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The (al)chemist: formulary and chemistry books

For those that keep track of this blog somewhat regularly will not be surprised when I tell you that I am technically inclined. I have an interest in the chemistry of analog photography and recently purchased a few books on the topic. While I am reading them one by one, I am also writing reviews so you know which ones to get yourself.

In this post, I will maintain a list of resources for you to consult and I provide mini-reviews of each. You will find links to the full reviews in the descriptions. This post will be a rolling release, so to speak, and I will try to keep it up to date.

Release: 2016-07-31

Developing – The Negative Technique

This book (ISBN 0 240 44770 0, 1976), written by C.I. and R.E. Jacobson, is different from many other photography books in that it is written by people that are primarily chemists, rather than primarily photographers. This shows in the more academic writing style and the more elaborate explanations about the chemical processes. What I find especially interesting about this book is the explanations on how a developer is composed, how the components work together and why you may choose the one ingredient over the other. It gives plenty of insight, without going into the full chemical analysis.

The formulas are sorted by function, e.g., ‘general purpose developers’, ‘extreme contrast developers’, etc. and make for a very complete and comprehensive set.

I bought my copy online from a secondhand dealer at for €3,86 including shipping. If you don’t need a hard copy, you can also read the text online.

For the full review of this book, click here.

Foto-Chemicalien en Recepten

A dutch book by J.J. Hansma for the darkroom printer of the 50s. It offers an introduction on how to safely use chemical components, how store them and in what type of bottle, and many recipes for all kinds of (black-and-white) chemistry. Especially useful is the extensive glossary that is included in the book that lists all names of the used ingredients and alternative names, including a description of their appearance and use.

The book offers a complete collection of formulae, but I recommend caution in following all the advice given. For example, in the 50s the use of asbestos was still considered safe, but should no longer be used in home environments.

I bought my printed copy for 7 euro from a small book store. It does not have an ISBN, so finding it might proof a bit tricky, although the seller had multiple editions sitting on the shelf at the time.

The Photographer’s Master Printing Course

Tim Rudman never intended this book (ISBN 1-85732-407-2) to be a formulary book. It is a guide for beginning and more advanced darkroom printers, but includes some formulary in the appendix named “Reference Data”. The list of formulae is not exhaustive, but includes many interesting recipes nonetheless. They could use some additional explanation, though, especially on what to expect from usage. What I like very much, though, is that Mr. Rudman included the potential hazards of handling the most common darkroom ingredients. When trying these formulas at home, safety should be your number one priority.

For a full review of this book, click here.

A Textbook of Photographic Chemistry

John and Field authored this book in 1963 and give a step-by-step explanation of the physical and chemical processes that drive the photographic process. With its many forward references, I found it a bit annoying to read. However, it explains things often very well and discusses topics that I did not see discussed elsewhere yet: the formation of the latent image.

For a full review of this book, click here.

Books that will be added soon

(updated 31 July 2016)

  1. Kodak’s “Chemicals and Formulae”, (1949)
  2. Steve Anchell’s “The darkroom cookbook”, 3rd (2008) or 4th (2016) edition.
  3. Steve Anchell’s “The film developing cookbook”, (1999)
  4. George Eaton’s “Photographic Chemistry in Black and White and Colour Photography”, (1986)
  5. George Barrows’ “The Agfa-Book of Photographic Formulae, Ed (Classic Reprint)”, (1910)
  6. Leslie Mason’s “Photographic Processing Chemistry”, (1979)

Do you have any suggestions for other books that I should add to my collection? Please let me know via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter!

Published in Darkroom Bookshelf In the Lab