One of the major reasons I love film is the experiments you can try that have no direct digital equivalent.
Shooting redscale film is an excellent example.
You’ve probably already seen redscale images, that look monochrome, but with a burnt orange red as the base colour rather than white.
These photographs are obviously distinctive overall, but redscale remains one of the more unpredictable and exciting aspects of film, along with cross processing (x-pro), shooting expired film and film soups.
But although the photographs appear dramatic, radical, and otherworldly, the process of creating redscale film is actually very simple.
You could go out and buy pre-made redscale film off the shelf, and pay £5-10+ per roll for the privilege. Or you could, like me, ever the cheapskate, make your own from cheap consumer film like AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, costing £1 a roll at Poundland.
You’ll notice from the above shot also, that redscale doesn’t always have to be those extreme fiery oranges. It can be more subtle graduations too. More on that later, but first, what redscale film is.
Essentially, redscale is regular film that is exposed on the wrong side. So to make your own, you need a canister of film that’s been loaded back to front. Easy.
What you need
A roll of fresh film, a donor film canister, some scissors, some sellotape, a dark room.
How to make the redscale film
First, take your two rolls of film.
The purple roll on the left is the fresh roll of film. The red roll on the right contains just a few inches of film, still attached inside the canister. You can’t pull any more film out than is showing here. This is the donor canister.
The easiest way to get a donor canister is sacrifice a roll of film the first time you try this, by pulling it all out and cutting it off to leave just those three inches or so at the end.
After you’ve done this once, you will then always have a new donor canister at the end of making the redscale film – you won’t need to sacrifice a fresh roll of film every time.
Next, cut the leader from the fresh film so you have a vertical straight edge. Keep the offcut, you’ll need this later.
Then with the fresh film and donor film canisters the same way up, overlap maybe three or four sprocket holes and tape. It helps if you try to keep the film neatly aligned top and bottom.
Notice that one film has its regular side facing us, the other its reverse. This is obvious with any colour negative film – one side is a dark grey, the other brown. Because redscale film is regular film flipped over, it’s essentially we join the films with their opposite sides showing like above.
After the joining, wind in the donor spool (the red one that is currently empty) so the two canisters touch and you can’t see the film.
You can do the next part anywhere that doesn’t have strong light present. If you’re nervous, go to a dark room.
I’ve done this with my arms the wrong way down the sleeves of my jumper in a field on a sunny day, and it’s worked perfectly, so don’t worry too much. Especially if you keep the two canisters close together like the image above, so there’s little chance of light getting in.
Wind the red donor roll in with your finger and thumb until it won’t wind anymore. Then, back in the light, pull a little film out again so you can see it between the two canisters.
Then simply cut down the middle, leaving a few inches on the new donor roll, ie the purple roll that has just been emptied of film. This is then ready to be donor next time.
With the redscale roll (here the red one) which now contains all the film, use the leader you cut off at the start as a template to cut a new leader. The longer part of the leader is always at the top end of the canister where the knob sticks out.
Now you have your new freshly rolled roll of redscale film. I find it useful to mark an R on the side to remind me it’s redscale.
Pop your other, now empty canister in a pot and write “donor” on it, ready for next time.
How to shoot redscale
As I mentioned at the outset, redscale photographs are typical intensely red and orange.
But once the novelty of that vivid effect wears off, you’ll likely want to explore the more subtle graduations. Especially as over exposing redscale film a few stops gives a lovely subtle vintage feel.
Different films give different intensities of red. AfgaPhoto Vista Plus 200 (which is rebranded Fuji C200) works very well.
At box speed it gives vivid reds and oranges, and over exposed three or four stops gives the kind of tones as above and below. I’d recommend using a camera with manual ISO control, so you have this creative control.
Ferrania Solaris 200 gives very red results, even if you overexpose it a few stops.
Solution VX200 (rebranded Konica VX200) gives very interesting greens and yellows.
Especially when combined with multiple exposures. It’s like autumn in a canister.
Hopefully you found this guide easy to follow and are inspired to try your own redscale, if you haven’t already. It’s a unique, rewarding and often surprising way to make the most of film.
Please share your thoughts, experiences, and any questions, in the comments below.
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