Film With Friends
Do you remember back in the days before social media? When instead of sending DM’s and emails people would write letters with pens and paper?
Back then, a fun thing to do to get to know new people from around the world was to become ‘pen pals’. I did this for several years with Marin, a random stranger who lived halfway across the world in Berlin. We would write and exchange letters every few months just chatting about life or current events. Sometimes, we would even include a few surprise goodies in the parcels. I always smiled when a few marzipan bars were stuffed in the package!
That’s kinda how I see film swaps. Emulsion pen pals. Two strangers who most likely haven’t met in person, but still share a connection through shooting film. I’ve had the chance to talk with some really cool people doing this over the years, and still chat with many of them regularly on social media. Even though I haven’t had the chance to hang out in person with anyone I’ve traded rolls with, I would still call them friends.
What is a Film Swap?
If you’re unfamiliar with what a film swap is, the short answer is that two people shoot the same roll of film using multiple exposures to create a combined image. While the results can be a little hit or miss, you will occasionally land some real winners. But in my opinion, the best part about swapping is that you’ll usually come away with a new connection that shares a common interest in film.
Swapped rolls can be planned out by jotting down some quick notes for the other person with some info about what you’ve shot or just left random and completely to chance. And like those marzipan bars Marin would send, it’s always fun to throw in a few surprise goodies in the package like rolls of obscure film, prints you’ve made, or any other analog swag.
Tips for Shooting Your Half
I think one of the most important aspects of achieving an image that blends when you’re sharing a roll of film is to shoot for the other person. Try to think about ways that you can set them up or what you can do with your shot that would add to the overall image.
There are some multiple exposure techniques that work well most times like silhouettes, repeating patterns, or words that superimpose the image.
With silhouettes, portions of the image are both under and overexposed simultaneously which outlines the shape of whatever backlit subject you’re shooting. This allows for the second shot to easily show through and fill in the underexposed area. While silhouettes make good use of high contrast scenes to create a definitive separation, too much contrast can overpower and make a shared image not blend very well.
Repeating patterns have a tendency to work well because it gives a bit of flexibility for the other person to frame the subject on either the edges or the center and still have the final image mesh well.
Another technique where you can come away with some interesting results is by using text. This can be achieved by shooting traffic signs, graffiti, or any random words. Text that is lit up tends to work really well, like neon signs, because similar to silhouettes they also allow plenty of room for the second shot to fill in the underexposed areas of the frame.
Keep in mind that there’s no ‘right way’ to set up the other shot when you’re swapping. It can be fun to play around with motion blur, incorporate some lights and bokeh, or use different color gels and special effects filters.
Taking a moment to mark where the shutter window is on the film with a permanent marker can be helpful to the other person because they can match the framing. This makes your two exposures line up and in my opinion, delivers the highest hit rate from a swapped roll.
So, if you’re new to the concept I would definitely recommend swapping a roll with someone. But even if you’re a veteran and this is old news, I hope some of these suggestions give you a few ideas to try with your half the next time you trade.
If you want a step-by-step guide on exactly how to prepare your film for a swap check this video out.
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