One of the best things about shooting film is the complete control you have over the process, from film choice and exposure to development and either scanning or printing. We spend a lot of time focusing on the different films you can use and then a lot of time on how to produce your finished images from that film, but there’s general oversight on the development stage. I’m certainly guilty of not paying much attention to developing since it’s become a more automated, mindless process for me in recent years, but every once in a while, I like to slow down and remember that black-and-white film development is a creative process itself.
Experiment and Test
Before you “develop” an affinity for that one special developer (or two or three), it’s a great idea to dabble with several to see how they perform with the kind of photos you like to take and the film you like to shoot. While one developer might be touted for being “fine-grained,” and that sounds nice to you, you might also realize that a fine grain developer and a fine grain film end up as a mushy combination. The effects a developer has on one film might be rendered differently on another, and really, experimentation and testing are the only ways you’re going to figure out what you prefer.
When first working with a new developer, it’s a good idea to try it out on a test roll. It’s important that this test roll is good film that you like to work with—there’s no point in testing a new developer with a film you’ll never use again. Basically, you want to limit the variables in the test so you can really focus on what the developer is doing. This way, when you try second, third, fourth, and even more developers over time, you’ll be able to make more valuable comparisons with the results.
With these ideas in mind, here are a dozen black-and-white film developers to try.