How much do you know about film photography? We dug deep into the past to find these seven pointers for you. Test your knowledge against our film tips, tricks, and lore.
1. Don’t Shake Your Polaroid Pictures
Contrary to the message conveyed in the Outkast song “Hey Ya” (company policy prevents us from linking to it on YouTube), you shouldn’t shake your Polaroid pictures. Besides the fact that waving your just-shot, now-developing picture isn’t really beneficial, there’s also a slight possibility it might, in fact, harm your print if you “shake it—shake it” too vigorously. The structure of a Polaroid is a series of chemicals and dyes sandwiched between layers; if you shake your print, there is the off chance you might create unwanted bubbles or marks between some of the layers, causing flaws in the final image. So, rather than shaking, simply let your print fully develop face down or in dim light on a flat surface.
2. Bulk Load 35mm Film for Quick Film Changes
Maybe not the worst problem in the world, but sometimes, one of the drawbacks of working with 35mm film is the high number of shots you get per roll—usually 36 or 24. As much as it’s an advantage, it can also be a problem when you want to change film types multiple times throughout the course of the day but don’t want to a) carry multiple bodies or b) unnecessarily waste film. A seldom-used workaround for this is to bulk load your own rolls of film and only load ~10-12 shots per roll. This way you can quickly shift from 50-speed film to 100-speed film to 400-speed film as the light changes during the course of an afternoon.
3. Take Advantage of the Notches on Sheet Film
For anyone who’s ever shot large format sheet film, you’ll know that one of the most-loathed parts of the process is loading film holders before shooting. In complete darkness, you have to fumble with pulling individual pieces of film out of a box and then inserting them into holders in just the right way, all while avoiding scratches and dust. One aid for this process is the unique notches on each sheet of film; these small cutouts not only help you identify which side of the film sheet is the base and which is the emulsion, but they also can be used to identify the specific type of film you’re handling (in case you were so bold as to try to load multiple types of film at once).
4. Shoot through the Film Base for Creative Effects
Commonly called “red scale,” shooting through the base of film is a direct way to impose an overwhelming reddish hue on your imagery (assuming you’re using color negative film). There are ready-to-use films if you’re interested in this effect, like KONO ROTWILD No. 2, but it’s worth knowing that you can get the same look on your own by unraveling an entire roll of unexposed film (in total darkness, of course) and then re-rolling it against the curl back onto the spool with the base facing outward. It’s even easier to get this effect with sheet film (just load the sheet backwards) and decidedly more difficult to do with 120 film due to the backing paper.
5. Develop Film with Coffee
Everyone’s favorite quirky developer, it never ceases to impress that you can use instant coffee to develop your black-and-white negative film. Commonly called “caffenol,” the developing solution comprises caffeinated instant coffee, washing soda, and vitamin C powder. Beyond it just being cool that you can make a working developer with somewhat common household supplies, it’s also worth knowing it’s a worthwhile process that can yield impressive results akin to other commercially available developers.
6. Shoot Color Photos with Black-and-White Film
A fun experiment and something that directly references the history of color photography, you can make full-color photos just by shooting a series of black-and-white images and compositing them. Called “three-color separation,” this process relies on using red, green, and blue filters, something like a #25 red, a #58 green, and a #47B blue, to perform a similar function to what the different dye layers in color film do. You shoot the same scene three separate times, once with the red filter in front of the lens, once with the green filter, and once with the blue filter. Then, during post-production, you insert these individual images into the separate R, G, and B channels, merge the image, and voilà! You will have a full-color image.
7. Retrieve a Film Leader with Your Saliva
Short but sweet, this is one of those tricks you might not ever need but will be surprised how well it works the one time you do. When handling 35mm film, sometimes you may accidentally wind the film leader back into the cassette prior to shooting it. B&H sells a specialized leader retriever tool for the job of pulling a bit of film back out of the cassette prior to loading the film into the camera, but an equally savvy solution is to take a separate fresh roll of film (with an available film leader), lick this piece of film, then insert this film into the other cassette. Wait a few seconds for the emulsion to soften from your saliva, then gently pull out the now-adhered film leader.
Have you tried any of these fun film tricks? I’m sure I’m forgetting numerous other tricks, bits of trivia, or just fun film facts—please share your favorites in the Comments section, below!