3 Film Hacks to Expand Your Photo Creativity

The renewed interest in film photography is amazing. Newcomers relish the challenge of having only a limited number of photos per roll. They enjoy the suspense of waiting a long time for the film to process before seeing if their photos turn out.

If you’ve been using film for a long time, you’re probably used to these idiosyncrasies. So did you start to feel jaded by film photography? If so, we have three movie hacks to expand your creativity and reignite your passion.

Movie Hack 1: Cross Process for Colorful Results

Photo by Annie Spratt

When you buy a roll of “normal” film, it is based on the idea that the film will be chemically processed, and you will receive a long strip of negatives ready to print. In a traditional photographic lab, these “negative” images are projected onto photographic paper, which undergoes another chemistry to create your prints. Slide film is different. When slide film, also known as positive or transparent film, is processed, you can hold it up to the light and see a true-to-life image. Slide film is processed with a different type of chemistry (E-6), not “normal” negative chemistry (C-41).

What happens when you treat transparent film with the chemistry that is supposed to be for color printing film?

This is called cross processing. You end up with a bunch of negatives with weird color effects. It’s contrasty, has high saturation, and it’s full of coarse grain. Pay attention to your light meter when taking photos intended for cross processing as you get better effects when photos are properly exposed. And remember that since cross processing increases the contrast, you won’t get any detail in the shadow areas because they get very dark.

Kodak Color Plus negative film processed with E-6 chemistry. Photo by Chris Marchant and licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Being creative with cross processing means choosing situations that can deal with surreal color shifts. Street scenes, surf shots, and theme parks are great places to take shots that will be cross-processed. They will benefit from the bizarre effects of this type of film manipulation, where subjects end up with odd color tones.

Photo by Annie Spratt

Don’t bother taking wedding photos and cross-processing film; the results will not be flattering. The cross-processed film results in strong greenish tints to skin tones and gritty, gritty features that are unattractive to a bride.

You cannot process black and white film with color chemistry, as this will strip the film of its emulsion. After all the time spent taking photos, you’ll end up with a blank roll of film, and that could also ruin the color chemistry. And don’t try to cross-process an old Kodachrome you might have found in your parents’ photography kit; it uses an entirely different kind of chemistry and you’ll ruin the movie.

When you give your slide film to a photo lab, make sure they understand that you want it cross-processed. Otherwise, they will use normal E6 chemistry to develop it. Cross processing is a fun way to experiment with film because the results are wild and unpredictable. You don’t know what the photos will look like until you have the prints in your hands.

Movie Hack 2: Double Exposures

Photo by Markus Spiske

One of the prerequisites for producing creative results is letting go of the need for perfection; it’s time to experiment and have fun! It’s a chance to play around with concepts and be prepared to make mistakes to learn what works best.

Double exposures were the unfortunate result of forgetting to roll up the film before taking the next picture. This has happened on old manual film cameras in the hands of forgetful photographers and has almost always ruined the image. But creating double exposures on purpose is an exciting way to put your skills as a photographer to the test. For this hack you can use any SLR camera and any roll of film.

A double exposure photo captured on Fuji Superia 200 ISO film with a Holga camera. Photo by Justin De La Ornellas and licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The easiest method for double exposures is to load the same film into the camera twice. Take pictures on the roll and rewind the film until it comes off the spindle, but stop rewinding it before it enters the cartridge completely. Now reload that same film and take another set of photos on top of the previous ones. Unless you are conscious enough to mount the film on the exact same sprockets as the first time, you will likely get misaligned images, but this can add to the haphazard and charming nature of double exposure images.

Another option is available for cameras like the Nikon F2 or Canon AE-1 with a manual rewind system. After taking a picture, press the rewind button to stop the film advancing, then wind the film advance lever until the camera thinks the next frame has arrived. In effect, the film stays in the same position and you can continue taking the second picture over the first picture. This allows you to compose an image so that the two scenes overlap aesthetically.

To have a ghostly effect, leave an empty area in a part of the frame, such as the sky, and fill it with the subject of your next photo. Or include dark regions from the first frame, and the second exposure will be more visible in that part of the frame. A balanced scene shows that you intentionally created this double image. This method allows you to make double, triple or quadruple exposures on the same frame. For best results, underexpose overlapping images by an f-stop so as not to overexpose the frame.

Photo by magnification

Some newer cameras have a built-in multiple exposure feature. Cameras like the Nikon FE2 and Nikon FM3A have a small lever, which can be pressed between shots. This lever resets the shutter without advancing the film. And new electronic film cameras, such as Nikon’s F3-F6, have a dedicated button for multiple exposures, making it easy to take two or more shots in exactly the same position in the frame.

Movie Hack: Retro Light Leaks

Photo by Annie Spratt

Light leaks happened accidentally with older cameras, but with a little fiddling, you can intentionally add light leaks to make it look like you’ve used a vintage camera. Light leaks add yellow, orange and red streaks that create a retro and whimsical atmosphere. But you should be aware that forcing light leaks is unpredictable and you can’t control the position of this effect.

The easiest way to produce light leaks is to open the back of the camera for a split second when the film has been rotated. Do not rewind the film; stand in a bright area and click to open the back of the camera for a brief moment before closing it. This light exposure will likely ruin the final photos, but the rest of the roll should only be subject to light leaking through the gables and into parts of the frames.

Light leaks on a photo caused by a Holga camera. Photo by Jeffrey and licensed under CC BY 2.0.

If you want to have some influence on the appearance of your light leaks, you can simulate a similar result by reflecting light from a mirror into the lens when taking a photo, creating colored light in the image. . For more traditional light leak tones, bounce reddish light from a prism into the lens when shooting a scene. You can also place a yellow, orange, or red object near the side of the lens while you focus on a distant subject. Use a wide aperture to blur those foreground elements so they look like light leaks. Shooting through the flame of a lighter also provides a realistic light leak effect.


Many photographers return to the film camera for its traditional, grainy look. It brings a sense of nostalgia coupled with anxiety waiting to find out if your movie is full of stunning images that match the vision you wanted to produce or if it contains underexposed blurry flops.

By experimenting with cross processing, double exposures and light leaks, there are no mistakes – you always create exciting works of art.

About the Author: Leigh Diprose is a full-time business owner and writer in the imaging industry with a passion for sharing knowledge. The opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author. His published work has been featured by top imaging wholesalers and major imaging retailers in over 14 countries.

Picture credits: Header photo by Markus Winkler

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