Dust spots? Water marks? Crud on film?
November 28, 2007 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Why am I getting blotches on my black and white negatives? What are the marks? Are they dust? Water spots? How do I fix this?

I'm a relative newbie when it comes to film photograhpy, but I've been doing digital photography for a few years. I develop my own black and white film at home, and I've been less than pleased with the results when I scan my film. I have the dreaded 'crap on the negative' issue. It's started off so bad that I couldn't even print my negatives using an enlarger due to the amount of junk on the negs. Exhibit A - a crop at 100% of a corner of a negative.

Here's how I develop, and what I've done so far to fix this:

I mix all my chemicals using tap water. I'm using the standard Sprint developer and quick fixer, and stop my film using plain ol' tap water. I do a first rinse using tap water. This is all deemed fine by general consensus of photography dorks everywhere. I am using a plastic 2 135 roll development tank, capacity for two rolls of film 650ml.

I dry my film hanging from the shower bar, after the hot water was run to make the room nice and steamy and left to clear. The bathroom isn't dusty, and there hasn't been any dust on any surfaces, really, since we moved in. I make sure no one cleans the bathroom at least I24 hours before I hang film to dry. I determine dryness by curl (towards emulsion), and if the curl is correct, I test a 'spare' area of film for tackiness. Once I deem the film dry, I cut and place the negs in new archival sheet holders.

The first few rolls I developed came out disgusting, with obvious spots, water marks around the sprockets, and other disgustingness.

After much discussion with the guys at the darkroom I use to print my photos, they felt I should try a squeegee for my film. I also decided to use distilled water for a final rinse, about half a gallon of water. When I asked about a wetting agent, they claimed that it will cause more problems than it solves with regards to spots.

My negs were slightly cleaner, but still spotty and I could see a few nasty, large water spots here and there. Also, I have noticed some gnarly scratches that may have been caused by the squeegee OR the archival sleeves I put my negatives into once dry.

So, please, take a look at that shot, and let me know if you think those are dust spots or (more likely) water spots. Should I look into photoflo, or another wetting agent? Is the squeegee the cause of the scratches, or could it be more likely my negative holder sheets? I'm starting to get sick of fixing dust scratches in the gimp, and I'd like to make some nice analog enlargements of some of my negatives!

posted by Geckwoistmeinauto to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I always found using Photo-flo, and then hanging the negatives to dry in a dust free place was all I needed.
posted by MarkAnd at 11:12 AM on November 28, 2007

Two things I'd recommend from working with my ma (who does b/w home work like mad)—First, use distilled water, not tap. It may be less of an issue for you than it was at her place, but we had a lot of crud in the water, and that does mark up negs. In addition, you can add some hypoclear to your wash after the stop bath, and that will remove some further spotting.

I'll check in with her (since she teaches photo) and see if I can't get a little more specific advice (assuming no one else comes in here first).
posted by klangklangston at 11:12 AM on November 28, 2007

It does look like the squeegee is making a scratch, but not all of it is from that - see that vertical scratch on the left? That's probably from the squeegee. The archival sleeves shouldn't cause scratches, I've never had any problems with them, and I've been using them for years.

But the other stuff looks like dust to me. You say that you dry your film in the bathroom, but do you develop in there too? Or do you develop at the kitchen sink and walk down the hall to put it in the bathroom? A lot of dust can be picked up even in a few feet. Also, if you do develop and hang in the bathroom, when you swing the bathroom door open, dust can easily come in. Maybe you can develop in the bathroom with the door closed, put something in the tub to hang the film on to dry, close the shower curtain to try to block out dust from when you open the door, and THEN open the door (don't forget to close it behind you when you leave). Actually, now that I think of it, steam up the room while you're in there too. There's no reason you can't process while the room is steamy, by the time you're done it should have settled.

It's really, really hard to find a totally dust-free place in a house, even if you can't see it.

Oh, and try Photoflo. I've always used (and loved!) it, and I've never had any problems with it. You could always re-wash your film if it leaves spots, but it's supposed to do the exact opposite. Plus, it's cheap and it lasts FOREVER.

