By Rob Turner
1 Apr 2008
Sprocket hole photography is an interesting technique that I discovered a year or so ago. The main reason I chose to try it was mostly because I was feeling a bit poor, and I had a lot of 35mm film laying around, but couldn't afford to buy any 120 film. I really wanted to run a few films through my beloved Holga, so I thought I'd try it out, I was surprisingly pleased with the results.
The main idea for sprocket hole photography is to load a normal 35mm film into a camera designed for 120 roll film. It is most easy to perform with a cheap toy camera such as a Holga or Diana. I have also had good results from my Kodak Brownie. This means that the picture prints over the film's sprocket holes and also gives a panoramic-sized negative (this is especially pronounced on the Brownie, as it shoots 6x9" negatives).
For this technique to work, you must seal up the red-window film counter of your camera, this must be done with something more than tape, I tend to use either aluminum foil (the foil out of film packs works well) or the black card dark-slide out of polaroid pack film. Tape a small piece of your chosen material over BOTH sides of the window, if you don't do this, you will get pretty serious red light leaks all over your photos. When you have done this, jam the 35mm can into the supply spool side of the camera, you will need to use some sort of material to hold it in place, I normally use some foam; a piece on each side to hold it centrally over the film plane and a strip across the top of the canister so that the camera back holds the film in place. You will then need to tape the film leader centrally onto the take-up spool, some people chose to use rubber bands on the spool to act as a guide, but I feel that this is unnecessary. Wind the film on a little to check it is being transported straight, then close the back. If your using a Holga, tape the back on, if it falls off, you will lose nearly all your shots.
The next (and hardest bit) is learning how to advance the film properly. As there is no red window to use as a film counter, you need to calculate this by the amount of turns of the advance dial. I have produced tables for use with cameras which shoot 6x6 and 6x9 negatives, these were originally created by Nicolai Grossman (http://photondetector.com/tools_ref/135-advance/), but I chose to make my own (using the backing paper from 2 120 films taped end to end to count the turns on the camera). This was because the original only covered 6x6 shooting cameras (I wanted to use a 6x9 camera too) and I wanted to be able to link to the images easily. The tables tell you how many turns (in decimal) you need to turn the advance dial between frames, it saves you wasting massive amounts of space between each frame. The 6x6 version is available here (http://img527.imageshack.us/img527/8808/6x6advancehy3.jpg) and the 6x9 version here (http://img261.imageshack.us/img261/7889/6x9advanceen1.jpg). Print them out and tape them to the back of your camera.. Shoot the film as normal, but make sure to remember that the top and bottom of the frame will be cropped out because of the smaller size of the negative.
When you've shot your film, you will need to unload the camera in complete darkness as to not expose the film. I use my bathroom, as there are no windows. Take out the film and turn the small spindle on the canister counter-clockwise until all the film is wound back into the canister. Take the film to your local photo-lab and ask for a "develop only" service. It is unlikely that you will be able to get prints there, because of the unusual size negative, but a pro photo-lab will be able to make a contact sheet, showing your negatives at actual size. I chose to take the negatives home and scan them myself. I use my Epson 4490 flatbed without the film holder, laying the film directly onto the glass. It normally helps to have the negatives curved away from the glass to minimise Newton's rings, and other weirdness. If they are very curled, I place coins on them to hold them flat. (It may not be the most professional solution, but it works!). This allows you to get a scan of the full frame, complete with sprocket holes. If your scanner software allows for it, it is also a good idea to manually set the exposure. This does entail scanning each frame individually, but it is normally worth it, because the scan quality will be much better. In my chosen scanner software (Vuescan), it is done by selecting the image area without sprockets and clicking "lock exposure" before selecting the whole photo with the sprockets. This stops the scanner from overexposing the image massively due to the blackness of the sprocket holes.
This technique has provided me with lots of fun since I have discovered it. It has such a unique and interesting look and helps to save me a little money on films. I hope you all enjoy it too.