Photo Processing

Man processing photos in dark room
Protecting your skin, eyes, and lungs is important if you use chemicals to process photos.

Photographers may work with highly hazardous photo processing chemical products that can harm their health, such as:

  • Toxic toners, developers and reducers. For example, developers contain toxic ingredients like catechol, p-phenylene diamine, pyrogallic acid, and hydroquinone that can cause severe skin allergies on contact.
  • Corrosive stop bath chemicals.
  • Corrosive and toxic intensifiers.
  • Toxic color stabilizers.
  • Toxic hardeners.
  • Flammable solvents in film cleaners.

Protect Your Skin and Eyes

  • Wear chemical-resistant gloves when working with toners, developers, reducers, and stabilizers.
  • Wear gloves, splash goggles, and protective clothing when working with corrosive stop bath and intensifying chemicals.

Protect Your Lungs

Glove box for handling toxics during processing.
  • Buy your chemicals premixed to eliminate toxic and corrosive dust.
  • Purchase acetic acid pre-diluted to a concentration under 50 percent.
  • Switch to water-based cleaners to reduce toxic solvent vapors when possible. If solvents must be used, isopropyl alcohol is a less toxic alternative to petroleum solvents, though it is still flammable and therefore hazardous.
  • Store highly toxic cyanide-containing compounds away from ultraviolet (UV) light, heat, and acids.
  • When mixing photo developers or stabilizers with water, either use a glove box or local exhaust ventilation to protect you from hazardous dust, if you are unable to purchase the materials premixed. Glove boxes have been inexpensively made by many artists.
  • Protect your lungs by using chemical-specific respiratory protection and effective exhaust ventilation when:
    • Mixing dry toners, developers, reducers, and intensifiers.
    • Working with toxic toners, intensifiers, and solvents.

Use Safer Practices and Materials

  • When possible, use pre-mixed or diluted solutions to reduce chemical risk:
    • Use liquid toners, developers, and reducers instead of powders to eliminate toxic dust.
    • Purchase pre-diluted stop bath solution to reduce the risk of chemical burns.
  • Intensifiers may contain corrosive hydrochloric acid, cancer-causing dichromate compounds or toxic cyanide and mercury compounds. Farmer’s reducer is a safer substitute but keep it away from contact with acid, UV light, or heat.
  • Toners may contain toxic selenium, sulfide, or thiourea compounds. Use premixed toners to limit toxic dusts.
  • Photo reducers may contain strong oxidizers like potassium permanganate. Store and use these reducers away from flammable solvents.
  • Color stabilizers contain hexamine or cancer-causing formaldehyde. Hexamine breaks down in the process to form formaldehyde. Wear protective gloves when working with color stabilizers. Protect your lungs from inhaling formaldehyde vapors by using local exhaust ventilation to pull the vapors away from you outdoors.
  • Keep containers closed to prevent spills of toxic liquids and powders.
  • Use a plastic secondary containment tub under waste collection containers to control spills and leaks.
  • Visit the Art Supplies page to learn about safety warnings on product labels.

Safely Dispose of Photo Processing Wastes

  • Empty containers can be disposed in the trash once almost all the materials they held are gone.
  • Unused photochemicals must be disposed as hazardous waste.
  • Unused film can be disposed in the garbage.
  • Spent black and white developer can be disposed to the sanitary sewer.
  • Collect and store spent photo fixer in a separate container. Then deliver it to a silver reclaimer.
  • Whenever you create art, make sure the waste you generate is properly disposed. Learn more about waste disposal for artists.