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Film Photography common problems and solutions


Camera scratch


A common problem we see at the lab is scratches on the images caused by small bits of dust or dirt inside the camera often on the plate on the back of the door where the film gets pulled across.



Clean the inside of your camera body with an antistatic cloth focussing on the back plate and anywhere the film will be pulled across when shooting


Light leaks from light seals


There are many causes for light leaks but the most common is poor light seals inside the camera body. These are mainly located in the back of the camera where the door closes shut but there are also a few foam strips inside many SLR cameras where the lens attaches to the body near where the mirror opens and closes.



Replace the camera light strips, this might sound daunting but it is a relatively easy thing to do. You can remove any remaining residue from the old light strips with an ear bud and some alcohol-based cleaner such as surgical spirit, be careful to only touch the areas with the old foam and not to get any of the cleaner on the lens or electrical parts of the camera. You can buy new foam for cameras online and either cut these to size yourself or search for a replacement pack that would fit your exact camera. It can be a little fiddly but once done, it should prevent any light leaks from coming up on your images.





Underexposed images usually have a lack of detail and a greenish or dark hue over the whole image, this can be caused by a couple of factors. Firstly, if you are using a disposable camera or reusable camera such as the Kodak Ektar H35 or a similar camera the capability of these cameras is very limited as the lens itself is very small and only has one aperture meaning that in low light or inside conditions, the cameras struggle to capture enough light to make an image. Most point and shoot cameras or SLR cameras have the ability to adjust the shutter speed or aperture to allow more light in to expose the film correctly but this is not yet possible with these cameras so it is important to always use the flash.


Another cause of underexposed images is metering for the highlights or for the image as a whole meaning that the exposure reading given, is for an area with more light for example, if you were shooting a wedding and the camera metered the settings for the bride’s wedding dress, this would be a much brighter area than the overall frame. This would tell the camera that the time needed to expose the image correctly is shorter so when it is shot, the photo isn’t exposed long enough for the entire image meaning the image becomes underexposed. A good way to fix this is to expose for the shadows with a spot meter either within the camera, on your phone app, or using a Sekonic light meter with a spot meter function. This would mean you could get a specific reading for the darkest area of the image and you could adjust your exposure to allow more light for in longer therefore giving a better exposed image.


Finally, a possible cause of underexposure is using expired film. As film gets older, it begins to lose its sensitivity to light meaning that in order to get the best image possible, you need to expose the film for longer than you would normally. A good rule of thumb is that for every decade, pull the film by 1 stop. For example, if you were shooting a 400 ISO film, that was 20 years old, you would shoot it at ISO 100 pulled 2 stops to compensate for the sensitivity degradation.


Over exposed

Over exposure is the opposite of under exposure, this is when the camera thinks that the image is too dark so it adjusts the exposure to allow a lot more light in than necessary, meaning that the images come out looking very blown out almost white with very little detail. This can sometimes be caused by either manually not adjusting your SLR camera to the changing light conditions or it could also be down to shooting the wrong film in the wrong conditions. An example of this would be shooting a high ISO or highly sensitive to light film such as Kodak portra 800 in bright sunlight. This film would need much less exposure to light to create an image in comparison to a lower ISO film and sometimes the cameras capabilities aren’t enough to compensate for the speed of the film, it might not be able to have a slow enough shutter speed or a small enough aperture in order to expose the image for the right amount of time for this film. In these cases, if you can’t change the film, you could use a lens filter to reduce the amount of light able to reach the film and help your camera get these faster settings.




Blank film


Blank film is when the negative has not been exposed to light so once developed, it comes out as completely clear with only the film marks down the sides. It is an incredibly frustrating result to get, there are a couple of common causes for this which can be easily checked to prevent this happening again. The first cause is that the shutter curtains/shutter blades or camera mirror are stuck meaning that they never open when shooting. The camera might seem like it is working but if it isn’t opening to light or is shut then the film won’t be getting exposed to light in order to get your images. An easy way to check this, is to open the back of your camera with no film inside and put your camera on a slow shutter speed or on bulb mode and shoot a few frames. If you look through the back of your camera and can see the shutter blades opening, see the light through the camera lens and everything seems to be opening and closing as it should then you can rule out this as a cause for the blank film. If they aren’t opening properly, then it might be time to send your camera off for a clean and check over, to see if it can get repaired.


