One night, flicking through the channels (for a change, instead of flicking through Flickr), I saw a strange episode of Mythbusters. The gingery guy and the walrussy guy were in a room, and had to solve all these odd problems using household gear. Maybe they were busting Mcgyver. I don’t know. I do know that they got one thing wrong.
One of the tasks they were set was the developing of a film. They looked over their availalbe set of tools and chose… orange juice! Wrong. They needed coffee.
Coffee (more precisely caffeine compounds contained within it) is the basis for a very simple and effective film develepor. It really is easy. Here’s my recipe for Caffenol:
- Instant coffee – buy the biggest, cheapest bottle you can find. 12 teaspoons.
- ‘Lectric Soda (Calcium Carbonate). In Australia this is readily available in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket. In the UK I think it is sold as Soda Crystals. Can someone confirm? Elsewehre, i’m not so sure. (5 tablespoons)
- Vitamin C – buy the cheapest you can and grind them up in a mortar and pestle. Two tablets.
- Mix this in to 500 ml of tap water, and stir until the ‘Lectric Soda is dissolved. Let sit for ten or fifteen minutes.
- NB this is the recipe I’ve found works well enough with my Holga and the Shanghai film I use. There are many other, often more precise recipes.
- When you’re done, DO NOT drink the developer. Easy to comply with because it sure don’t smell like coffee. But DO have a nice hot bath with 1/2 cup of ‘Lectric Soda. Very relaxing.
Use exactly as you would a normal developer. Digital Truth’s big dev chart will even give you the times you need.
I’ve experimented a lot with different times and different temperatures. If you go with water that is a little over room temperature, it is easy to overdevelop, and sometimes crazy colours creep in, but I’ve seen this with Rodinal too. Overdeveloping with warmer water can give very interesting extra-grainy effects.
An interesting effect, and you can see the brown tint that Caffenol can imbue. This was emphasised a little after scanning the negative.
Sometimes, things can go very wrong, but in a colourful way. I think underexposure is as much as a problem as caffenol in this shot:
If you have a film that you know is underxposed, development in caffenol with a little extra coffee and a little hot water in the mix can at least give you something interesting, so long as there’s a little more on the film than the above. In the shot below, I was disappointed when I realised a camera setting was wrong and everything would be drastically underxposed. But I really like what I got out of it with some “hot caffenol.”
( Ah, my poor old Kiev 60. It fell apart.)
Of course, Caffenol is not necessarily kooky. With care, and with properly-exposed film, it is a fine, crisp developer. Have a look at this sandscape, another shot that makes me miss my Kiev 60.
I’ll finish off with what has been my most succesful Creative Commons iimage. It crops up all over the place, usually in blogs about libraries and reading. A classic caffenol with just a little odd colouration:
See the little bubbles on the left hand margin? This is why you need to regularly shake and tap your develooping tank as you process the film. If you let gas bubbles form and sit on the developing or fixing film, this is what you’ll get.
I’d like to hear from readers who have used Caffenol, or any other home made developer (except urine – keep that to yourself).
There are lots of sites out there with instructions on how to develop your own film. It’s easier than you might think, even with colour film. Would anyone like me to do a how-to one day?
Thanks for reading. Next time, some tips on getting the most from the new Impossible Polaroid film. It isn’t really impossible at all.