Stand Developing for BW Photos: When to Use and Best Results Tips

Posted: 03/18/2020

Today I’m writing specifically about BW film developers and the Stand Development process. With traditional film developers you mix them with water and use the mixture as stock solution (re-usable) or diluted further as advanced formulas that are one-time-use. Once you choose your developer type (there are many that achieve similar results – FPP D96, HC-110, D76, Xtol and others), you adjust the temperature to (typically) 68 and look up the proper developing time. You start by agitating your film 5-10 seconds, then 5 seconds every 30 seconds of your remaining developing time.

But with Stand Development the film is left to “stand” in very diluted developer for an extended period of time, usually 1 hour or more, with little or no agitation.

There are several reasons to use stand development. It is noted for its perceived sharpness and supposedly relative simplicity. It also gives a compensating effect with your negatives if the film is a high contrast film or shot in high contrast light.

The compensating effect is the developer exhausting itself in areas which require greater development while remaining active in less-exposed areas, which has the effect of boosting shadow detail while preserving bright highlights. Remember, it will not make light where there isn’t light. Stand development is also largely insensitive to variations in exposure and allows for the development of films rated at different speeds to be processed in the same batch. Think about it, you can run a roll of Kodak Tri-X and Ilford FP4 at the same time in the same tank! Found an old roll of film? Just develop it with the stand method, no need to try and find a time for processing or guessing how old it is to compensate with developing times.

As I mentioned this development method is compensating, it slightly reduces contrast, but at the same time it will also cover you if you  are off plus or minus one f-stop (when you shot your film).

This all sounds easy peasy lemon squeezy, definitely very easy to learn, produces decent results with most films and works well with pushing film, and like Ron Popiel says, “set it and forget it.” No need to stay by the tank for that every 30 second agitation scheme.

But if Stand Developing is so perfect why isn’t this the only method we would use? It’s compensating, you can screw your exposure up, one time, one temp, economical use of your developer, and a time saver when processing different speeds and types of film. So, let’s talk about how to do it and when it fails.

The most common developer used with B/W stand developing is Rodinal.  It is by far the slowest, easiest, cheapest, and laziest method of developing black and white film, and it’s perfect for stand developing. It is rumored and written that you do not even have to measure temperature (but this is not true).

Another popular developer for use with stand developer is  Kodak HC-110, but I will limit this majority blog to Rodinal. I feel it’s the easiest because it is cheap, you can get it in small bottles, it lasts forever, and there are lots of examples on the net.

Before you start make sure you have something that will measure small amount of chemistry in milliliters. A medicine cup or syringe is great.

Once you load your film in its light-tight tank, I recommend pre-wetting your film with water at the same temperature of your developer for a minute or so to avoid thermal circulation, air bells, air bubbles and mimimize shock when the developer hits dry film. Thermal circulation is the warming and cooling of the developer once in the tank, it can be causing by the tank, reels or film that can cause uneven development.

While the film is sitting in the pre-wet, mix your developer if you haven’t already. Mixing Rodinal at 1+100 is easy, 1 milliliter + 100 milliliters of water, mixed at 68 degrees. If you need 400ml to cover your film use 4ml + 400ml water. If you are not used to mixing developers like this start with your developer, clean out or draw up your mixing water into your syringe or rinse out your cup and pour into the developer, then top off with the correct amount of water. It is so easy to mix it correctly because the majority of your solution is water, get the water right and the rest is icing on the cake. If you have an FPP Heat Helper sous vide, heat up a bucket or sink of clean water and pre-wet, mix your developer and hold your tank in it, and your beaker of fixer. Beautiful.

Drain out your pre-wet water, add your developer, agitate for 30 seconds and rap the tank on the counter and start your timer. That’s it. Now you’ve got an hour to kill, make a pizza or catch up on episodes of Better Call Saul since you do not touch the tank until the time is up. What exactly happens in this hour?  Your highly diluted developer is working very slowly with your film. In the highlight areas you will exhaust the developer quicker than the shadow areas. The highlight area developer stops working and thus keeps the highlight from blowing out while the shadow developer still has strength and keeps at it.  If you use semi stand you will give one inversion at the 30-minute mid-point. I feel like I have a little more security with semi stand, as it swirls the exhausted developer with less used developer.

Although the temperature is generally not as important as with other developers when you're stand-developing in Rodinal, you really shouldn't really go higher than 68-70°F without adjusting the development times. If you get to high 77°F, you have made your developer more active and you may want to compensate about 10 -15 minutes less. Stay at 68°F to keep things predictable. That why the Heat Helper sous vide is great, but remember the film is in the tank for such a long time that a few degrees of slow change will not matter.

If you opted for HC-110, the second most popular developer for this method, the development method is the same, but the dilutions and times will be slightly different. (1:125 or 1:164)

Which ever developer you use, dump it when done as this is a one-shot method. You will finish the last steps as you normally do.

If you want an interesting test, shoot one image at box speed (like Tri-x at 400 iso), then shoot the same image at 800 iso, 1600 iso, and even 3200 iso. Develop it in the Rodinal stand method and you will find there is some difference in grain and shadow detail but the exposures are surprisingly close.

As mentioned above this isn’t the perfect, end all, developer technique. Traditional development in certain developers can produce less grain, maybe there is more contrast or in some cases even slightly better tonality or more precisely a differently tonality.

Another issue with stand developing is bromide drag. Rodinal is the #1 developer used for this method because it less likely to cause bromide drag. Bromide drag is the accumulation of bromide, a byproduct of the development of the film that causes streaks and uneven development when the bromide streaks down from sprocket holes. Semi stand can help eliminate this. The problem is not limited to 35mm.

This is an extremely easy method for processing film. It makes perfect sense how it works, yet it still intrigues me. Go on, be brave and give it a try.

Leslie talks about Stand Development on FILM PHOTOGRAPHY PODCAST Episode 244 (at about 42 minutes into the program). You can DOWNLOAD this episode (right click, Save as) or listen below.

Leslie Lazenby fell in love with photography when she was given her first camera, a GAF 126, at the age of 10.  Her first job in a camera shop with a custom and commercial photo lab turned into a 20-year adventure in film; leading to positions in darkrooms, customer relations, and as head of purchasing.  For the past 15 years, Leslie has owned her own business, Imagine That, retailing traditional photography products, photographic restoration, custom printing and video conversions. She finds her Zen next door at her studio, the Mecca, where she plays with her film cameras, processes film and holds small classes focusing on teens and young adults. @leslie_lazenby on Instagram / on Flickr


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