Scarlet Summer

Experiments With Redscale Film and Lomography Cameras

4 min read by Dmitri. Published in Film, Photography.

This series of images is the result of my experimentation with redscale film technique during the summer of 2012. It was hot and dry throughout, although the brazen palette of these photographs might be toying with my memory.

My wife introduced me to practical film photography six years ago, when we were just starting to date. Until then I thought of it as an idealistic, almost unattainable way of capturing light. Movies and huge silver and palladium prints at the galleries seem to have convinced me that this stuff is for the rich and famous only.

Lomography’s nonchalant attitude towards the medium made it seem much more approachable and opened up my mind to some experimentation.

The culture invented by the company and its followers advocate the “plastic fantastic” way of taking pictures. Lomography does not make shooting film cheap, no, their toy cameras typically go for around sixty Canadian dollars and film required to be bought and developed. This introduction into the world of chemical excellence, however, still felt affordable, fun and very approachable.

One of the tricks I’ve learned at the time was partially motivated by saving money. I wanted to achieve the redscale effect in my images — a dramatic colour shift that turns virtually everything into red, black, and some green. At the store, the emulsion that created these kinds of images cost about fifteen bucks.

Fortunately, this effect isn’t difficult to achieve without any digital image manipulation. The reason the colours shift is that the film contains its dies in extremely thin layers with red being at the back facing the photographer, green in the middle, and blue at the very front facing the lens. To balance those colours manufacturers have to make crystals with the red dyes more sensitive to light as it needs to pass through two other layers to reach. A simple act of flipping the film, making the red-sensitive layer face the front upsets that balance, giving a lot more power to all of the crimson colours, green would remain the same and blue would show up only in extreme situations like the blue streak below caused by outside light leaking into my camera due to its flawed construction.

There’s a bit of a trick to creating your own redscale film. You need to operate in the dark.

For the tools, I grabbed scissors, a strip of scotch tape, and turned off all the lights in my bathroom, made sure it’s pitch-black. I took a roll of cheap Kodak ColorPlus into the darkness and pulled out the entire film from the canister, short of ripping it out. By feel, I cut it about three inches off the can and rotated the film 180 degrees; I then used the tape to carefully fasten the ends together, making sure that they are held securely, aren’t crooked and there’s no glue anywhere.

Done!

With the layers in jeopardy, the film’s sensitivity seems to have dropped by a stop or two, however that’s really subjective. Should redscale photos look dark and ominous, or should they remain bright and pink?

I kept mine dark with my Diana Mini.