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Film Development – How Does it Work?

Film Development – How Does it Work?

Have you reached that point in lockdown when you have started your spring clean extra early? Perhaps you have unearthed some old film cameras at the bottom of the drawer you promised to get developed years ago! Nevertheless, have you ever wondered how that little film gets developed and turned into your precious photos?

Cameras Exposed

Before we can start the development process you get to experience the joy of when your shutter closes and your priceless memories have been shot and recorded onto photographic film. The light travels through the lens and the open shutter to shine onto the film. The chemical coating will react when light shines on it. This is referred to as exposing. How do you get from this photographic film to a developed set ready to be made into photographs? Find out by reading more!

Types of Film – What do we Develop?

The type of film can impact the process used to develop it – here are the most common ones we deal with at Happy Ireland!

  • Black and white Film – this type gets processed using a series of chemical baths. Close attention is paid to temperature, agitation and time to ensure a high quality of development. Resulting in a negative ready to be printed, enlarged or scanned onto a CD.
  • Colour Film – For years 35mm, colour film was loved by both mainstream and professionals. Since the introduction of digital photography, these cameras have become outdated, and the places for printing and developing have dwindled dramatically.
  • APS Film (Advanced Photo System) – Discontinued in 2011, this type was once considered the next step in photography. It included the innovative magnetic imprinting that added additional information; the date and shutter speed.
  • 127 Film – Introduced by Kodak in 1912. Measuring at 46 mm wide, placing it between 35 mm and 120 medium formats in size.
  • 126 Film – Launched by Kodak in 1963, this format was in response to customer complaints about the difficulty of loading cartridges in roll film cameras.
  • 110 Film – Released in 1972, 110 film was Kodak’s 126 film cartridge descendant. The cartridges were the answer to the film industries increasing standardisation of using smaller format negatives.

How does Film Development Work?

There are two main ways in which development can occur;

‘DIP AND DUNK’ Development Process

The name of this one gives the gist of the process away. The film is dipped into a series of tanks, only ever touching the chemicals through the process reducing the risk of damage.

To begin the process several film rolls are placed onto a rack, with small stickers indicating which order it belongs to. This rack is then transferred into the darkroom where the process begins.

Then it is opened once in the darkroom. This avoids exposing it to light which would cause damage. Here a small weight is added and checked to ensure each roll is uniform and straight. As the name would suggest the darkroom is well, very dark! So to check everything is uniform the sense of touch is used.

The inspector feels the rolls to ensure they are aligned and they would then loosely wrap their arms around the rack in what would look like a high and move their arms down, then in towards themselves sweeping at the bottom of the filaments. Allowing for the likes of 120 film that has a paper layer on the back to be aligned also.

Following this check, the rack is moved and small pegs can be added to the rack to indicate to the machine used for this process if the film needs more time in the first developer tank.

After the initial dunk, the film is no longer as light-sensitive and therefore some light can be shone on it to view its progress. The film is then dunked into a series of other tanks.

The next tanks bleach, wash and fix the film to remove the silver present before moving to the final rinse then into the drying process. Overall this is a slower process than simple machine processing taking a little over an hour, as well as taking up a lot more space.

After the drying process is complete film is moved and inspected for any issues that can be spotted. For example blank roles or underexposed negatives. After this, the film (which can now be referred to as a negative) is ready to be scanned, this is the process that lets you end up with your precious home photos!

Machine Development Process

For machine processing to occur the film must first be removed either automatically or by the process operator that will handle the film in a light-proof bag from which it gets fed into the machine for processing.

This machine generally runs continuously and the processing steps are carried out within a single machine. Everything is automated from controlled time, temperature and solution replenishment rate.

As the film travels through the machine, the processes it goes through is as follows;

Developer – This stage produces a silver version of the image from the emulsion layers. The developer combines with emulsion to make colour dyes. The amount of dye produced is proportionate to the amount of silver present.

Bleaching – This bath converts the silver image formed during development back into silver halide. This makes it possible for the fixer to remove the silver from the emulsion.

Fixing – This next process dissolves the now bleached silver image and the unexposed undeveloped silver halide present in the original emulsion.

Washing – Found in larger processors, a water wash removes all the chemicals from processing, the correct water rate and temperature are critical for long term dye stability.

Stabilising and drying – This step contains a wetting agent and other propriety chemicals featuring uniform drying and long term stability. Then it is heated to remove any water.

Once this process is complete it will emerge washed and dry ready to be cut.

What Happens Next?

Following either of these developmental process photos can be made from the developed negatives.

At Happy Ireland, we can turn your undeveloped film or negatives into printed photos or onto CDs for easy sharing! To find out more click here!

More from Happy Ireland


If you enjoyed this blog, click here to view more from us! With Happy Ireland Productions, you can preserve your memories to last forever. Visit one of our partners to drop off your assortment of tapes, film, pictures and audio keepsakes. You’ll receive your DVD or digital copy with the original. Simple and Safe! Your memories are priceless so why risk losing them. Learn more about Happy Ireland Productions or Contact us for any inquiries