Let’s Get Experimenty
Photography combines art with science. I find it pretty amazing how we can capture things we see with our eyes onto a section of film and then be able to view this “picture” again and again, any time we want.
Most people will take a photo and try to recreate a scene exactly as it is, trying to reproduce the same colors and tones, etc. But a big part of the fun in film photography (for me) is the many ways that you can “hack” or alter your film to achieve different and unconventional looks.
Since creating photos on film is basically manipulating a chemical process to produce images, you can be a bit of a mad scientist and tinker with that process to get all sorts of neat and interesting results.
One of my favorite ways to do this is with a process called redscale.
What The Heck Is Redscaling Film?
The short answer is that redscale is just flipping the film over and shooting through the backside.
How this actually works is that film is made up of a combination of several layers that produce three color layers- red, green, and blue. Light travels through the blue layer first, then the green layer, and finally the red layer when a color film is shot normally through the front side.
However, if we flip the roll over and shoot through the red layer first, it creates a strong red cast to the images because the blue and green layers are exposed to less light.
Why Should I Redscale?
While there are literally thousands of ways that you can manipulate a digital image with tools like Photoshop, there’s something satisfying about creating photos that have some abstraction or an unconventional look using strictly analog processes.
Instead of simply clicking on a preset to change how your image looks (like you might do with a RAW digital file), experimenting with film requires some planning and preparation work. But because of the added steps and effort, I feel that the end result is more rewarding.
Like all art though, whether the redscale effect is something you desire comes down to your own personal taste and opinion on what makes an image interesting.
Does It Matter What Brand Of Film I Use?
All brands and speeds of color film can be redscaled, but they may have a slightly different tonality. For example, when shot normally, Kodak Ultramax and Fuji Superia each have different hues when compared side by side because of how much color dye is used to create the ‘look’ of these films.
That’s why some people reach for a particular film for a certain situation- because they like the film’s color rendition. I’ve found this difference to be less noticeable when redscaling film, but it is still there to a degree. It tends to vary the red/orange hue in a subtle way.
Can I Redscale Black and White Film?
Technically, yes. You can do the same process of shooting through the backside of black and white film, but because there aren’t any color layers, there won’t be any redscale effect. What will happen is that you get a slightly less-sharp image with reduced contrast because you are shooting through the back or “remjet” layer first.
This back layer has several purposes- as a protection against damage and a filter as light passes through the film. It helps reduce scratches and halation (a ‘glow’ around the bright areas of your image).
Remjet layers are also present on color film which is why redscale pictures may appear less sharp or have a tendency to suffer from scratching as the film moves inside the camera across the pressure plate.
Other Things To Consider
Just like if we were to shoot the film normally, increasing the amount of light that we expose onto the layers of emulsion will alter the brightness of an image. With redscale, overexposure also emphasizes a color shift of the reds towards orange and yellow.
Shooting film backward at the rated iso (shooting 400 speed film at 400) tends to produce an underexposed image. I recommend overexposing by at least one to two stops above your rated iso to get closer to a correct exposure. So, if you are using 400 speed film, set the iso at 200 or even 100.
Giving redscaled film more light also fills in the shadow areas of the image and reduces the green color cast you can get from underexposure. All of this is to say that you can get dramatically different results depending on how you set to the iso, so try out different settings and see what looks best to you.
This last tip is for the budget-minded. Because there is a degradation of image quality when you shoot film the wrong way, I don’t generally use “premium” film stocks when I redscale. We’re not aiming for accurate color rendition or hyper-sharp images here. We’re going for fun experimentation. So, a $6 roll of Kodak Ultramax can produce just as good a result as a $12 roll of Kodak Porta.
Ready to tinker? Let’s do it!
Step By Step Directions
1. Take two 35mm rolls, one old (still intact) finished roll that’s already shot, and one new roll
2. Make sure the old roll has about an inch of film left sticking out
3. Cut the leader end (thin starter section) off the new roll.
4. Match up the light brown with dark brown sides of each roll. (Basically, turn the new roll over).
5. Use scotch tape to splice the film together.
6. Go into a room with complete darkness (closet with a blanket at the bottom of the door etc), or complete this next part in a changing bag
7. Pull the film out of the new roll a few inches, and then wind that section of film into the old roll. Continue until all film is transferred from the fresh roll into the old canister.
8. When you’ve reached the end, you can go back into a lit area. Cut the film at the new roll.
9. Take the cut-off leader and line it up to trace and re-cut a new leader using scissors.
10. That’s it! Load it up in your favorite camera and enjoy your super red pictures!
Prints from my recent Redscale Project:
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