A tale of a ruined film

It’s perhaps inevitable that at some point in a film photographer’s life, he or she will mess up a roll. I’ve been having ongoing problems with developing at home, and today was no exception. Yesterday was Grillstock, a festival of food and music here in Bristol, and I took my new 24mm Superwide lens out, loaded with a fresh roll of HP5+. I shot a whole roll in one day, taking loads of photos of the event in the sunshine, as well as lots of shots of my friends and I at night, drinking and chatting and having a lovely old time.

This morning (despite my colossal hangover), I attempted to transfer the roll onto a reel, in a changing bag. Same as I have done, many times previously. However the film just wouldn’t go onto the reel – it kept sticking and tearing and buckling. As I kept trying, getting more annoyed, making the inside of the bag sweatier (nice), the film kept buckling and creasing. After about 30 minutes of annoyance, I eventually had to cut the roll to eventually get it onto the roll. I resigned myself to the fact that this roll was probably ruined – the heat and moisture in the bag had made section of it stick to itself, which is not a good thing for delicate emulsion. I processed it anyway (stand developed in Rodinal 1:100 for an hour), fixed and hung it up to dry. Checking the date on my fixer, I groaned again – it was WAY out of date, and cloudy. This roll was doomed.

One small thing to take from this disappointing morning, was that I seem to have alleviated some of the problems of bromide drag, I’d experienced previously. I did this by pre-washing the film, and keeping the tank in a water bath while it sat for an hour. There is still some evidence of drag, but only on the portions of film where it was also very creased – this probably didn’t help.

So, what did I learn? I need to find out why my reels are sticking and tearing my film. I need to buy more fixer (in a smaller quantity, perhaps). I also need to perfect the pre-wash and water bath technique, to hopefully eradicate bromide drag altogether.

The few salvageable photos are below – I like the energy and fun times captured, but I can’t help but feel disheartened with the results, technically. I’ve been enjoying colour photography a lot more, recently, and this episode has only helped push me towards colour, as I don’t develop it myself!

If anyone has any rips for my reel problem, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

5 thoughts on “A tale of a ruined film

  1. Hi Charlotte,

    I think I know what causes this. It’s certainly true for me when using Paterson tanks, and Jobo have a huge warning about it in their manuals for their tanks. The issue, is rinse aid – Kodak call it ‘Photoflo’.

    The long term answer, is to never put a reel in rinse aid. It gums the things up and does exactly what you’re describing, making them so sticky to film that you can never load a roll. I once visited a community darkroom and every single one was like this – I ended up leaving their entire set of reels soaking overnight to fix it. For the final rinse on film, either use a paper tray, or a spare Paterson tank – and fill it with rinse aid/photoflo solution. Then, take the film off the reel, hold it by the ends and slowly draw it through the solution a few times. Hang to dry.

    Of course, if your reels have already been exposed to rinse aid, the best thing to do is grab the kettle and a new toothbrush – get the water hot, around 60C (actually boiling might melt something) – and put on some thick gloves. Then, scrub every inch of the reels, particularly the film grooves, with the hot water and the toothbrush. Once you’ve done that, rinse them thoroughly with more hot water. That should free them up! It’s a good idea to rinse reels in hot water after use, to keep them nice and smooth, and help them dry quickly. šŸ™‚

    Hope that helps!

    1. Charlotte Davis 24/07/2017 — 11:03 pm

      Rinse Aid, no kidding? I use Ilford’s rinse aid as a last step – my water in London used to be very hard, so it was helpful in avoiding streaks – but if I do my rinsing in another container, I should easily be able to avoid getting it on the reels. Thank you so much for the tip – I will do as you recommend, and clean my reels and tank in hot water, with a toothbrush!
      I always assumed rinse aid was just like a fancy dish soap, to be honest – I wonder what’s in it that causes reels to stick?

      Thanks so much again, for the tip – I was close to giving up!

      1. The components in these things are reportedly:

        Common surfactants (detergents).
        Polyethylene Glycol (a polymer).
        Isopropyl Alcohol.

        But I’m not a chemist, I have no idea which one is at fault! I hope it helps your development, anyway. I have my fingers crossed for you!

  2. I’m going a back a long time but used to develop maybe up to 50 rolls on some weeks. The plastic tanks that you push film in from the outside were frequently a problem, just too much friction. If you can find tanks, reels that you roll from the inside out the problem will go away. Hope these tanks are still available.

    Mine were stainless reels that went in a stainless tank. Takes a few dry runs to get the hang of it, you slightly cup the film, put it on the inner clip (not really needed) and wrap it on. This can even be done if film is wet, sticky whatever, doesn’t matter.

    The washing ad does help to remove final traces of fix.

    1. Charlotte Davis 11/09/2017 — 11:41 am

      Thanks Charles – I may end up getting a new developing system, but I’ll try scrubbing the reels clean first! Maybe a spin in the dishwasher would help…

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