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When loading film onto a metal reel, you first attach it to the center of the reel via a center clamp that you push down. Then, while bending the film slightly at the edges, you roll it on, keeping the film in the reel's grooves. How do you do this with the lights off? Practice with them on until you get a feel for it. Your fingers will eventually get a sense of whether the roll is properly loading or not.

Tip: The first roll you actually try to develop should not have important material on it, just in case things don't quite work out. This way you can learn from your mistakes with minimal stress. 
Part II (Coming soon): It's time to bring on the chemistry...

Step 2:  Load the film onto either a metal or plastic film reel. For beginners, plastic may be easier to learn than metal. With plastic, you simply slide one end of the film into a slot on the outer edge of the reel and "walk" the film in until it is loaded. Metal demands a higher degree of dexterity, which might not be appreciated when you're standing in the dark struggling to get your valuable shots onto the reel.

Step 3:  Place the loaded reel in the film tank and cover it as directed. The film is now in a light tight container. You can turn on the light or take the closed tank out of the changing bag. 

Here's how you do it with a metal reel: 

Step 1:  In total darkness, remove the film from the cassette. Pull the flat end (as opposed to the end with the tip of the spool sticking out) off the 35mm canister with a can opener. Unwind the film and remove the end of the film from the spool by peeling off the tape that connects it. 


I think you got the point.

Finally, you'll need something to open the film with:  I recommend a simple bottle opener. Buy one at your local convenience store for a buck or two, or repurpose a spare from your kitchen. I've been using the same cheap bottle opener since the 70s. I think I permanently borrowed it from my parents' kitchen. No need to buy a special film opener.


Practice, practice, practice: How to Load A Roll of Black-and-White Film

Before you develop your first roll of film, you need be able to to load the film onto a reel and place it in the tank. A straightforward sounding affair...until you learn that it must be done blind.

Lay out your tools in front of you: film cassette, can opener, film reel, tank and tank cover. Memorize their positions. Turn off the light (or zip the bag closed). You're ready.

At least, if you've practiced, in the light, you're ready. So, before you do it in the dark, follow the steps below in the light. Sacrifice a roll or two for this purpose.

Once you feel competent in daylight, close your eyes and try it again. You'll fumble. You'll fail. You'll fume. Keep trying. You'll get it, eventually. 

Once you feel you can do it with your eyes closed, do it in the dark or in a changing bag, following these instructions. Again, be prepared for failure at first. That's part of the learning process.

A pitch-black room...or a changing bag:  If you have your own indoor room with absolutely no light leaking in (turn the light off and stand there for a few minutes. If you see any light, it's not light tight.) Don't have a pitch-black room? No worries. A roomy film changing bag is a portable light-tight solution. The Adorama Large Changing Bag, at 27x30 inches, is roomy enough. If you want to spurge on a bag that doesn't get tangled in the film, consider the Photoflex Chainging Room Light-Tight Film Changing Tent. The best part? While the film is in total darkness, you can sit in a lit room.

If you're really interested in creating a changing room, find a room with no windows. Turn off the lights. Sit there for 10 minutes wile your eyes adjust. Look for light coming through corners, around the door frame, etc. If you see any light, use black Gaffer tape to block it. Or, turn off the lights outside the room. Remember: If you can see any light, so can your film, and that will result in fogging that could ruin the images.

Related article: Convert your laundry room, bathroom or kitchen into a full- or part-time darkroom

If decide to go create a changing room. This is what you should see when you turn off the lights:

• A film developing tank.

The great debate: Metal or Plastic?

Plastic:  For some, rolling film onto a plastic tank reel is easier, and for those, I recommend the Adorama Ultra Universal Plastic Daylight Film Developing Tank, which can accommodate two rolls of 35mm, or one roll of either 120 and 220 and looks similar to the one pictured above. The Paterson 35mm Tank and Reel lets you develop one roll at a time, but if you shoot a lot, you may want the 5-reel tank. The only real downside with plastic is that if it isn't completely dry, the film will bunch up when you're loading it, and that could be messy.

Stainless Steel:  With a little practice, loading film onto a stainless steel reel is a cinch, even when wet. Without practice, it's a mess, which makes a plastic tank a good choice for beginners. I recommend the Adorama Stainless Steel Daylight Film Developing Tank, which is available in one or, eight rolls of 35mm and half that many rolls of 120/220 roll film. Keep in mind the reels and tanks are sold separately.


Above: A loaded metal reel. Difficult to master. You may want to start with a plastic reel. 

You've built a darkroom. You've taken the pictures. Now it's time to learn black and white film developing. Here's my 12-step program, part 1: 
Why do black and white film processing instead of sending it to a lab? First off, there aren't many labs that handle black and white film processing and printing any more, and those that do are, frankly, expensive when compared to DIY. If you're committed to film, go all the way and soup it yourself. 
By the time you finish this three-part series, you'll be an expert in the basics of black and white film developing (assuming you read it diligently and practice, practice, practice). Print it out and paste it over your film processing workspace for handy reference.


Black and White Film Processing Buying Guide: Everything You Need for Steps 1-3

Do It In The Dark: Developing B&W Film, Part 1

Digital? Fagetaboutit! Learn how to develop and print black-and-white film and take your photography to an exciting new level! Part 1: Loading a film tank.

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