Taste the Rainbow – Charlotte’s Adventures in Alternative Color Film

Taste the Rainbow – Charlotte’s Adventures in Alternative Color Film

2500 1406 Charlotte Davis

With Pride month officially over it’s easy to assume that the world will go back to its drab, normal self. But if you feel the rainbow in your heart and want it in your photos too, never fear. For those of us who get easily bored with black-and-white and normal color films, there are many ways to achieve a wild technicolour look.

If you’re a novice to tripping the light fantastic, you may want to start with one of the multicoloured films available on the market at the moment. As more and more boutique film companies pop up, we’re seeing an increase in the number and variety of wild film stock that would have been unheard of in the past.

My latest favourite is Revolog Kolor. Revolog began operating in 2009, the creation of Hanna Pribitzer and Michael Krebs, and currently offers twelve “handmade” film stocks. Their offerings include Tesla, a film shot through with lightning bolts, and Texture, which is entirely covered with bubbles that show through in the darkest parts of your photos.

I picked up a roll of their Kolor film, which has a rainbow tint throughout the entire roll. It’s unpredictable, with some frames coming out entirely blue, and others showing a gorgeous gradient from red to green. I split my roll between a walk in the woods in Surrey, and watching Bristol Pride (what better way to expose a rainbow film?).

Revolog rate this film at ISO 200, so it’s perfect for sunny days out, and paired with your favourite compact camera it makes a fantastic partner for festivals. Revolog say all their films can be processed as normal C-41 reversal film, so don’t worry that you’ll have to take it to a specialist shop.

Another popular option is Lomography’s Lomochrome Purple. Lomochrome was brought back as an homage to Kodak Aerochrome, an infrared film stock used in the 1970s for surveillance (and Jimi Hendrix album covers), but unlike its inspiration Lomochrome Purple isn’t truly an infrared film. It achieves its colour shifts through its chemical formulation and green base, which is good, because this means it can be developed like any other C-41 film. Photographers don’t need to use filters with it either (especially useful for compact camera shooters).

Lomography are now on their third iteration of purple film (a turquoise version is also available), with each variation showing slight differences in colour balance and saturation. The first batch was notoriously temperamental, and needed a lot of light to give good results. I shot the second formula of the three, which showed a much deeper and more blue-toned colour palette than the current version, which leans more toward pink. Luckily for today’s shooters, Lomography have perfected their manufacturing of Purple, and it’s more reliable and predictable than it once was. Despite improved quality control, it’s still a tricky film to master – the lush greens of foliage will mostly turn purple, but sometimes not, and skies are rendered as a light cyan in contrast. Much like Revolog’s Kolor, it’s best shot in sunny daylight, when it produces striking images with tons of punchy contrast. The Turquoise version of Lomochrome is interesting too, being less sensitive to light (recommended ISO 100-200), but produces images reminiscent of trippy deserts, glowing with aquamarine details.

Of course, you don’t have to stick to pre-made film stocks to have fun with colour shifts. One happy accident of mine resulted from a roll of very old and expired Kodak Ektar 100, left to marinate in a suitcase, inside a sweltering tent. The insane colour shifts resulting from this treatment were almost eye-searing. And while shooting aged film can be unpredictable, that’s the whole point. Expired film can often be picked up cheaply, and for those looking for funky effects and colour shifts, the worse it’s been stored the better.

Another fun experiment to try is “redscaling.” This is the method of shooting through the wrong side of the film – that is, the side without the emulsion. This results in deep red images, with moody shadows. The tricky part is respooling your film – the easiest way I’ve found, is to take an empty film canister (ideally with a bit of the film still attached to the reel inside), and stick the leader of a new colour roll (the other way round, of course – shiny side to dull side), pop the whole lot into a darkbag, and wind the new film into the old canister. Snip the end off (it helps to cut it into the same shape as the film leader usually is), and ta-da! A roll of redscale film, for the cost of a roll of Agfa Vista 200 or Kodak Gold. Loading your homemade redscale into your camera may be a bit tricky, as it’s now curling the wrong way, but with a bit of fiddling, it can be done. Your redscale film will also need overexposing by a couple of stops – for a film that was originally ISO 400, I shoot at 200 or 100, to account for the fact that the light has to travel through the base first before it hits the emulsion. Again, redscale film can be developed as if it was normal C-41 film.

Finally, why not try replicating the pre-exposed effects mastered by the team at Revolog? All you need is a spool of fairy lights, some pre-cut shape filters, and a dark room! I created the images below by using a pre-cut filter mask (Cokin make a set of these, but you can also create your own by cutting a shape in some black card and taping it over the end of your lens). If you’ve ever seen a cheesy Christmas image with heart-shaped bokeh, it’s not Photoshop, it’s a filter mask! Start by loading your colour film, and mark with a pen where the film touches the edge of the canister (this will be useful later). Affix your mask, turn out the lights, and fill the roll with shots of twinkling lights. Try to vary the positioning, size and arrangement of the lights to see what works best. Then rewind the film back into the canister (being very careful not to roll the film leader all the way back in). Finally, reload the same roll into your camera, lining up the pen mark you made previously, to ensure your sparkly frames overlap properly with the shots you’ll be taking out in the world!

This technique can be adapted for all kinds of situations – why not shoot a roll of neon signs, reload the same film and go again? The joy of analogue photography is not knowing the results until the whole roll is through – embrace the technicolour mayhem, and go out and experiment!

Browse for all sorts of film at B&H Photo

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Charlotte Davis

Based in Bristol, transplanted from London, I have been taking photos since I could hold a camera (sometimes I still drop them, but the sturdy ones survive).

All stories by:Charlotte Davis
  • I’ve always kind of wondered—does the thickness of the film base cause any focus issues at wide apertures?

  • Charlotte, great topic, and some very cool photographs…

    But wow James when did CP get so overwhelmed with ads – I can see eight on this page alone! I don’t think I’ve seen as many on any site! It completely distrupts the reading experience, in my view. I haven’t been here for a few months, and with this ad overload won’t be returning. What a shame. : (

    • We’re still finding the right balance between ad-free and some ad model whereby I don’t go out of business. Free internet content is a tough line of work. Hopefully you come back at some point and by then we’ll have figured out the right mix.

      • I hope you do, and it doesn’t involve random ads. You’ve obviously put a lot into the design and layout of the site, and it used to be one of those precious blogs you could retreat to, and get lost in, a place to escape the hyper fast advert saturated outside world.

        The ads just completely destroy that atmosphere you’d built up.

        Ads specific to photography would ok, surely with the size of your readership you could set up some affiliate partnerships with sellers of film, camera gear, bags, straps and so on, where it’s win win for everyone?

        Currently on this page I’ve trying to be sold safety workwear, a Google Stadia, something called Blink, which from the picture is a speaker perhaps, a holiday to Dubai, a Game Of Thrones app, the Sunday Times sports section, more video games, a hybrid iPhone case and some school shoes.

        I genuinely hope you choose to return to the previous feel of the site I’ve spoken about, that’s worth far more than a few pounds from ads.

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Charlotte Davis

Based in Bristol, transplanted from London, I have been taking photos since I could hold a camera (sometimes I still drop them, but the sturdy ones survive).

All stories by:Charlotte Davis