Do You Shoot Film

film prints drying, hung on pegs in the darkroom

A friend has a son who runs Catlabs in the USA. He was interviewed on Boston Voyager. His firm sells large format film cameras to customers all over the world. Film is making a resurgence. People are turning back to it and leaving digital.

I read that this evening. Coincidentally, I was talking to someone today about shooting film. I told him how I had put some Black and White film in my camera months ago and still haven’t shot it. He told me how people he tries to sell his prints to sometimes say they want a more authentic photograph, a ‘film’ photograph, not digital.

The siren call of digital is so strong, so easy. Loading a film camera is like stepping into the Victorian era. Wind on, take up the slack, watch the counter, ready to shoot. Shoot 24 or 36 precious frames. Wind back into the canister.

Unload the canister in a changing bag. Thread the film onto a reel into a Patterson tank. Develop, fix, wash. Hope.

Rinse with wetting agent to stop hard water leaving streaks on the film as it dries. Beware dust in the air. Look at the film.

You can tell in an instant whether it has developed correctly and if so, whether you shot the frames with decent exposure.

Slice the film into usable strips. Put the strips in pockets so they don’t get scratched.

Next stage. Film strip into the enlarger. Focus. Use a focus finder and wind the enlarger head in and out until the detail jumps out at you.

Put the paper under the enlarger and make a print. Develop, stop, wash. And wash and wash and wash, because any chemicals left in the paper will alter it over time.

Hang to dry. Look at the print.

Darkroom chemicals smell. The smell is too pungent to be called pleasant if you breathe too much for too long. But it is familiar. When the print is being exposed under the enlarger, every little movement is magnified and shows in the print. With a wooden floor, the vibrations travel.

So step ever so carefully across the darkroom to lean against the bench and wait for the 15 seconds or 20 seconds or 30 seconds it takes to expose the print.

The physical process of making a print from a negative is so different from digital.


  1. Tamara says:

    Great usage of “instantaneous speech”
    here with your step-by-step description of the lengthy development process of B&W film compared to the instant quality of digital, David!

    I found it particularly interesting as a non photographer to read all those steps once again.

    I am now remembering your darkroom set-up that you used years ago too: It seems like ages ago, yes?


    1. Thank you for your comment on the writing.

      Yes, a long time ago.


  2. After all that, it’s no wonder prints are so expensive!


    1. There is a discussion at the moment on a photography site I read where people are talking about the high cost of pigment inks used for printing oneself.


      1. Yup, “Got you coming and going.. ” as the saying goes 🙂


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