Developing Colour Negatives at Home

I’ve been developing my own black and white films for a while now, and have learnt a lot in that time. I’d done a lot of black and white developing during my days at Uni many years, and even taught 6th form students how to do it when I worked in a college Art Department for a year. Therefore, the process felt familiar and comfortable. Despite this though, I’ve never developed my own colour film. Until now.

I’d always intended to learn how to do it (mostly to save time and money) but I was always nervous about the process and had heard that it was more difficult and less forgiving than black and white development. Having just finished shooting a roll of 35mm Portra 160, pushed to 400, I suddenly felt the urge to just give it a go.

After putting a post out on twitter, and tapping into the wonderful Emuslive community, I had a few recommendations for C-41 development kits. In the end I went for the Tetenal Colortec C-41 Rapid Negative Kit from Firstcall Photographic. I also got 3 x 1 litre plastic bottles to store the solutions in. 

As always, the service from Firstcall was excellent and my order arrived the next day. First up, I labelled by bottles - Delevoper, Blix and Stabiliser. I then made up the solutions as per the instructions. The kit is very straightforward and making the 1 litre solutions of developer, blix and stabiliser is very simple. 

N.B All images in this blog were scanned on a V600 flatbed scanner, and have not had any adjustments made, other than cropping. I thought this would be best in order to show the negatives, 'warts n all' :)

ROLL 1

As mentioned, I had already shot a roll of portra 160, but had I intended to try developing this roll from the get-go, I wouldn’t have pushed it. The instructions provide a guidance of adding 30 seconds for each stop pushed, but that was also for developing at 38 degrees. I was developing at 30 degrees, though... now this is where I went a bit off piste for some reason. I thought I'd wing it a little (no idea why!!!) Therefore, I went wit the following schedule;

  • Developer - 8:45 @ 30 degrees (45 seconds more than recommended)
  • Blix - 6:00 @ 30 degrees 
  • Rinse - 6:00 @ 30 - 40 degrees
  • Stabiliser - 1:00 @ 20 - 40 degrees

Honestly, I was just happy to see that they didn't come out blank, and felt quite confident about the results. However, when I scanned them I was little disappointed. I'm assuming they are under-developed, rather than under-exposed, but I'm also fairly new to shooting colour negative film and can't guarantee that my exposures weren't as good as they could have been. 

I needed another go, with way more control. 

ROLLS 2 & 3

After feeling a little disappointed, I thought I'd try and develop a roll that I hadn't pushed and where I could follow the instructions to the letter. So, I headed out with GX617 for a pre-work shoot. It already had a roll of Fuji Reala loaded, and I chucked a roll of Kodak Portra 400 into the bag too. 

This time, I put my bottle of Developer, Blix and Stabiliser into a bucket and filled it with water which was 32 degrees, until the bottles were about 80% submerged. I then waited until the developer had reached the required 30 degrees, which took only took about 15 minutes. There was going to be no messing around this time, and followed the below schedule;

  • Developer - 8:00 @ 30 degrees 
  • Blix - 6:00 @ 30 degrees 
  • Rinse - 6:00 @ 30 - 40 degrees
  • Stabiliser - 1:00 @ 20 - 40 degrees

Upon hanging up the negatives, the instantly looked better. Deeper tones and more contrast. So far, so good, and upon scanning the negatives I wasn't disappointed.

It was the first roll of Reala I've ever used too, and I like it. May have to give it another go :) 

ROLL 4

I had already started a roll of Portra, pushed 1 stop, in my 35mm. Bouyed by the results of the last 2 rolls, I thought I'd have another go at it. This time, I changed the temp and timing (as per the instructions...) for developing pushed film. This meant the following;

  • Developer - 3:45 @ 38 degrees 
  • Blix - 4:00 @ 38 degrees 
  • Rinse - 4:00 @ 30 - 40 degrees
  • Stabiliser - 1:00 @ 20 - 40 degrees

Compared to when I'd developed Roll 1, I could instantly see an improvement of doing them at the higher temperature and adding the additional 30 seconds to compensate for pushing the film. Once scanned, I noticed a considerable improvement in colour depth and contrast over the first roll, and I've definitely caught the bug for shooting and developing more colour.

Overall, I'm much happier with the results of the 4th roll and I'm glad that I took the plunge. It's really not that hard, and in some ways easier than black and white. If you have the space and materials for developing black and white, I'd definitely recommend giving colour negative development a go. I'm pleased that I no longer have to send film to the lab - I'm an impatient buggar - and it will also save me money too. That's a win, win scenario in my book. 

Thanks for reading. 

Related Blogs

Adventures in Film Part 1
Adventures in Film Part 2