What? You can develop film in beer?!
Oh yeah. And below we'll show you exactly how, step-by-step.
But first we’ll quickly dive into how we figured out you can develop black & white film at home with beer in the first place. Developing black and white—and even color film—at home has been a hobby for film photography enthusiasts for decades on decades. Only problem is, the traditional way to develop film requires nasty chemical developers, toxic stop baths, and polluting waste materials. Alternative developers like coffee, beer, and even wine substitute naturally balanced liquids for chemicals regularly used in analog film development, like formaldehyde and ammonia, working with specific additives like vitamin C and soda ash to activate the film’s chemical makeup and bring the image to life.
Using beer in film processing may not deliver as punchy blacks or whites as you would expect to see with professional chemicals, but the softer contrasts and occasional sepia-like tones are actually quite lovely when tested with black & white films like Kodak Tri-X 400 and Fujifilm Acros 100—though the type of film you use is up to you (and likely your wallet). Good news is, neither your film camera model or type of film matter—both 35mm and medium format film work, so long as it’s b&w film (check out our picks for the best film cameras here btw). With beerenol, as the process is sometimes called, it’s best to embrace the artsy aesthetic and the imperfections that come from the process of developing your own film. It’s handmade! Unique! Etc. Sure a digital camera would be easier, but where’s the fun in that?!
But best of all, it’s fun and cheap, compared to dealing with most commercial photo labs these days. Cracking a beer with the homies is always a good idea, so why not share one with your photos, too?
Beyond some beer, minimal equipment and supplies are needed, nor is any previous darkroom experience (beginners should have little trouble with this process, aside from the ever-frustrating task of getting the film strip out of the film canister and wound onto the film reel, in complete darkness). Our beer of choice for film processing is New Belgium Fat Tire. Grab a sixer from pretty much anywhere, follow the below steps on how to develop film at home, and rack up the comments on your next IG post. Five for you, one for the film gods. Let's do this.
What You Need to Develop Film With Beer
- Beer (duh). Room temp or a little warmer. Let the can swim (unopened) in warm water for a bit to get it up to temp. Roughly one can is good for a roll of 35mm, but to be safe I use one and a half (500ml). Increase volume according to tank directions for 120 medium format film
- Exposed black and white negative film. I recommend either Fujifilm Acros 100 or Kodak Tri-X 400
- 15g pure vitamin C powder (available at most drugstores, groceries, online, etc)
- 50g soda ash (again, online)
- Plastic or metal coffee filter
- Standard reusable Patterson film developing tank
- Ilford Rapid Fixer for best results
- Rubber gloves optional
How to Develop Film at Home with Beer, Step by Step
- Step 1. Use a church key or bottle opener to get your b&w film off the roll, thread it onto the plastic reel, and place it into the Patterson tank—make sure the lid is on light-tight. If you don't have a room capable of achieving complete darkness, like a bathroom without a window, try a changing bag. I use this one—it’s cheap, super portable, and easy to use.
Step 2. Pour the warm beer into a mixing bowl or other glass container, then slowly add 50g soda ash while stirring with a metal spoon (or titanium spork). Don’t sweat the carbonation, air bubbles won’t hurt anything. Place remaining beers from six pack in the fridge for later.
Step 3. After ash is mostly dissolved, add vitamin C. Keep stirring for another minute. Some of the soda ash will likely crystalize together and fall to the bottom of the solution, again, don’t worry. This is fine.
Step 4. Pour your concoction into the Patterson tank through the coffee filter to reduce the chances of soda ash crystals scratching your film in the tank. Seal tank and invert back and forth at a calm pace for one full minute without stopping. Do not shake it like a corny mixologist.
Step 5. Repeat inversions again one time every minute for 18 minutes—this adequate development time.
Step 6. Rinse with room temp or slightly warmer running water (distilled water is preferred, especially if your tap water is hard or unusually balanced) to flush the solution and stop the development process and prevent the photographs from getting darker. Continue flushing until water has run clear for several cycles. Ilford Ilfostop can also be used as a stop bath here to improve results.
Step 7. Add Ilford fixer to the drained tank to make the images on your film roll permanent and light-resistant by dissolving any remaining emulsion, or silver halide salts. Invert back and forth nonstop for a full minute, then once again every minute for four more minutes.
Step 8. Rinse again with more distilled water. Flushing thoroughly at least ten times. Your film negatives are now safe to remove from the tank and hang dry.
Step 9. Your done! Celebrate a successful film experiment with a cold Fat Tire then take a nap while your film dries. Be sure it is completely dry before handling and/or scanning.
Pro Tips for At Home Film Processing with Beer
*Tip #1: to reduce the dust that will inevitably get stuck to your wet negs during the drying process, run the shower on hot in your bathroom until the room is full of steam, then turn the water off, and close the door. As the steam dissipates it will pull most floating particulates out of the air. Then hang your negatives in the relatively safe space. Using a squeegee on your roll of film will reduce water spots *
Tip #2: If you find your negs are too dense, next time try warmer water and longer immersion in beer solution, but the above has worked great for both stated film stocks.
Tip #3: If fogging occurs, or if you’re pushing past ISO 400, use a pinch of sodium bromide in the initial solution and it should take care of it.
Ed Note: You may find images have a slight sepia cast when scanned. If you don't dig it, just grayscale your image files in Photoshop to achieve a more classic B&W balance. Otherwise, embrace the unique, artsy fartsy vibe!