How to Open 35mm Film


Once you get past the snapshot phase of photography and want to improve your photographic work, you may want to learn to develop your own film. Developing 35mm film isn't the difficult alchemy that you may have imagined. Many people develop their own negatives at home using only small hand-held equipment. The first step in developing is to get the film out of the canister and into the developing tank, where you can safely turn it into negatives to print out or take to a professional to print.

Things You'll Need

  • 35 mm film canister
  • Bottle top opener
  • Light bag or darkroom
  • Developing tank
  • Reel
  • Rewind your film in your camera until the leader has been wound onto the spool. Many cameras have an automatic winding mechanism that employs as soon as the last shot is taken, but do it yourself if you have a manual camera. You can tell when the spool is completely filled as the winding will get suddenly easier as the leader end releases from the camera and comes loose.

  • Place your developing tank, spool, film canister and bottle opener into a light bag or on a handy counter in your darkroom. Make sure that all the equipment is exactly where you can reach it easily without turning on any lights.

  • Grasp the film canister in your left hand with the flat, smooth end facing downward. Use the bottle opener to remove the top of the canister, exactly the same way you would remove the metal top from a bottle of soda.

  • Tip the canister over gently until the film slides out. Set down the bottle opener and grasp the film in your right hand, handling only the edges of the film.

  • Slide the leader edge of the film into the slit in the center of the developing tank reel. Wind the reel around and around in your hand, making sure that the film winds itself onto the spiral opening at the top and bottom of the reel. Make sure that there is only one layer of film in each layer of the reel and that the film doesn't touch itself at any point.

  • Set the loaded reel into the developing tank and screw or snap on the light-proof top. Feel around the edges to make sure that the top is securely in place all around. Remove the tank from the light bag or turn on the lights in your darkroom

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  • Photo Credit film image by Richard Seeney from
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