Caught Red Handed
By Rob Turner
10 Jul 2008
The idea of redscale is to shoot the film on the wrong side, i.e. shooting onto the film's emulsion through the base of the film. The base and anti-halation layers of the film act as a very heavy filter, and also because the red layer of the film is the first to be exposed and receives the most light, the images have a characteristic red tone. I discovered the redscale technique a while back on the internet, and had always wanted to give it a try. I had put it off until recently when I first tried it out. I took my carefully re-spooled film and loaded it into my trusty Olympus XA2 and shot away. The results were surprisingly good.
The first step in your redscale experiment is spooling up your film so that it is the wrong way round in the camera. This is achieved by using either a junk roll of film or an empty canister. I process my own black and white films and remove them from their canisters by pulling all the film out and cutting it near the can, so a small amount of film is sticking out. If you don't have any empty cans laying about, you could either use a roll of cheap film (pulling all the film out and cutting it a couple of centimetres from the canister) or you could ask in your local one-hour photo-lab and see if they have any empty 35mm canisters, they will probably have lots of them that they will be happy to give you for nothing.
When you have your canister ready, get your film and cut off its leader to a flat edge, then place the film in your full canister so that it butts up to the film sticking out of your empty can (look at the pictures, it is much easier to understand then), place the film so that it is the opposite way up to the other piece of film. Tape the films together at this point making sure that the piece of sticky tape is long enough to wrap around the edges of the film. The next steps must be carried out in COMPLETE DARKNESS, otherwise your film will be ruined. I use a darkbag for this purpose, but a dark, inside bathroom with no windows would also work. Wind all of the film onto the empty canister, go slow, turning the spindle of the canister counter-clockwise (when your right hand is doing the turning). If the film seems stiff, don't try to force it, you could tear the film. You can now turn the lights back on and cut the film close to the now empty canister, leaving a small amount of film sticking out. This way you can reuse this canister for another redscale film. Pull a couple of inches of film out of the now full canister and cut a leader into it's end (again, see the picture, it is much clearer, it also helps to use the leader you previously cut off as a template). At this point it is a good idea to leave the film to settle for at least a few hours, otherwise the film will be too tight and could jam the camera.
You can also get the same effect using 120 roll film, this is much trickier to achieve (and I have never tried it myself). You must unroll a film (in total darkness as above), unstick the film where it is taped at one end (make sure to keep the tape), flip the film over, and stick it back down to the backing paper. As I say, this whole process must be carried out in the dark, making it difficult to properly line up the film. Its probably a much better idea to just do a roll of 35mm sprocket shots in your medium format camera.
Redscale film is shot as normal, except you need to overexpose it. This is due to the heavy filtering effect of the film's base and anti-halation layers. I normally set an overexposure of roughly 1 and 1/3 stops on slow (up to ISO 100) film. Faster films (ISO 200 and above) will need anything from two to three stops of additional exposure. This is due to them having a much thicker, more opaque base layer to help prevent light piping along the film onto the next frame. Another consideration is that of light leaks. The lack of a base layer to protect the back of the film from stray light means that you may find your camera has light leaks you didn't even know it had. If you like this, take no further action, if you don't, tape up the camera with opaque tape such as duct tape, paying particular attention to the joins where the camera's film door opens.
When you have finished your film, rewind it as normal and take it to your local photo-lab. Most labs will develop your film, but it is a good idea to warn them, as some developing machines can get jammed by the tape you have used to attach your film to the spool. My lab charges me an additional £1 (around $2) to re-spool my film onto a fresh cartridge, the right way around. Tell the lab that you want it put through a normal C-41 colour process. If you have scans done by your lab (or when you scan your film at home), make sure that no colour correction is used, this will remove much of the effects of redscaling and will make it all a waste of time. You will also need to mirror the images. If everything has gone well, you should have a roll of wonderful red-toned images. The process is somewhat unpredictable, your images could range from monotone, red-toned images, to more yellow toned ones, or a mix of both.
It is also an interesting technique to double exposure your film. This could be done as normal with both pictures on the redscale side, or with one exposure on both side. This adds additional interest to the image, and also makes for a good contrast with the almost monotone redscale image against one with the normal, full range of colours. This technique has provided me with lots of fun and also a lot of interesting pictures, I hope it provides you with just as much enjoyment.