How to shoot a redscale movie
The complexity and unpredictability of cinema fascinates me. As a career software engineer, I spend most of my time in the IT world. So after clocking in for the day, I tend to turn to things that are a bit more tangible. When I decided to try photography, I was immediately drawn to film. Can a strip of silver halide crystals contain very high quality images? This technology has been around since the middle of the 19th century!? Color film may even exist!?!? Mind-boggling.
Not only did I want to involve myself in every step of the film process, but I wanted to experiment with manipulating those steps to achieve interesting results. One of the first experimental things I tried was shooting movies in levels of red.
Related: A TikTok photographer photographed both sides of a roll of film, with otherworldly results
How does the redscale film effect work
If you’ve spent time browsing the web looking for cool movies to try, you might have come across a number of “redscale” movies on the market. Lomography, CineStill, and many others have released their own versions of redscale movies. At first I thought it was a one-size-fits-all style of film emulsion, but soon realized it was actually much simpler than that.
Redscale films are all created the same way – by rolling any ordinary color negative film in a cartridge the wrong way round, so that when the film is exposed, light first passes through the base side instead of the emulsion side first.
The reason it works the way it does is because of how the color film is structured. Simply put, a color film consists of a series of light-sensitive layers, each responsible for reproducing a particular color. Typically, the red-sensitive layer is exposed to light after blue and green light has been retained by their respective layers. But when you shoot on the wrong side of the film, everything is upside down. As a result, the red-sensitive layer is by far the most dominant, leading to images with a strong red/orange/yellow cast.
Related: Best Color Film
Supplies needed to rescale the film
Scaling your own movie is a simple process that is absolutely worth trying at least once. There are just a few supplies you will need to get started:
- A new movie you want to scale
- A camera that lets you manually set the ISO/movie speed (it’s technically not a requirementbut that makes things much less confusing)
- A pair of scissors
- An empty film cartridge with a small “tail” (if you’re not developing your own film, just ask your lab to return your empty cartridges for “hand rolled” film)
- A way to label your film (I use marker and painter’s tape)
- A lightproof “diaper” bag or heavy blanket and a reasonably dark room.
Related: How to Edit Your Digital Photos to Look Like Movies
How to resize a movie
Once you’ve gathered these supplies, flipping the film is simple. For the steps below, note that the roll from Fujifilm is the film I’m resizing, and the roll from Kodak is my empty cartridge.
First, cut the leader of the film you want to resize, so that the edge is straight.
Next, take your new film and the empty cartridge, and orient them so that the same sides are touching if you line them up (for example, the base of the fresh film is touching the base of the tail of the empty cartridge).
Then line up the first or second set of holes on both films, then glue them together. Make sure they are taped tightly, as this tape will be the only thing keeping your film attached to the cartridge when shooting.
Soon you will transfer the new film to the old cartridge, which must be done by total darkness. Just before doing this, I like to carefully place the end of the new film into the opening of the old film canister. I find this can be a bit of a pain to do in the dark as the film tends to snag on the edges when entering.
Now comes the most important part, moving the film from the new cartridge to the old one. Put your film in your lightproof bag if you have one. Otherwise, just go to a dark room and wrap a blanket tightly around your arms and the two film canisters. Then turn the knob on top of the old cartridge counterclockwise so that the film is pulled from the new cartridge into the old one. Once you can no longer turn the knob, you can safely return the film to the light.
Once you’re back in the light, simply cut both rolls of film (ideally leaving a tail on the once-full cartridge for future reuse). Your redscale film is now ready to be placed in the old cartridge!
The last thing you need to do is remove some of the now resized film from the cartridge and cut a new leader from it. I also usually tag it at this point, so I don’t think it’s just a regular roll when I go to spin it.
Tips for Shooting Redscale Film
Before loading it into a camera, make sure you can manually adjust the film speed (ISO). Otherwise, take an external light meter or download an application for your smartphone. My favorite is myLightMeter PRObut there are many free options.
Redscale film should be overexposed because light will pass through the base of the film before hitting the emulsion, so less light will reach the photosensitive layers. Typically, you’ll want to overexpose the redscale film by two to three “stops”. To calculate the frame rate, halve the ISO listed on the film for each stop you want to overexpose.
For example, I resized a roll of Fuji Superia Xtra 400, so one overexposure stop would be ISO 200, two stops would be ISO 100, and three would be ISO 50.
The exact amount of overexposure you’ll need really depends on the film and the look you’re going for. I recommend playing around with it and taking notes when shooting your first roll so you can get an idea of what you like best. For this roll, I shot a few images at one stop (ISO 200), two stops (ISO 100), and three stops (ISO 50) overexposed. Here’s a sample photo of each (note that these photos are unmodified from the original scans):
Personally, I liked my results at ISO 100 (two stops overexposed), but you might find you prefer something else. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what you like.
If you enjoyed this guide on how to film yourself in redscale, I often experiment with filming on my ICT Tac and instagram pages, so check them out if you want more advice on analog photography. Be sure to tag #popphotofilm so we can see your results.