What is a Film Soup?

There are a lot of interesting hobbies out in the world that are a little less mainstream, but thanks to the wonders of the inter-webs they’ve been made accessible to the rest of us. A few things that come to mind are hobbies like beetle fighting, drinking from shoes, or in my case- souping film.

The first two are pretty self-explanatory, but what exactly is ‘souping film’? It’s the process of wrecking or destroying the emulsion of a photographic film negative, on purpose, for creative effect. This is done by soaking the roll in different liquids, foods, or chemicals. Sound fun? It is.

There are lots of different ways that you can treat your film when souping, and these combinations are usually called “recipes” because, like preparation for a meal, you’re combing certain ingredients together to achieve a particular type of result.

However, unlike a perfectly prepared meal, the results are not always delicious and repeatable. Souping film is very unpredictable and can create warping, color shifts, and even spots that occur on the image. While these may be interesting and desirable effects, they can also render an image into a steaming pile of nope.

To give an example of just how random the effects can be, here are three images of the same scene, and a blank leader frame from the start of the roll. The leader frame has no picture on it, yet there is still a strong abstract effect.

A good rule of thumb to follow when experimenting with different ingredients is looking at acidity. The higher the acidic pH of a liquid or chemical, the more damaging it will be to the emulsion. Time is also a factor- the longer the roll is submerged the more dramatic or pronounced the effect will be.

After trying several concoctions, my go-to liquid when putting together a soup is lemon juice. In an 8oz glass, I’ll combine a 1 to 1 water to juice ratio. Maybe a drop of dish soap (less is more here), and a pinch of salt. The film will soak in this solution overnight, and be ready to develop the next day. The results are usually a combination of some rainbow and/or vivid color shifts with peppered dots overlaying the image. Experimenting is key though because the combinations and results are nearly endless.

A Film Soup Recipe:

Combine 4 oz lemon juice with 4 oz water
Add 1 drop of dish soap
Sprinkle in a pinch of salt
Drop in 35mm canister to soak for 24 hours
Rinse film for 5 minutes, then develop

A film soup recipe

You might be asking “should I put a souped roll of film in my camera, or shoot it first”? While there are people who soup film before shooting it, I prefer to shoot the roll beforehand. Doing it this way reduces the chances that whatever ingredients you’re using will migrate into the camera. If you do plan to treat the roll first, then make sure to rinse and dry the roll thoroughly beforehand.

Also, a quick word of caution and etiquette about developing souped rolls of film. This is a practice that’s best suited for home development only. It’s not something you’ll want to send into a film lab to develop, because the soup ingredients you use can potentially cross-contaminate to other people’s non-souped rolls that are processed with yours. Understandably, some labs will permaban you for doing this.

One of the reasons I enjoy shooting film so much is the alternative techniques. While some may argue these results could be had with a little Photoshop wizardry, I think there’s something magical and satisfying about the chemistry of an analog process.

If you try souping some film, I would love to feature your results on the FIMF Instagram feed. Just tag your image with #filmismorefun, or feel free to DM and let me know how it went!

Affiliate Links (Amazon) :
Patterson Home Development Starter Kit
Cinestill Cs41 Color C41 Development Chemicals

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