It’s no secret that I love film soup. I love it so much that I even opened up a lab (over a year and a half ago now!) dedicated to developing and scanning experimental film, and film soup in particular.
But it’s also no secret that souping your film for the first time can be really scary. Intentionally messing up your film and hoping for awesome results? Sounds a bit much.
But I promise you that souping your film is less scary than it seems and is totally worth a shot.
Before you soup your film, here are some tips that might help lead you to a successful first (or fifth, or fiftieth!) soup.
I will preface all of this by saying #filmknows. And the more you experiment with your film (doubles, blind doubles, light leaks, film soup), the more you allow film to play with your images in an unexpected way.
Film soup is one such way, and it will surprise you by becoming a co-creator with your art. You just have to allow it.
What is Film Soup?
If you are unfamiliar with film soup, souping your film is the experimental technique of soaking a roll of film in chemicals to create destructive effects on the image.
It’s common to see large swirls of color, dots, or even completely damaged emulsion on your film.
The first film soup tip is to use hot water. I have souped my film in cold ocean water and had rad results, but when I use tap water, I am always sure to heat it up first.
Cold tap water won’t do anything to your film, so make sure to get it good and boiling before sticking your film in it. I know it might feel like boiling water will ruin your film, but it’s actually a key ingredient to the process.
I typically bring my water up to a boil, shut the burner off, and then stick the film in the pot. But I have also brought my film up to a boil with my water (in this case snow!), and it gave me wild effects.
When I boiled the snow, I added no other ingredients to the “soup,” which just goes to show you how important hot water is to the film souping process.
2. Not All Films Soup Alike
Want to get the same results from souping a Kodak film as a Fuji film? Not going to happen. They just soup very differently, but here is what you can expect.
(Sort of, because even from roll to roll, and frame to frame, film soup will present differently. So never expect super consistent results with film soup. EVER ?)
I have noticed Fuji’s films tends to soup resulting in swirls and dots. Kodak tends to soup resulting in washes of color.
That being said, it definitely depends on the ingredients you use with Kodak film if you’re after the wash effect. I’ve had my Kodaks end up with brown splotches, and I have never had my Fujis end up with similar results.
I prefer to soup my Kodaks in boiled water and lemon juice or something else acidic, and add whatever else to the mix. Acid appears to be the main ingredient in avoiding the brown splotches and just creating beautiful, colorful washes.
3. Sometimes Less is More
I have souped my film in multiple ingredients and souped it for 24 hours, and YET these do not appear to affect film any more than fewer ingredients and souping for less time.
I now typically use 1-3 ingredients and soup film for 4 hours. Once again, it appears that HEAT is really the key ingredient.
So what are some of my go-to ingredients? Lemon juice, vinegar, and salt. So things you surely already have in your kitchen.
No matter how many other ingredients I try, these are the ones I keep coming back to.
Sometimes film soup does go a bit extreme, and the emulsion ends up falling off, leaving bare film behind, and sometimes it’s tough to determine what exactly leads to this happening.
But I have found a theme with clients’ film, and that is HE detergent.
I have also had clients soup film in regular (non-HE) detergent, and the emulsion stayed intact, so it does appear to be the extra concentration of HE detergent that strips off emulsion.
And yet, stripping away emulsion can also result in some amazing images, in fact, sometimes the HE detergent knows exactly what to do.
5. Dry Your Film Well
Sometimes people will dry their film for a couple days, see that the outside of the cartridge is dry, and assume the inside is dry as well. This is definitely not the case.
The film is wound up in a cartridge that gets very little air, and it will take LOTS of time to dry. I give my own film about 2-3 weeks on a sunny windowsill to dry.
Okay, that’s not true. I USED to give film 2-3 weeks on a sunny windowsill to dry. Now, I just dry my film in the dryer for about 5 cycles on high heat.
I know it sounds absurd, but the dryer is cooler than boiling water, so it doesn’t really affect the film. And because I have three boys, I am doing laundry All. The. Time.
Why does it matter if your film is bone dry? Because trying to load wet film onto the reel for developing is impossible. I have personally spent 45 minutes trying to load a roll of wet film, and as you can imagine it wasn’t a fun 45 minutes.
Even film that is tacky is very difficult to load. So do yourself or your favorite lab a favor, and make sure that film is drrryyyyyyy.
Dry time can also give different effects to your film. I took photos of a friend and souped her roll in boiled water, lime juice, turmeric, and kosher salt.
Within days our country became locked down due to COVID-19, and I had no motivation to develop that film for months. It was actually 3 months later that I developed it, and I have yet to have effects like it.
It would appear as if the kosher salt crystallized during that time, leaving what looks like little gems all over the film.
I would love to duplicate this result, but I do not have enough patience to let my film dry for months on end. But goodness gracious, I love whatever happened to that roll, so the task of being patient gets tempting from time to time.
After you soup your film, it is imperative you rinse it. If you don’t, the ingredients will keep eating away at your film, and can also make your film extremely crinkly and near impossible to scan.
I rinse mine by running it under water for 5 minutes.
If it’s been souped in soap, you’re going to want to do a better job of rinsing it. Instead of rinsing my film longer if it’s been souped in soap, I fill a mason jar with water, put the cap on and shake it up.
I then dump it out and fill it with fresh water. I do this a bunch of times until I see the suds have died down a bit, and then I rinse it for a few minutes with running water to clear off anything that could be left behind.
I have found this method is more effective than just running my film underwater for longer, and it uses less water.
7. Be Aware of Reticulation
When film has been exposed to a dramatic change in temperatures, the emulsion can crack (which is called reticulation), forming patterns across your film.
Because I have stated multiple times I like to use boiled or boiling water to soup my film, this extreme heat very easily causes my film to crack, forming the telltale patterns across it.
What’s interesting though, is that Fuji films tend to NOT have visible signs of reticulation, whereas Kodak films often do. I personally don’t mind reticulation, but I also don’t mind grain. If reticulation is something you want to avoid at all costs, then I recommend sticking to Fuji films.
I am hoping these tips either help you get excited to soup your film for the first time, give you ideas for how to soup rolls in the future, or answer some questions you’ve had in the back of your mind.
My biggest piece of advice is to play and HAVE FUN when souping our flm, because you never know what kind of wonderful surprise you will uncover by breaking the rules. Because #filmknows.
Just be sure to get that film nice and dry, that’s the one rule you should keep.