My Very First Caffenol Experience

I’ve been contemplating developing my own film for some time (years). It’s cheaper than sending it in, and would give me a more hands-on experience with photography. Merely uploading and editing has started to lose its pizzazz.

So, last Saturday I decided to just go for it. I bought a two-reel tank and the ingredients for caffenol. For those who don’t know, a recipe usually calls for washing soda, iodized salt, vitamin C crystals, and the best ingredient of all, coffee.

Why Caffenol?

I have lots of reasons, but these are the main ones:

It’s cheaper than traditional

Someone estimated online that caffenol was about .37 per roll.

It’s safer than traditional

Which makes me, someone who suffers from anxiety, a little less weary and a little more excited. Also, with Goo picking up her camera more and more, I’m thinking she will want to start helping soon.

It looks cool

I found out about caffenol several years ago and was immediately drawn to its unique style. Take a look at these photos developed and/or printed with caffenol.

It’s developing film…with coffee.

Need I say more?

I gathered all of my materials on the counter and took a deep breath. Note that I grabbed vitamin C tablets instead of crystals. According to The Caffenol Cookbook, this is a big no-no, but I couldn’t find the crystals anywhere. So I had to resort to placing the tablets into a bag and hitting them with a wooden rolling pin, not something you should really do when your kid is asleep upstairs, but I was desperate. On this night we were both lucky she’s a heavy sleeper.

Another deep breath, and I was ready to begin. I found this youtube tutorial and got to work.

The look of a gal who just loaded her own film for the first time ever

Loading the Film

Pitch darkness, and a thousand parts to a tank. The film didn’t want to load properly at first and I could hear my heart thudding in my ears as I thought: oh god, what if I grabbed the wrong size tank?? But finally it slipped into place and I was able to wind it properly. The hardest part was probably using scissors in the pitch dark. I’m surprised I didn’t lop off a finger.

When I got the tank back together I felt amazing, but spent. Sort of like how you feel after finally riding that rollercoaster you’ve been weary about, but totally wanting to try.

Mixing the Caffenol & Fixer

I used the recipe from the youtube video, but there are much better recipes in The Caffenol Cookbook. I recommend going there first if you’re wanting to give it a try.

Here was the caffenol recipe from the video:

In 9 oz of water…

  • coffee
  • 1/2 tsp vitamin c

In another 9 oz of water…

  • 3 1/2 tsp of washing soda

Mix separately, and then combine the two.

For the fixer:

  • 12 oz of water
  • 4 oz of fixer

(note: it wasn’t until the next day that my husband pointed out I did the math wrong. It’s supposed to be 1+4 for the fixer, so I should have done 16 oz of water and 4 oz of fixer)


I poured the caffenol into the tank and agitated like the video said, for a full minute and then three times every minute thereafter, for a total of nine minutes. I noticed the tank was leaking, so either I was agitating too roughly, or I didn’t close it tightly enough. Also, the pressure of time had my heart in my throat, and up to this point I had convinced myself that film was a perfected process, meaning that one simple mistake would ruin everything. But that’s not always so. After reading The Caffenol Cookbook I learned there are, in fact, lax developers out there who just kind of go with the flow. One reported not agitating at all, just leaving the tank in his darkroom and returning after about 25 minutes.

Rinse & Fixer

Try rinsing and restarting a youtube video a thousand times. Again, it’s important to rinse the film thoroughly, but there’s no need to panic. The film will not disappear and the tank will not explode. I added the fixer and kept it in there for five minutes (as per the video).

Removing the Film

At first I was worried. I’d found this film in the car and wasn’t even sure there was anything on it. When I first removed the reel I didn’t see anything at all, and my heart sank. But then I held it up to the light and…I saw images!

But there was a shadow…

On the top half of the negatives there is a shadow. After talking with several people online, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was either not enough developer, or the fact that I tried to develop c 41 with caffenol (or a combination of both).

The film itself is apparently from years ago, because Goo is only around 12 months old in the pictures. I had no idea I’d had this roll lying around for so long.

Though the caffenol gave them its signature brown hue, I decided to convert them to black and white. Not only did I think it looked better, but it was still Monochrome Month.

The pictures aren’t perfect, but they’re a start, and I can’t wait to try again and again and perfect my caffenol method.

All images © 2017 Lina Forrester


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