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Written by Tom Box (@arbitarium)
FILM SOUP PREAMBLE AND FAILED FIRST ATTEMPTS:
I’d read up quite a bit on film soup and was adamant I’d try it. Film soup normally involves dunking a film canister entirely in your chosen ingredients, letting it soak, rinsing it, and finally drying it for several weeks. It creates different color casts and artifacts on your images, think of a light leak and expired film effect on acid.
For my first attempt, I was rather impatient, and, as I develop film at home (learn how to develop your own color film at home with this article here on Shoot It With Film), I thought I could speed up the process. I decided to skip the drying part by souping my film in the developing tank (Adorama: Patterson Developing Tank) immediately before developing. With the film on the spiral, I dumped a bottle of cheap sherry into the tank and let it sit.
Once again, I was far too impatient, and I only soaked the film for about an hour. I developed the film with an old batch of chemicals. and when it was done… the film looked no different than normal. Clearly there was a reason for the established method of soaking the canister.
For my second attempt at film soup, I stuck to the standard method of soaking the film canister in liquid. I chose a regular teabag and a little washing powder for this. I soaked it overnight, rinsed it, and then left it on a radiator. After a day, I got impatient and tried pulling the leader of the film in and out of the canister in some futile effort to make it dry faster. After about 4 days, I couldn’t stop myself and loaded up my Kiev 4a 35mm Camera (Check out the Kiev 4a at KEH Camera) to shoot the roll.
About half way through the roll, winding on the film produced some horrendous cracking sounds. My Kiev is certainly rough and knackered, but this wasn’t the camera’s doing. 3/4 of the way through the film, I couldn’t wind it on anymore, and I went home to develop this mess. The result was a roll of film with chunks of the emulsion layers torn off! You could see the red and yellow layers of the film. As cool as this was, it’s not quite what I was after and was clearly a punishment for my lack of patience. To top it off, the tea only had a subtle effect on the colours of the film.
Torn emulsion layers from second attempt
FILM SOUP TUTORIAL
Having made a total state of my previous attempts, I decided to do this thing properly. And my results were worth the wait. Here is my method for a successful roll of film soup:
1 roll of Agfa Vista 200 (Amazon: Agfa Vista 200 in 35mm)
1 Twinings green tea bag (Amazon: Twinings Green Tea)
1 mug of freshly boiled water
- And that’s it. I simply dropped my film and tea bag into a container, and poured over the boiling water. Once the film was well covered, I gave it a wiggle using a pair of forks to ensure all the air was out of the canister and then squished the tea bag a bit to release the tea goodness.
- I then left this to stew for 24 hours. Not 1 hour. Not overnight. A full 24 hours.
- Once the soup is done, I ran the canister under a tap for a minute, wiggling the spool to let the water through. It feels a little futile, but it’s probably best to get rid of any tea bits that might get into your camera.
- Once the canister was vaguely clean, I placed it on a radiator and left it alone. No messing with it this time, no pulling on the leader, I didn’t even LOOK at it for 10 days.
- I then shot the roll through my camera. The roll went through my camera with absolutely no problems, nothing sticking and no terrifying cracking noises. I actually double exposed this roll, putting it through two different cameras, the first with some weird lens-whacking (video of lens-whacking) with a magnifying glass and the second with a plain old SLR and some fractal filters (find at getfractals.com) for some shots. I decided I may as well go all out and get the most from this souped roll.
DEVELOPING FILM SOUP
Developing souped film is a problem if you don’t do your own developing. Professional labs generally won’t accept souped film because residual ingredients from the soup could ruin their batch of very expensive chemicals. If you’re using a professional lab, let them know that the film is souped, and they might save it for the last run using those chemicals, so as not to spoil the batch. I recently began developing and scanning my own film at home, because I was sick of spending hundreds of pounds getting a lab to do it for me.
When my batch of chemicals had run it’s recommended course, I saved them in some spare bottles specifically to use for developing souped rolls of film. Using old chemicals, I can simply adjust developing time to compensate for the chemicals dilution, and I don’t have to worry about ruining chemicals I’d be using on fresh film.
My results were beyond what I hoped for. Most shots had a beautiful purple/pink cast to them from the green tea and were speckled with stains and marks that gave the images an expired film vibe. I’m so pleased with the results that I’m sticking to the same process exactly for a few more rolls in preparation for a trip to Finnish Lapland in March.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU USE TO MAKE FILM SOUP?
Film can be souped in all sorts of foodstuffs and chemicals to attain different results. Some people use washing powder or silica gel, alcohol, lime juice… there are endless options and combinations. I’ll certainly be trying diluted lime juice at some point. Using a tea bag is one of the cleaner methods, and I expect there to be a certain amount of consistency in results.
GENERAL FILM SOUPING TIPS
- You can soup the film before or after you shoot the roll through your camera. There doesn’t seem to be any visible difference in the effects.
- Soup for a full 24 hours. 12 hours only gave quite subtle results.
- Use freshly boiled water. I’m convinced a part of the damage and colour shift in the soup is because of the heat, not just the soup ingredients.
- Leave. The canister. Alone. 10 days on a hot radiator was enough to dry off my roll, and I wouldn’t leave it any less than this long. People often leave their canisters for a full month to dry. Another option if there’s no warmth to be found is to place the canister in a sealed bag of rice, or perhaps silica gel. But I wouldn’t want to guess how long this would take to dry. Play it safe and leave it a month.
- Develop at home if possible. Using an old batch of chemicals means you don’t spoil good developer. Or save your souped rolls for the end of the life of your chemicals.
- Don’t bother trying to soup in the developing tank. I’m not convinced it’s the way to go. I believe the streaks and marks on my successful roll are due to the film being in contact with itself in the film canister. Separating the film on a developing spiral would possibly just give very uniform and uninteresting results. Stick to doing it the long way.
That’s about it for my experiences with film soup. I may have only shot one good roll of souped film, but I’ve certainly learned what NOT to do, and my success has made me want to shoot with green tea film regularly from now on.
Thank you so much, Tom! Be sure to check out Tom’s work on his website and Instagram, and if you have any film soup questions, leave them below in the comments!
You can read up on all our film tutorials and tips here, and check out all of our experimental film posts here!