By far the most fun assignment I’ve found so far, in my short time on the foundation degree in photography, has been the “35mm Film Task” we were set in week three for the Photographic Techniques 1 module.

The image below shows the assignment sheet we were given with what we had to do:

The image isn’t brilliant as I had to get a fellow student to take a picture of theirs and send it to me as I think I’m losing my marbles and couldn’t remember for the life of me where I’d put mine after keeping it safe for ages ready for this exact moment.

Anyway, on with this write-up.

Loading the Film

To load the film into the back of the Pentax K1000 SLR cameras we were given, we simply lift up the dial on the left-hand side of the camera (on top), which is the dial also used to rewind the film once it’s full and ready to be removed from the camera ready for the next stage of the film to print process.

Pentax K1000

The dial lifts smoothly to a certain point before you have to give it a very slight tuck to make the back of the camera open to reveal the compartment for the film. Like an idiot who’s doing his first practical task, I didn’t take a picture of the rear of the camera at all, nevermind with the compartment open…D’OH!

To fit the film into the camera I had to make sure the dial I had already pulled up was up to it’s highest point before slotting the film into the recess it sits in whilst in the camera body. After this, it’s a simple step of pulling the film out of the canister far enough for it to reach across the back to enable the narrower part of the film (at its starting point) to be pushed into the slot in the spool on the opposite (right-hand) side of the camera body.

To make sure the film is in the correct position to start taking pictures, operate the advance lever followed by pressing the shutter button until both the top and bottom sprockets have found the right positions into the top and bottom perforations in the film to be able to advance it after every shot you take. Once it is doing this, close the back of the camera again.

Crank the advance lever, followed by pressing the shutter button until the film counter reads 1. Whilst you’re doing this, make sure the rewind dial is rotating anti-clockwise at the same time as you advance the film. This means the film is fitted and working correctly. You’re now ready to go.

The Camera Settings

The settings we were advised to use were ISO 400 (as this is the speed of the film we were using), shutter speed of 1/60 with the aperture being adjusted to compensate for light.


I must admit that I experimented with the shutter speed as well when the exposure was looking a little off at times.

The light meter is on the right-hand side of the viewfinder and the idea is to get the needle into the centre for a correctly exposed image.

Where I Went to Shoot

Once I’d got the film loaded into the camera correctly, I was allowed to go out and spend the rest of the lesson taking photos of things as per the task sheet above. I started off by making a note of each shot so that I got everything asked for, but soon lost interest in that and tried to keep a mental note.

The natural route to take from college was to head off into the centre of Leicester and get photos of all the weird and wonderful things there. After being out for over an hour and getting shots of anything and everything from bins to signs to buildings to the odd person, it was time to head back.

A Little Personal Test

Because I’ve never used a film SLR before, I wanted to see how far the film counter would go and what would happen if I were to keep cranking it once I’d got to the 36 exposure count limit of the film I had. I wasn’t sure if it would carry on, stop or start to double-expose. Well, I soon found out after the film developing process.

The image above is of a piece of the film towards the end that has been double-exposing where I’ve just kept advancing the film and pressing the shutter button to take more images. There we go, lesson learned.

Developing the Black and White Film

The handout above shows the process I went through to develop my film after I’d been out merrily clicking away with the old-school SLR.

The most difficult part of this, for me, was the part of feeding the film onto the spiral in complete darkness. I knew it was going to be dark but, wow, total and utter blackness.

I’m not sure, at this time, how difficult or easy it is to find the end of the film, using the ‘Film Retriever’, in its canister as we didn’t get to do that part of the process.

Having just read the handout again, I should have fed the film onto the spiral before closing the processing room door…D’OH!

The spiral works a bit like a ratchet as you hold one side and ratchet the other to pull the film round. Once you get to the end of the film, simply tear the canister off and chuck in the bin. Whilst getting the film onto the spiral, it’s a good idea to pull enough of the film out of the canister and allow it to hang down. The canister will act as a weight to pull the film tight and help it to not get tangled as you wind it onto the spiral.

It’s the process of Developer (7.5 minutes) -> Stop Bath (30 secs-1 minute) -> Fixer (10-15 minutes) that should be done in complete darkness. The film is ‘light safe’ after the fixer process has completed. The final process of a ‘wash’ for 15 minutes can be done with the light on in the processing room.

A thing I need to remember is that there is a safe box in the processing room that everyone has to put their film into if, mid-process, the door needs to be opened or the light needs to be switched on. It’s a good idea to make a mental note of where everything is within the room before switching the light off!

Once the bottom part of the handout has been achieved (the removing of the film from spiral before hanging to dry) the film needs to be put into a negatives bag as below.

Creating a Contact Sheet

Contact Sheet

I don’t need to add anything to this section as the handout says it all. I am, however, a little confused by one part as I never had to adjust this during the task. The handout says that:

“If the whole strip is too dark, open up the lens by one stop to f5.6 / too light, stop down by one stop to f11 and repeat the process”.

The thing confusing me is that we are told to open up the aperture if the strip is too dark, right? Won’t that let more light into the exposure meaning the strip would be even darker? More light put through the negative and onto the photographic paper means a dark image.

I need to ask this question to get clarification. When I do, I’ll update this post…if I remember to.

Contact Sheet Test Strip
Contact Sheet

Getting the Final Black and White Print

Black and white film printing

It was this process that took me a long time as I attempted to try to get the correct exposure with good depth(contrast). As can be seen from the image below, I did lots of test strips.

Negative test strips
Film test strips

Although the following test strip looks a mess due to me not giving it enough time to finish the developing process, it shows best the different exposure times of 5-second increments.

After cracking on with learning the developing process, I still found myself running out of time, somewhat, to allow me to get the perfect image. The settings I ended up with were:

  • Aperture: f11
  • Exposure time: 37 seconds
  • Contrast: Magenta 70 (which is slightly below Grade 4)

I was only adjusting the magenta (and not the blue and yellow) as it was a black and white film we were using.

The final image isn’t actually the one below as this is one from slightly earlier in my process. I was pretty happy with the top 2/3 of the image but the bottom of it is far too dark. In an attempt to rectify this, I started testing with a bit of card held over the darker area for varying amounts of time to reduce the amount of light it was exposed to and, therefore, making it lighter. I never went back for my other two final prints after I had to leave them in the wash beyond the end of our time in the studio.

Black and White Photo

Final Thought

I really enjoyed this task and will do more of it on my own time. I had a couple of questions relating to it of which one I have already mentioned in the text about the aperture and black/light exposures. Another issue I had was blurriness/focal issues with the outer areas of the image on the odd occasion after I’d adjusted the exposure time and nothing else. On further reflection, I’m not 100% sure that I’d locked the negative holder in place and as a result, it may have been moving slightly. I’m not sure and this is one reason I’d like to go through the process again.

Talking about focus, I was pleased to eventually get used to and be able to use the microscope to get my images into focus rather than relying solely on my eyes. This gave me that little bit of confidence that I wasn’t wasting time with the developing process only to find it was out of focus.

Film developing enlarger