I love shooting on Ektachrome. The stock produces beautiful, saturated images and E6 film developing is a remarkably simple process. In the middle of working on my thesis film where I found myself in the darkroom more often than not, Covid-19 happened and everything shut down. So I grabbed my chemicals and headed home determined to process film anyway I could.
Developing film sans darkroom is not new to me. Before heading to grad school my process was developing film in coffee, projecting it on the wall, and shooting it with a DSLR or phone to digitize. I still really love this lo-fi way of working. Wrapping up an MFA and graduating means losing access to darkrooms and the wealth of resources Universities offer. While returning to my DIY roots was inevitable, it certainly happened sooner than expected.
Here’s how I’ve been spending the past two weeks developing 16mm and 35mm film.
What you’ll need:
*You can get by without a changing bag or safety glasses—but be careful!
An E6 kit has three parts:
-Blix (Bleach + Fix)
I use the Arista Rapid E-6 Slide Developer Kit from Freestyle Photo. It comes in three sizes–pint, quart, gallon. I split a gallon kit with another filmmaker (roughly 2 quarts each) and it’s served me well for both 35mm and 16mm processing.
Mixing the chemistry
Your kit will come with chemicals to combine in order to make the first developer, color developer, and blix. You’ll see bottles marked with something like first developer, color developer (part a, part b), blix (part a, b, c). The kit I use comes with really simple instructions, which you can see here. This is where a beaker or something to measure comes in handy.
You’ll want to mix up the first developer in one chemical container, the color developer in your second container, and the blix in your third chemical container. It’s crucial in this step to make sure you’re mixing the right chemicals together and labeling your containers. One mistake mixing can mean ruining the whole kit! One more time, follow these instructions.
Be sure to wear gloves and a mask in this step. The smell of mixing these chemicals painfully pungent.
Loading your film
It probably goes without saying, but you’ll need to load the film in the dark. Here’s where a changing back or tent comes in handy. I don’t own a changing tent so I usually crawl in a closet or under the covers (the latter is risky). If you have a bathroom without windows that works too. Be sure to put a towel under the door to prevent light leaks. I’ve also seen people use black paper tape and tape themselves in.
As far as tanks go, you have a few options. If you’re shooting super 8mm or 16mm Lomo tanks are great, but expensive and tricky to load.
I develop super 8, 16mm and 35mm film in an old Paterson tank similar to this model. Since I don’t have reels for super 8 or 16mm I kind of bunch my film up and shove it in the tank. It’s a method that filmmaker Emily Van Loan wrote about for Analog Cookbook. Here’s a helpful illustration from Emily:
This may seem crazy, but I find it to be effective and to cause less problems than a poorly loaded Lomo tank. And of course for 35mm, load a reel as you normally would.
First, Heat up your chemicals:
You’ll want to heat up your chemicals to 105 degrees. You have a few options here. Yo can try to find a way to put gallon tanks in pots of water on the stove and heat it up that way—worked for me!
Or use an electric kettle and pouring into a pan that your chemicals can sit in. I like to transfer the chemistry from gallon containers to mason jars and other smaller containers. I find it a bit more manageable. If you do this, be sure to label your jars. Your chemicals will heat up fast, so keep an eye on it and remove them from heat once they hit 105.
Follow the steps above. If you have photoflo use it. If not, it’s not a huge deal.
Hang your film to dry
Use whatever you got. Clothes lines, hat racks, hangers, etc.