Jeff Kuhlman

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Is Processing Your Own C-41 Worth It

Posted by on December 11, 2017 at 4:35 PM


The economy of c-41 kits and chemistry is questionable and requires experience and personal judgement as to how far you can push it before it is exhausted. One thing is for sure it is not creative like black and white processing. It is just a simple recipe with an exact time and temperature. There are ways of adjusting these two factors, but you still end up with the same result. As I continue to grow my business, I am constantly at a crossroad of sorts of how much time I have and if it’s worth the amount of time I have invested in something. Ultimately does it add value to my process and my photography? I usually feel like I need to be in control of everything and especially the creative aspects. In today’s time it is completely acceptable as a photographer to merely push the shutter, processing, printing, ect can be done by someone else. I doubt I would like that, but maybe if you built a team of people that understood your vision it would work. For now I am completely in control of my own creative process. So back to c-41 processing, with nothing creative in the process I could easily have a lab process the color film and then I could handle it from there and it would save me a lot of time. Does it save me money in the equation of cost to time invested?


After revisiting shooting color, before I had only shot slide film for a couple years and usually less than 12 rolls a year. Since slide film is going away, I have accepted it and decided to move on, and have not shot color since. So I shot 12 rolls of Ektar 100, and bought a c-41 kit to process at home. So the experiment began there. I mixed the chemistry and started processing the film. For it to make sense for me to take on the task it needed to save me money, without affecting the quality of my work. I set up the perimeters that the chemistry needed to last 1 month and I needed to do at least those 12 rolls of film, preferably 15 rolls. This would bring down the cost of developing 120 film to $2 roll and that would be worth my time. After all I have all the equipment, but my time is important. I did not end up shooting any more than 12 rolls, but it worked out great. The negatives did not show any issues as the processing went on for the month and the reuse of the chemistry. So it definitely saved me money and while the chemistry is heating up I was able to multitask and do other projects in my studio.


I as I started scanning the negatives I was reminded of why I stopped shooting c-41 in the first place. And that was the disappointment of the photos and the richness of colors and dynamic range of the film. Slide film while tricky with the exposure, is incredibly rich and has some magic to it that sets it apart. But slide film currently costs me $3 a shutter click and I really do not feel it is that magical. I really feel like digital color photography has surpassed color film. I can not speak for shooting large format color film, but shooting 35mm for sure is a waste of time for me. The scans look like I have put a iphone filter on them, which would of saved a lot of time and money. Shooting ektar 100 with my Mamiya RB67 definitely has better results. But images that I shoot need to really speak out and evoke some connection and place and the lack of detail just really isn’t there most of the time.


I love shooting film and can not imagine being a photographer that is not dedicated to shooting film. I will continue to experiment with shooting color in digital format and I have plans to shoot Portra 160 for portraits. So stay tuned for those results. Below are some sample images of the current c-41 photos and some slide film. I also created a video of processing c-41. You can find that on make sure to subscribe to the channel.


Thanks for reading! Jeff

First photo is slide film and the second is Ektar 100


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