Discovering Pyro Developers

Arthur Brown singing Fire

Starting my journey

As I sit here planning this article, Arthur Brown's song "Fire" plays in the background. It's a deliberate choice, as I am about to tell you about my pyromania, a pleasure that has only recently come to me.

Okay, just to be clear, I'm not talking about starting bushfires or burning incompetent digital photographers. I'm referring to Pyro developers. My interest in Pyro Developer began when I asked Chris Reid from Blanco Negro about a comment he made regarding almost exclusively using Pyro. He connected me with Gold Street Studio and recommended Bergger PMK Film Developer. So, I ordered PMK developer and while waiting for it to be delivered, I began my research.

Bergger PMK

Bergger PMK Film Developer

Researching Bergger PMK film developer showed that it is a highly capable developer, and is a good alternative to ever popular HC-110 developer for black-and-white film processing.

PMK developer is known for its ability to produce high levels of sharpness and detail, as well as improved tonal separation. It is a staining developer, meaning it dyes the silver in the emulsion, resulting in a more pronounced and pleasing aesthetic.

In addition to its sharpness-enhancing properties, PMK offers a high degree of control over contrast. By adjusting the time and temperature, photographers can fine-tune the contrast of their images to achieve the desired effect. OK, this is something I will have to play with to confirm. PMK developer is also recognized for its ability to produce rich, deep blacks and smooth tonal gradations.

Overall, PMK developer is a popular choice for black-and-white film photographers who seek the highest level of image quality and control over their final results. Its staining properties, sharpness-enhancing abilities, and contrast control make it a powerful tool for photographers at all levels of experience.

A word of warning

One of the unique features of PMK developer is its use of pyrogallol, a powerful developing agent that can produce images with exceptional sharpness and detail. However, pyrogallol is highly toxic and requires careful handling to avoid health risks. For this reason, PMK developer is not recommended for inexperienced or careless users.

Given its toxic nature and the fact it stains skin and tabletop, even if dilutes to working strength, I have had to change the habits of a lifetime and started to wear latex gloves, sit the development tank in a large plastic tray to catch any drips and have extra ventilation.

Remember to read the safety instructions that come with the product, and remember your better-half is likely to kill you if you stain the dinner table.

Journey into pyromania

The first thing I would say about PMK is that it is a very economical developer. It is like Rodinal or HC-110 diluted to the extreme and has an excellent shelf life once opened. Maybe it's my Scottish nature that likes the fact it gives real value for money in film photography. With prices going through the roof for our ‘passion’, we need something that gives back to us for sticking with film photography.

The recommended steps

  • Agitation during the development is initially 15 seconds constantly, then every 15 Seconds two inversions or two sharp rotations.
  • Stop Bath is recommended to be non acidic. I personally use water, being 15 seconds, change water and another 15 seconds.
  • Washing for 20 to 30 minutes. If you are in an area with limited water, a 6 bath method can be used, with the first bath being constant agitation.
  • Read the Technical Sheet, linked below for more information.

Remember to read the safety instructions that come with the product, and remember your better-half is likely to kill you if you stain the dinner table.

Love at first sight

Is PMK going to be the one developer for me? If beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, then I was he, captivated by the stunning results achieved using PMK Pyro to develop my first roll of film. The unique staining process imbued each image with an incomparable quality, ensuring they'll produce beautiful prints that will be rich in detail.

As you can guess, I was very impressed with my first results. You could actually say that after my first roll in PMK, I was hooked. The sharpness and tonal separation were impressive, and the images had a pleasing aesthetic due to the staining present on the film.

The Print

The next step was to print from the negatives to get a feel for how the photos came out. I was not disappointed. The prints came out with excellent detail and contrast control, producing rich, deep blacks and smooth tonal gradations. Overall, PMK delivered on its promise of high-quality image results and left me thoroughly impressed.

While the negatives with full tonal value look wonderful when printed, I was more impressed by the results I got when printing thin, low contrast negatives. As tonal range is improved, it means that time to produce a good print is greatly reduced. OK, it may be an impression of tonal improvements, but my gut feeling is that there is an extended tonal range and it does make it far easier to get a good print from those pesky thin negatives.


In summay, I have found my first foray into the use of Pyro developers as nothing short of life-changing. The results I got were amazing and I am excited to see where the journey with PMK developer takes me.

While there are some more accessible developers out there, like Ilford Ilfosol 3 or DD-X and Kodak HC-110, I have now used Bergger PMK several times and I am still loving the experience. It may be the novelty of something new, but I am really enjoying developing film, something which can so easily become a chore. It is something I recommend you try for yourself. Maybe you too will want to be a devoted pyromaniac like me.