Travel Lab Film Dev

Travel Lab for Film Development

As mentioned in one of the last pots, for my work in Thailand I just brought two film cameras. No digital. On the one hand it is simplistic. On the other hand …

Shooting film cameras on longer travels will bring you a “new” set of problems to solve compared to digital photography. On the pro side we have traveling without battery packs, no chargers, no fear of running out of power, no laptop, no backup issues, no data loss. On the con side: you have to deal with many rolls of film, first for shooting, and then handling the exposed rolls afterwards.

Initial Thoughts

One of my favored films is Kodak Tri-X, so availability in Thailand had to be checked prior to departure. There seems to be some Tri-X on stock all time at a specialized photography supplier in Bangkok (Pro Color Lab), but not having to rely on it I decided to already bring “a couple of” rolls to start. The store will be a welcome backup once running out of film. The much bigger problem is how to handle the exposed rolls.

For developing one option is to carry all rolls exposed back home again and develop them in your favored lab or by yourself. The longer the trip, the more film accumulates, the less reasonable this approach will be. Another idea was sending your exposed rolls of film home to a lab of trust from time to time. They do the job and take care of the negatives until you return. In case you have a personal assistant, which I don’t assume, he can develop for you. In all of these cases you will not see any results of shooting until back from the trip.

Being in Thailand for a couple of months I want to keep track of my shots and possible failures which I might try to re-shoot then. Therefore I need to have a look on the developed film. Handing the rolls over to a lab for processing is not an option here, and a good and experienced freelancer taking the job unfortunately could not be found. If you know one I’d still be grateful for a tip!

So I am back to doing it yourself. This can be slightly challenging in a foreign country with temperatures having ice cream melt before you get a chance to eat it, with tap water warm enough to have a pleasant hot shower without any need to heat it up, with a limited supply of chemicals, and other hurdles to take.

Travel Darkroom Setup

Mainly based in Bangkok my first step was to ensure the room will have an air con to get at least some kind of a more or less consistently tempered environment. We are not talking about lab conditions here, more about avoiding boiling hot temperatures.

Second step was finding a supplier for chemicals like developer and fixer. With a bit of forum help – thanks to Bangkok based photographer Ian on photo.net! – a specialized photography supplier could be found nearby. To my surprise they would have also had high quality products for building up a little film development lab like all sizes of Paterson tanks and more. Most things I had brought myself.

For developing film in general not much is needed. Other than for developing paper prints you don’t need a fully equipped darkroom and no bulky items like an enlarger. A minimum travel setup:

  • Film changing bag (your dry darkroom) – could also be done under the blanket
  • Development Tank (your wet darkroom)
  • Plenty of water, ideally from a tap
  • Developer, Fixer, Wetting agent
  • Graduated jugs and syringes for measuring and mixing chemicals
  • Clips to dry developed film

In my case I have a great bathroom here with tiles all over. Good for using chemicals and easy to clean. Room temperatures as well as tap water are way beyond the optimal 20°C. But you have to deal with what you get, not with theoretically perfect. Tables show how to adjust developing times to higher temperatures. The rest is a bit of testing and fine tuning.

Final Decisions

Which chemicals to go for? Choosing a developer in my case here in Bangkok was very simple: take the only one on offer. So I returned from the store with a bottle of Ilford HC (which is Ilford’s version of Kodak HC-110). Preferably shooting Tri-X anyway, this luckily makes up a pretty good combination for the looks I like to achieve: compensating contrast, detail rich with the right development technique, good tonal range, pretty high acutance, while keeping grain under control.

As a last step the best development technique had to be chosen: developing times, number of agitations, and the amount of developer used. This is where the real magic begins.

Dealing with all the unfavorable circumstances in my travel setup like high temperatures and high contrast situations, as well as varying slight over exposures and under exposures due to some limited settings on a Mamiya RB67,

Which flexible and forgiving development technique I chose you can read in the following post.

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