Having shot a roll of black and white film it now needs to be processed to create the negatives. At this point your film is still light sensitive so should not be exposed to light.

Processing your own film can be highly satisfying and cost effective. It is also easy to learn. The most common method for hand processing film is undertaken by using a Daylight Processing Tank. This piece of kit needs the film to be loaded on to a ‘spiral’ or ‘reel’, in the dark, and then enclosed in a light tight container or ‘tank’, ready for the addition of the processing chemicals.

The most difficult part of using a tank is loading the film onto the spiral as this must be done in complete darkness (either in a darkroom or using a changing bag). However, with a bit of practice, you will master this in no time.

Developing tank and spiral

Here are some tips:

  • Follow the instructions that come with the tank and practice loading the spiral a few times with an old or unwanted roll of film in daylight so you can see and get the feel for how the technique works.
  • Once you feel confident in daylight try it with your eyes closed. Again, it vital to remember that when loading your exposed film, this must be done in total darkness so find a room or place you can make light tight!
  • For ease of loading, it is important to ensure that the spiral is completely dry. Working to a set routine and with all the necessary tools placed in the same position each time will help to ensure that things go with ease.
  • The grooves of the spiral hold the different parts of the film away from one another so that the developer can circulate freely. If the film is not loaded correctly, uneven development can ruin the images.

How to do it:

  • Take hold of the cassette and your end cap remover and turn out the light. Lever the cap off the cassette and slide the film spool part way out.
  • Find the film’s shaped leader, slot this through the light-trap opening and then slide the spool back. (This saves having 1.4m / 4ft 8in of loose film falling on the floor)!
  • Pick up the spiral and find the projecting lugs which mark the film entry point.
  • Have these lined up and pointing towards you. Grip the end of the film and pull about 5cm / 2in into the first channel between the lugs.
  • Pull about 30cm / 1ft of film out of the cassette. Rotate the sides of the reel back and forth to wind the film into the spiral.
  • When you reach the end of the film cut this away from the cassette spool. Give it a few extra turns to wind the film all the way on.
  • Finally, put the spiral into the developing tank with its plastic sealing ring (if needed) and screw on the tank lid. The film is now sealed inside a light-tight container, so you can switch on the room lights.


An alternative to standard processing tank and spirals is the Ars-Imago Lab-Box. This allows you to complete the whole process, including loading your film into the tank, in the light. Lab-Box has separate modules for 135 and 120 film.