Another possible cause for blank film is that the film didn’t attach to the take up spool on the other side of the camera so the film was never pulled across in order to expose each frame. A good way to check this on a manual camera, is to first take a shot with the back open and checking that the film is securely fixed in the teeth of the take up spool. Once the back is shut, you can check this further by making sure that the rewind crank that has your film loaded below it inside the camera, is moving round each time you wind on a shot, you should also feel a little resistance which signifies that the film is being pulled across properly.



Fogged film


Fogged film is caused when the undeveloped negative is exposed to extreme light before the developing process. If the camera back comes open or if you have to pull the negative out of your camera in the daylight then there is very little chance that any images will remain on the roll. You shouldn’t ever really see the negative before developing as it is incredibly sensitive to light and any exposure outside of the camera itself, can cause your images to be blanked. Once the film has been developed it is no longer sensitive to light so at this point you can handle the negatives.


If you find yourself in a position where your camera has stopped working and you need to remove the film manually, find the darkest place you can. Maybe this is a cupboard or a bathroom with no windows and then remove your film from your camera, if you have the original black pot from your film, put your film in there and tape it up to make sure it isn’t opened accidentally. We can still develop film that has been handled in this way and hopefully save some of the images.



Overlapping images

Overlapping images happens when your camera is not winding on fully to the next frame meaning that the previous frame is still in the shot when the camera thinks the next frame is ready, this can be caused when the motor in your camera begins to ware out, sometimes it can be as simple as needing new batteries, other times it could be a bigger problem which would require someone having a look at your camera to see if it can be fixed.


Single frame


Having just a single frame on your roll with all of the images exposed on this is very similar to one of the causes of having a blank roll. This happens when the film slips off of the take up spool after loading meaning that the film is only pulled across far enough to expose that first frame and therefore all of the following images end up being on this single frame. A good way to check this is to make sure that the rewind spool side is rotating with each wind-on of your camera.  




Stretching causes green lines usually towards the end of your film and most commonly happens when the release button isn’t pressed before trying to rewind your film. This means that the film isn’t released from the take up spool teeth so when you start trying to rewind the film you are stretching it rather than rewinding it. To prevent this happening, make sure that that little button usually located on the bottom, is pushed in before rewinding and hold it in if necessary until the film is rewound.


Sometimes this can also happen if the film folds inside the canister from loading it incorrectly into the camera, if the film is loaded backwards or has too much slack, sometimes this can cause tension stretching parts of the film. It is important to load the film correctly into the camera, follow a video tutorial if you can or just make sure that the shiny side of the film is facing you when loading.


Double exposures


This could have been done on purpose, there are many double exposed images that look beautiful! Maybe you wanted to experiment with portraits and overlapping landscapes or textures on top which can create some interesting results. If however, you were not expecting to have double exposures or overlapping images, then this could be due to a number of causes.


As mentioned previously in overlapping images, this double exposure effect could be caused by the winding mechanism not advancing your film far enough on to expose the next image on a clear bit of film, if this is the case then your camera may need to be checked over to see if this can be fixed. Another possible cause of unexpected double exposures is accidentally shooting the same roll twice. This happens more often than you might expect, especially if you put a finished roll of film with the tongue still sticking out in your bag, it can be easy to forget about it and then not remember if it has been shot or not when it comes to shooting. To prevent this happening, have a separate bag or compartment for your shot film or write on the canister or pot once its shot so that it doesn’t get mixed up by accident.





Sometimes if the film is loaded incorrectly in the camera, it can cause the film to fold back into the canister, this causes fold lines on your images where the pressure has made a mark. It is important to load your camera correctly and if you feel any strange tension when winding your camera on, to check this before getting too far into your film. When you load your film, the shiny side should be facing you.




Blurry images


This happens when you have chosen a shutter speed which is too slow to not create camera shake when shooting especially if this is done handheld. A good rule is that if you are shooting handheld, don’t shoot under 1/60th as this is the limit that we are able to stay still at and not cause a shaky image. If your camera is metering for lower than this, either adjust your aperture to a smaller number allowing more light in and therefore allowing for a faster shutter speed, or use a tripod to make sure your camera stays still.

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