to jars after I tried them out! My scale was not working as it should have and was only measuring on the gram and half gram, I am sure it was a bit of OE (operator error), but either way, I think… I know our mixture was off from what it was supposed to be.

The recipe for the mix was as follows:

Put 250ml tap water into the beaker or pyrex type  measuring cup and add the ingredients in the following order—stir to dissolve between each chem added :

0.4g of the sodium hydroxide (100% Lye Drain Cleaner)—stir to dissolve

0.7grams Sodium Bicarbonate (Arm & Hammer Baking Soda)

0.5 gram Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C Powder)—adding this will create a slight fizzing reaction, allow to dissipate

0.1ml of the Phenidone/glycol solution -measure with small insulin syringe included

Top off to 300ml

Mix right before use—do not store mixed developer solution more than a few hours

Dev times are generally 15-19 minutes for most films. OK to use acid stop baths but plain water is fine. Normal fix & wash

I developed my Kodak T-Max 400 film for 17 minutes. This ended up being WAY too long. My film ended up being pushed to over developed. There were images but you could only see them if a very bright light was being shone through the negative.

The negatives were black, we used Nick’s phone light to shine through one.

After talking to Daniel some more and picking his brain on things he said that it sounded like we had a ‘hot’ batch of chemicals, which made sense since our mixture was not 100% accurate. This being said, he said that we could take the lead that we cut off and put it in a shot glass or small container, fill it with our batch of chemicals, and start a timer. Whatever the time is when the film turns black we will take that number and multiply by 3. That will be how long we have to develop our film. We will start doing this with all our homemade mixtures from now on. Shoot! Maybe even our traditional chemicals as well! The light box was not bright enough to capture the photos so we used Nick’s phone again to capture some of the pictures in FilmBox.

We have a lot to learn in the world of chemicals and creating our own mixtures for developing! Stay tuned for more ways to develop, like using Rosemary!

Here is the fun YouTube video of us trying this out!


2 thoughts on “An Experiment in Eco-Friendly Developing

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  1. Thanks for the mention 🙂 . The testing of a formula to determine the best times for YOUR outcomes is crucial. Remember folks–Photography is Subjective to the Viewer. I tend to like more contrast, others want every shade of gray. It’s always a good idea to test your chems regardless of their source. I bought bulk chems in good faith from suppliers and dutifully prepared the Phenidone & propylene glycol. But, what if the maker had a bad run, some contaminant? There has been bad batches of Xtol from Kodak where people’s film came out blank/clear. Was some of that wedding film? ouch. Dektol paper developer looking like mud after it’s been mixed. Ilfosol 3 has a reputation of “sudden death” if you have a bottle thats been open 90 days.The exposed chip test is cheap insurance and a good barometer of the strength of your mix and how well it’s aging. Aside from scale variance, some films are more or less responsive to certain developers. The Tmax mentioned may well need a reduction in time. I had tested this mix in Arista EDU 100 & 400 , Ulrafine, Cinematic Plus X & soviet stocks and all those wanted the 17-19 min time. But, another off brand soviet film was better off at 9 minutes I had just found recently


  2. Oh, and yes , people need to be cautions with sodium hydroxide. Keep it off your skin & any mucous membranes. It reacts with water and triggers an exothermic reaction (produces heat) in larger quantities. 0.4g wont do much. As with a lot of chemicals one chem may have many uses. Hydroxide will clear grease from a clogged drain. Kosher bakeries will add 4-5 grams to a pot of boiling bagel water so the crust has a nice crunch to it (same with pretzels). However, hydroxide is also used to make soap and you absolutely put that on your skin. The sodium bicarbonate also has many uses. Toothpaste, removes car battery terminal corrosion, deoderizes your fridge, makes swimming pools sparkle and is a handy antacid if you are out of Alka-Seltzer. Ascorbic acid is good-for-you Vitamin C. Everything is made up of chemicals and toxicity is all about dosage and delivery.


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