✪ Note: I’ve only tested this technique with one C-41 emulsion. Your results may vary.
My wife introduced me to practical film photography through Lomography six years ago when we were just starting to date. Before then, I thought of it as an idealistic, almost unattainable way of capturing light: I saw movies, huge silver and palladium prints at the galleries — it felt too rich for my blood.
Lomography’s nonchalant attitude towards the medium made it seem much more approachable and opened up my mind to some experimentation.
Lomography does not make shooting film exactly thrifty, however. Their toy cameras typically sell for over $50 — and they do break. Film itself costs money. I was not yet ready to drop wads of cash on this new hobby, but there were some things that I really wanted to try. Redscale film being one of them.
Eventually, my curiosity led me to figure out how to produce my own redscale film and savine a few bucks. What’s more, this approach is applicable to practically any C-41 emulsion, which opens up a whole world of untapped redscale potential!
How redscale film works.
The reason the colours shift towards the red is layers.
Generally speaking, photographic film comprises multiple layers, three of which are responsible independently for red, green, and blue hues. However, those layers vary in their sensitivity to the light: blue is the least sensitive, and red is the most.
On film, those layers are typically arranged with the blue facing towards the lens — thus receiving most of the light. The green layer is next, receiving less light. The red layer is all the way at the back, receiving the least amount of light.
Manufacturers pay particular care to balance the layers’ sensitivities to create an accurate colour representation of reality. This is done by cranking up the red’s sensitivity to match the blue layer’s output. The result is a naturally-looking picture.
Flipping those layers by having red facing towards the lens instead of the blue turns the colour balance on its head. Because the red layer is most sensitive to light, it becomes the most noticeable colour in the picture. Blue, being the least sensitive and furthest from the lens, becomes rare, mostly just seen in the light leaks.
A typical by-product of flipping the emulsion like that is darker images. Giving film more light corrects for that but also reduces the redshift effect: compare the photo above, taken at the park, and the one immediately below, taken in subdued light.
How to make your own redscale film.
The technique involves unrolling your film in the dark, cutting it, flipping it along the long edge, and taping it back. This is not a particularly difficult task, but it does become tricky when you can not see.
Practice your movements before getting started. Particularly remembering whether you flipped the film or not and taping it back together. You want the film taped neatly and securely after you cut it. The best way is to wrap it once around the film. You will need to make sure that no extra bits are hanging off the edges where you taped your film back together — otherwise, it will get stuck in the canister. Also, remember which side of the film is facing on the leader hanging off your canister — you can usually tell by either the reflectiveness of the film or the shape of the leader.
Start with a cheap film first. There’s a chance that things won’t work out; it’s best not to ruin your CineStill.
Prepare your darkroom. You don’t need a professional space, just a bathroom with the lights off. Do pay attention to any light coming into the room; I had to place a towel over the gaps in the door frame. Essentially, it needs to be pitch-black. Keep your tape and scissors handy so that you don’t have to look for them.
In complete darkness, unroll your entire 35mm cassette and cut it about two inches away from the canister. To be safe, you can give it even more slack. As you do this, keep your film and your film canisters still — you must be aware of their position and orientation for the next step.
Carefully flip the film along the long edge and tape it back together like you practiced earlier: neatly, securely, and with no bits hanging off the sides.
This is the trickiest part. Your taping must be done really well in absolute darkness, and you also need to remember to flip the film only once and not lose the canister in the process. Once you’ve verified (by feel) that all is in good order, go ahead and wind the film back into the canister. Make sure to leave about five inches of film hanging outside so that you can load it into your camera.
Now you can verify that you’ve successfully flipped your film with your eyes by looking at the leader tip. You may need to reshape it with your scissors so that you can load it into your camera.
And that’s it! Remember to experiment with exposure — more light means less redness and vice-visa.
All images in this article are shot with Diana Mini.