Don’t Discard Those Slides! Apply Heat and See What Happens!

Explosion by Mary McGrath

So, you’ve gone digital. Now you save big bucks on film, and all your images are neatly archived. But, I’ll bet you still have your scanner, and on top of that, mounds of negatives and transparencies piled up in the corner somewhere.

If you’re like I am, you’ve probably scanned many of your favorite images, but there are still many slides sitting in boxes waiting for an afterlife. I can’t bear to part with them, even though they represent shoots from long ago with people I no longer know. They’re a part of my history, even though they occupy 50% of my closet space.

When it comes to my creative endeavors, I enjoy breaking the rules. In music, I compose by ear. When I sing, I enjoy playing with the rhythm and harmony. With writing, I type until I run out of words. In shooting, I like to bend the borders to see if I can come up with something unique. Such is the case with using heat to breathe new life into transparencies.

By simply applying heat you can augment the emulsion to create a new version of your image. Here’s how it works.

First, find an old slide. If you like the image, scan it, or have a duplicate of the slide made, so that you still have the original image for reference. Find some matches, or a lighter. Then, the fun begins.

It’s best to try this process over the sink, in case your ambitions get out of hand. Having water nearby is always a good idea with this process. Hold either side of the slide over the flame and it will start to bubble. Start by holding the slide a few inches away from the flame so the effects don’t escalate too rapidly. Depending on the effect you want, you can let it bubble slightly, or simply burn a hole in it. Be careful not to burn the mount, especially if it’s cardboard, as it could catch fire. If it warps and bubbles too much, it makes storing and scanning the image more difficult later.

Sometimes the effects are quite startling. Sometimes they’re not. That’s the beauty of random creativity. Afterwards, check your result. If you’ve made several duplicates of the slide, you can begin again, or simply toss out the transparency and try a different slide. From there, you can use your scanner to record your results. Make sure the slide has cooled first, so that you don’t get any of the residue on your equipment. Voila! You now have heat-treated transparencies.

Have fun with this process, and remember that caution should be employed in trying anything related to fire. In addition, your slides may change over time, depending on how you store them, and the temperature to which they are exposed.

Mary McGrath is a freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in many magazines, books, newspapers and on several web sites. Some of these include Newsweek, Rangefinder Magazine, Shutterbug and Petersen’s Photographic.

She can be reached through her web site at