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Mixing Photographic Chemicals

Story location: Home / photography /

My interest in mixing photographic chemicals started as a possible way of saving money. I realised that it would be cheaper to buy the raw materials and mix them together myself that to buy pre-prepared developers. Of course, the saving would be minimal - the chemistry is probably the cheapest aspect of photography. The cameras, lenses, film and paper are all much more expensive. The black and white film I use costs me between £2-4 per roll, and the off the shelf developer is the equivalent of about 20-30p per roll. Home made developers cost between 10p-20p per roll, and at the rate I use film (1 or 2 rolls per months on average, sometimes 3 or 4) it will obviously take me many years to save up for that nice macro nikkor I'm wanting.

So now I've established that for a hobby-photographer like myself, the cost saving is miniscule, why do I bother mixing my own chemicals? The effort is much greater because each ingredient needs weighing out - it is so much easier to buy a packet or bottle from a shop. Some photographers like to be in control of every aspect of their art, and it gives them the full control they crave. Not me though - I am still happy to use off the shelf chemicals from time to time (I always use bought fixers and paper developers - Ilford Multigrade in 5 litre bottles is much cheaper and more convenient than and paper developer I could ever make). I suppose my reason is that I like to tinker with things. Mixing my own chemicals give me more choice in which developer to use. I can use obscure or specialist brews. I can make enough of a formula to test one film, and if I'm not happy with it, I haven't wasted money on a whole bottle of chemical.


Some photographic chemicals are toxic. Always take care when handling chemicals and wear suitable protective gear, such as gloves and safety glasses. If you are unsure about what safety precautions to take, consult someone with chemical handling experience. All the formulas here are presented for information only, and come without warranty. Use them at your own risk.

Warning over.

Ok, providing you are sensible and preferably have some experience in handling chemicals, there should be no real problems. Another thing to note is to dissolve the ingredients in the order given in the method, otherwise some of the chemicals will not dissolve correctly. Always store solutions in an air tight bottle.

All of the recipes here are ones I have used myself. If you need more information about photographic chemistry, there are a number of books and web sites available which cover the subject in more detail than I have here. My aim isn't to teach chemistry, merely to share my experiences and favourite formulas.

The Formulas themselves:

D-23 (normal and two bath)
ID-11 (and variations)
B&W Transparencies

Other sources of information:

  • The Darkroom Cookbook, by Steve Anchell
  • The Film Developing Cookbook, by Steve Anchell and Bill Troop (both books by Focal Press)

D-23 Film Developer

Story location: Home / photography /

D23 film developer has been around for many years. It has to be the simplest developer you can get, being composed of only two chemicals dissolved in water. As well as using it as a developer in it's own right, it can be used as part of a two bath developer.

  1. Mixing D-23
  2. Normal use of D-23
  3. Two bath development

Mixing D-23

Water @ 40°C 400ml

Metol 7.5g

Sodium Sulphite 100g

Water to 1 litre

Dissolve the chemicals in the order given. Ensure the metol is completely dissolved before adding the sodium sulphite. To avoid too much oxygen dissolving in the developer (this will reduce the shelf life), stir the mixture instead of shaking.

Normal use of D-23

Developing times for D-23 are very similar to ID-11/D-76. As a rough guide, I would increase the development time by about 10%. I would recommend the developer was used one-shot, diluted either 1+1 or 1+3 with water. Where no development times are given for diluted developer, multiply the time for 'stock' (full strength) developer by x1.4 and use the developer diluted 1+1 with water.

Two Bath Developer

Possibly the main advantage of using a two bath developer instead of a traditional single bath is the increased contrast range that the film is able to record. This means that if a scene has plenty highlight detail which needs to be captured, and also deep shadows, then it is possible to record both with a single exposure. There are a number of two bath developers available, both as commercial brews and as published recipes. The one presented here is almost certainly the simplest to prepare, and should be as good as the more complicated developers such as the various divided D-76 recipes around.

The formula as shown came from an article by Derek Watkins and was published in Darkroom User, 1997 issue 2.

Part 1:

Prepare 1 litre of D-23 as above.

Part 2:

Prepare 1 litre of a 2% w/v solution of borax (aka sodium tetraborate).

To use:

Expose the film as normal - the developer gives full film speed. Once the film is in the developing tank, pour in part 1, tap the tank to dislodge any bubbles, and invert 4 times. Then invert the tank once per minute. Most films need 4½ to 6 minutes in the first solution - more time may be given to increase the contrast. About 15 seconds before the end of first development, start to pour the developer back into the bottle, then start to pour in the borax solution. Gently invert the tank once per minute, for 4 minutes. Discard the borax solution, then stop, fix and wash as normal.


The negatives obtained from this developer have low to normal contrast and appear thinner than those obtained from most normal developers. There is plenty of shadow detail, and bright highlights don't burn out as much as usual.

This was taken on Ilford HP5+, developed for 4½ minutes in the first bath and 4 minutes in the second. The only light present came from the church windows, and the metering was left up to the camera - no spot metering or exposure compensation was used. This is a straightforward scan from the negative, and no image manipulation was used - no dodging or burning.