My film development workflow shifted in 2020 and became almost entirely based around semi-stand methods. Previously I had used ILFORD DD-X and taken great care over timings and chemistry – including for stand dev, but as I’ve found more of my projects start to come together I have not been able to dedicate myself in the same way to this process.
Semi/stand development is an incredibly lazy and convenient way for me to work through my backlog of exposed rolls whilst also applying my attention to writing, curating, sequencing, my teaching, and any administrative tasks I may have concurrent. Being able to leave things alone and get back to them essentially at my convenience has become my favourite way to work, so hopefully my thoughts below help anyone else who may be searching for a similar solution to the hands-on requirements of classic development methods.
My approach is pretty simple: rodinal based chemistry, and slight agitation at certain points throughout the timeline, which makes it a semi-stand rather than a full stand. Rodinal is my developer of choice for stand development for a few reasons. At high dilutions it is immensely cheap, and can be distributed over a large quantity of films. The content of the chemistry is low in bromide, which lessens the possibility of experiencing streaky negs/bromide drag. Rodinal is not a “fine-grain” developer, but instead offers a consistency across tabular and cubic/classic grained films. Rodinal stores extremely well, with a shelf life sometimes reported in the years.
My dilution is not the classic stand ratio of 1:100 for 1hr; instead, it changes depending on the requirements I have from the roll. My starting point is 8-10ml developer + 600ml water (these measurements for a Paterson two reel tank. This quantity means the tank is slightly overfilled, which I prefer as it ensures even coverage, allowing both rolls to receive consistent exposure to the chemistry. After a pre-wash, I’ll add the chemistry, and agitate twenty inversions within the first minute. I then leave to stand for half an hour, after which I’ll apply a further four rotations, before leaving for the remainder of the time.
I’ve developed this way in temperatures from 18 to 24 degrees C, and not seen much difference in my results – I’ve had a harder time working during heatwaves in temperatures up to 30, although this method was different in other ways as well, and I think I would have better luck with my current approach then what I achieved from use of DD-X.
This starting point is pretty good for two rolls exposed at their matching box speed (2x 100, 2x 400 etc). When pushing, or mixing and matching rolls in the same tank, I’ll make some adjustments. For a one stop push I’ll add about 3-5ml, and for two I’ll add 7-10ml. This means I’m sometimes using a 1+50 dilution, which with rodinal is enough for a standard development with minute by minute agitations! I’ll also add half an hour to the time, and move the point at which I agitate to the new halfway point.
For clarity on the above, if developing two HP5+ rolls exposed at their box speed EI400, I’ll use 8ml of Rodinal, agitation as above. For two rolls of HP5 PLUS exposed at EI 800, I’ll use 13-15ml of Rodinal, agitate as above initially for the first minute, but as it will be a 1hr30mins timescale my middle agitation will occur after 45 minutes. For HP5 PLUS at 1600, 18-ish-ml Rodinal, agitation for the first minute, and the four rotations at 1hr, as the timescale overall is 2hrs.
This is not an exact science, and sometimes I’ll change things up a little if I feel that the roll requires it. For example, sometimes I will agitate every 20mins, even for a box speed development, if I think that I may have underexposed some of the images. Even with these tweaks I’ve not seen any especially regrettable results from this approach. Depending on whether or not I remember what I shot on the roll I’ll cut maybe 10/20 minutes on the overall time, if I feel there were a lot of highlights – if there were a lot of shadows/shady scenes I may add a little time to compensate for that. I’ll also very slightly remove developer if I feel leaving in the full amount may lead to overdevelopment. This means sometimes a box dev at 8ml, or a two-stop push at 16ml. Like I said, it’s not exact – it fluctuates based on how I’m feeling about those rolls. If I think I may have overexposed some frames, which is what I err towards when metering by eye, then I’ll dial it back on the developer so as not to spoil those highlights.
Sometimes I’ll change my agitation method – instead of a full inversion, I’ll turn the tank on its side, and twist like a car steering wheel – this is a gentler way to replenish the chemicals, and results in lower grain than inverting the tank.
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When developing odd rolls – for example, an ILFORD HP5 PLUS at EI 400, and an HP5 PLUS at EI 800 I’ll be sure to put whichever I feel needs more developing (in this case the EI 800) lower down inside the tank. This way it receives slightly more exposure to the chemistry. When developing for two hours or longer then I allow the midway inversion to rest for a minute, to even out chemistry which may have “settled” to the base of the tank.
For odd rolls I’ll usually guesstimate a mid-ground in terms of how much rodinal to add – not exactly halfway between what each roll would need, usually slightly less than this. Figuring out what works best for you will take trial and error, but should result in negatives you’re happy with.
I’ve found that this method results in the fewest “defects” commonly associated with stand development. Some describe a “haloing” effect, which is caused in areas of high contrast, where un-exhausted developer bleeds over to replenish areas still developing. The inversions allow even replenishing, and negate this effect, although I have seen in present in a few rolls where I was using a nearly expired rodinal solution. I don’t think it’s the worst effect, but I’d rather have control over it, so if I want it present I’ll use slightly less rodinal overall – as little as 6ml (the true 1:100 for a 600ml tank) for box speed films.
Bromide drag is another common complaint about stand development, often leaving a streaky look as developer filters through the sprocket holes of the film. Again, the agitation halfway negates this. I’ve never had a serious issue with bromide drag on any of my films – I think because I always agitated initially, whereas some just fill the tank then leave it with no agitation whatsoever.
Stand development offers me clean negatives with excellent sharpness, and a grain structure I’m very pleased with, even when working with high-speed films like ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional, where for some it can end up a little “spiky”. Stand development is known for offering detailed shadow, while preserving highlights extremely well. I prefer using stand dev to classical push processing methods, as it results in less contrasty negatives, and allows for leeway in terms of shots made at slightly different exposure indexes as the film was rated at. This means versatility in the way you can approach different lighting situations on the same roll.
I’ve really enjoyed the aesthetic that this method has offered my work, especially when printing – darkroom or based on a digital scan, I think that the flatter negs allow me to really pull out the aspects of the image I want to shine through. Almost all of the images I included in the debut zine recently released by my collective, New Exit Group, were made using this method, and a scan workflow which really only involved gamma tweaks – that’s standard for the way I scan, incorporating an editing flow which brings the images close to what I’d be after with a darkroom print.
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