Finding film part 7: Let there be light AKA a disaster with Delta

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Hello again, EMULSIVE readers. It’s been a while since I did one of these (having looked back through Lightroom, my last images were taken some 7 weeks ago at the time of writing), as life seems to keep getting in the way of my creativity.

Feeling a little cooped up I was definitely eager to head out with the camera again. So I grabbed a new film for me, Ilford Delta 400 Professional and headed out for my favourite woodland. I also took Delta 100 Professional with me, as I wasn’t 100% of what weather to expect but never shot it…good job too, for reasons I’m getting to.




The shoot

I always love heading to this particular patch of woodland (I haven’t written an article on this place before) as it often inspires me, or has changed since my last visit. There is a lot of forestry work going on – taking out older trees for newer ones, as well as clearing and tidying of the paths – which opens up further possibilities. You also never know what you are going to see and to date, I have encountered many deer, rabbits, and a rather confused looking owl, which makes each visit worthwhile.

Given my recent time away from the camera it seemed like the perfect place to head to get back in the groove. The weather was glorious; a nice sunny day, with a few clouds in the sky. Being woodland (and quite dark in places) I opted for the 400 over the 100 as there was a bit of a breeze and I wanted to avoid any motion blur on the trees.

The shoot went well, there were some lovely clouds above the tree line, some recently cut logs, as well as branches gathered into small bundles, all making for some lovely imagery. Despite my time away from the camera, I felt inspired once again.




Developing time

Shoot over, I headed back to the darkroom, and processed the film. The film was shot at box speed, and I used Ilford DD-X (1+4, 8 mins at 20c) as my developer. My Ilford Ilfostop has ran out, so I am now using Fotospeed SB50 as my stop bath, and Fotospeed FX30 for the fixer. As mentioned in my last article, I have nothing against the Ilford Stop Bath / Fixers I have used in the past, the Fotospeed chemicals were simply much cheaper.

It was at this point disaster struck…

Being honest, I had initially thought about not publishing this article, as I want to showcase the best of my year finding film. Many photographers may argue that sharing the ups and downs of photography is good practice, and can only help the community. Yet many I follow online are less transparent, using their online presence as a highlight reel, simply showcasing the best of their work.

Whilst I am not criticising for this (far from it, whatever works for you), the teacher inside me twisted my arm into writing the article; after all, I encourage my students to learn from their mistakes, just like I have had to do on this occasion. So warts and all, here goes.




The disaster

I loaded the film fine, no reel problems there (sorry, I’m not sorry for making that pun). I put the lid on the developing tank and turned round for the light switch…to see light flooding into the darkroom from behind me.

*insert several creative expletives here*

You see, whilst I built my darkroom myself, it is far from perfect. To prevent light coming in through the door, there is a piece of cardboard covering the glass pane in the door. This is gaffer taped to the door, and covered in blackout blind material, which is also taped to the door. The lock is also dual-covered, in a similar format.

It looks a little like this:

Darkroom door
Darkroom door

However, the gaffer tape on the glass pane had come loose, letting light through the edges of the covered area. At the same time, the foot of the door was also letting in light, as it had slipped slightly over the winter.

The black strip designed to keep the door light-tight had also failed, allowing light to leak in.

Whilst the room was not light enough for me to see, there was an alarming amount of light coming through the door. I decided to process the film regardless, hoping that the damage was minimal. The rest of the development process went well, and the film dried well, with no curl.

The scanner did not like the film one bit. All-bar-one of the 12 images mis-scanned, chopping sections of the film away.

Ilford Delta 400 Professional
Ilford Delta 400 Professional

The image above was at the beginning of the roll, and the light leaks appear to have almost destroyed the image.

Ilford Delta 400 Professional
Ilford Delta 400 Professional

The scanner continued to mis-scan the frames, despite many re-attempts at the process.

Even despite tweaking the settings, and setting the scanning area to large, this did not rectify the problem, only adding the edge of the film in with the rest of the failed image.

Ilford Delta 400 Professional
Ilford Delta 400 Professional

The last image on the roll was the least ruined of the 12, however the light leaks had still managed to ruin a good 80-85% of the image. Only the far right hand side of the image is a true reflection of the light/contrast of the film, and even then I am not sure how accurate that is.

Ilford Delta 400 Professional
Ilford Delta 400 Professional

Am I disappointed? Very.

Some of the images I was really pleased with, and the light leaks have totally ruined my planned article. I am also annoyed as I have a limited supply of Ilford Delta, and it is one of the more expensive films I am testing.

This has made me very frustrated as I feel I could have prevented the issue.

TLDR; things didn’t quite go to plan on this one. However, rather than try to bury my mistake, I decided to be transparent on the issue. I see this as a learning opportunity, and hope that this article can stop someone else making the same silly mistake I have made.




Moving on

The door has now been fixed, and as a result I now have another step in my development process (check the door is fully light tight). I have also started using a spare panel of wood to cover the door as a third measure of light prevention, in addition to cardboard and blackout blind material. If this doesn’t work, I’ll have to start developing at night time!

I will return with a proper review of Ilford Delta Professional later in the year. In the meantime, the sun is beginning to be out on a regular basis, so it is time for some infrared photography.

You can keep up to date with the films I cover in this series by following the links below:

~ Tom Rayfield



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Finding Film part 13: ILFORD HP5 PLUS

Having finished my rolls of ILFORD Delta 100 and 400 Professional for part 12 of this series, I decided to carry on with the Ilford theme, and shoot some HP5, the last of Ilford’s offerings I am yet to try.

Photography: Triplets #01 + #02 – Shot on Rollei Vario Chrome (35mm format)

Photography: Tinkle time – Shot on Kodak Portra 400 at EI 400 (120 format)


4 thoughts on “Finding film part 7: Let there be light AKA a disaster with Delta”

  1. I”m glad you posted.
    I try to find permanent fixes to these glitches.
    we put so much time effort and dollars to our passion that It is worth noting these weak links that unexpectedly show up, and eradicate them

  2. Hi Tom, thank you so much for your great contributions….We have all had disasters of this sort. I find most happen to me when I am tired, reel tired (copied pun). A changing bag is a solution but not a perfect one. I find especially when spinning on multiple reels that heat and moisture develop in the bag and this leads to frustrating difficulty with the spools getting snagged. Gloves help but still there is heat and moisture buildup from the uncovered arms and inside of the gloves. I suppose a breathable material for the tent would help this problem. The higher quality tents are definitely not breathable. I have taken to using a square tent with rigid frame and an opening flap in the front. It’s much more comfortable. For traditional changing bags I have found putting a cardboard box in to keep the space open helps….I have also found that making sure the reels are absolutely dry is critical. If a Paterson reel is left to dry in compressed 35mm state some moisture stays inside of the center core. For this reason I always let them dry in expanded 120 state. Before using them I dry them using my radiator (I have an old home). Then I dry them again with a soft cloth. It looks like you got the problem licked. Look forward to your upcoming article. Lou.

  3. When I used to develop 35mm film prior to having to downsize (sadly!) I always used to load the film in a changing bag. Is this something worth considering? By the way I am hoping to start developing my own film again in the future. I am currently using high street or commercial outlets for processing 🙁 As I am just getting back to film and rediscovering the joy of photography.

  4. I had a similar sunlight versus darkroom fiasco happen not too long ago due to some light blocking material coming loose around a door. Mine was when loading 8×10 film into holders though. I discovered it after having loaded about eight sheets and luckily it was cheap X-Ray film or there would have been many more expletives uttered. You make mistakes, you learn, you move on.


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