This is probably obvious and I apologize for this question already, but you're not scanning your negatives through the archival sleeves, are you? They're not perfectly clear, especially on the outside. (I have friends who used to do this, that's why I ask :)

As a side note, when you dry your negatives, use something to weigh them down at the bottom so they don't curl as much - I used to use a plain old clothespin (it's blank film down there anyway, so whatever), but they do also make actual products for this if you feel like spending money.
posted by AlisonM at 11:22 AM on November 28, 2007

Seconding clean distilled or filtered water and PhotoFlo.

How clean is your working environment? Those splotches do look like major dust. Before scanning the negatives (or using them in an enlarger) give them a spray from a can of compressed air. They make static brushes, too, if you really have a bad dust issue.

Personally, I would never squeegee my negs, for exactly the reason you've discovered.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:31 AM on November 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far!

My mother also did a lot of BW processing in her day, and extolled the virtues of photoflo and squeegees.

I'm anti-squeegee in theory, because I imagine that dragging something down the emulsion side of the film, no matter how much on the package it's said not to scratch film, just can't be good. I wet the squeegee under running hot water for ~120 seconds, hoping that would soften the squeegee and remove any dust. Maybe I'm doing it too hard. I am going to develop two rolls tonight. I'll see if I can't grab some wetting agent, and try it out. I'll squeegee one roll and not the other, and see how things come out.

I do my processing in the kitchen, and with the can still closed, I walk into the steamed bathroom and open/hang things up from the shower curtain bar.

I use binder clips to hang the film, and i clip one to the top and one to the bottom of the roll. The only problem I had with curl across the length of the film was with some Efke 25 film that curled like the dickens. Cool stuff, though!
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 11:34 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I cannot control the working environment of my scanning area, as it's in a general purpose media lab. I'm sure that I get some dust as I take the film out of the sleeve and put it into the Coolscan 5000 scanner. I do give it a burst or two of canned air before I put the strip in the scanner or enlarger.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 11:35 AM on November 28, 2007

Filtered water. Do all your work in one area and keep it obsessively clean. Static brushes rock. If you must wipe down your negs, use filtered water and a lint-free cloth every time.

Difficulty: used to do enlargements at a photo lab.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:37 AM on November 28, 2007

Instead of the squeegee, my photo prof suggested running the negatives through your fingers (not near the greasy yucky tips) a few times, after you washed your hands. It worked for me.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:55 AM on November 28, 2007

Is that a scan of the negative or of a print? Negative scanners are very sensitive to dust, so if you're using one you might try blasting it with some compressed air before doing any work with it.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:06 PM on November 28, 2007

I usually use distilled water for the last wash and use my fingers for getting rid of droplets of water like flibbertigibbet mentioned. Just use your index finger and middle finger and run the film between them while its hanging.

I tried wetting agent, but failed to see benefits.
posted by A! at 12:17 PM on November 28, 2007

Yes to Photoflo (it may depend on your water hardness), yes to (clean) fingers, no to squeegees.
posted by tommasz at 12:47 PM on November 28, 2007

Thirding flibbertigibbet on the improvised squeegee. All I ever used. I live in a hard water area too and used straight tap water and my negs never looked like that. Photoflo or not. How are you washing the film? Not familiar with the chemicals you're using. I've only ever used D-76 or Microdol and plain old Kodak fixer, followed by a 30 minute wash in a bottom-fed film washer. That said, since I went digital years ago I haven't seen the need or had the desire to do 35mm film anymore, so it's been a few years for me.
posted by AstroGuy at 1:39 PM on November 28, 2007

I have used the Sprint chemistry extensively. I always got water spots bad if I didn't use Photoflo. My town's water is extremely hard so that probably had a lot to do with it too. Definitely use Photoflo.

I always just ran the film between two fingers too, squeegees are too dust/scratch prone.
posted by bradbane at 11:29 AM on November 29, 2007

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