Redscale Film – Reverse It!

The apocalypse will eventually come one day and when it is photographed it will be in redscale.  Why wouldn’t it be?  Artists would be aiming at a realistic look, and nothing does that better than urban decay in red.

This article is also part of the Red October theme being posted this month, where I am shooting with Soviet cameras and red related items.  It will be closely followed by an Combinations article where redscale film is used in a Soviet camera, a Zorki 4.

Redscale is a method of modifying colour film so that it produces results which have a very strong red and yellow look to them. It does vary on how strong it is depending on how you shoot it.  This article will show you how to change your colour film so that it is redscaled.

To redscale film you are basically shooting through the film on the reverse side, i.e. through the base.  This causes the layers to be exposed out of sequence and being affected by the filters applied to colour film, both negative and positive.


There is not much of a history to redscale, probably the report that is most correct is that it has been around since the first days of colour photography when someone accidentally inserted film incorrectly and got this great result.  It would be very easy to do in a large format camera, since you load the holders in the dark.

In 2008 Lomography launched a pre-loaded redscale film, so if you do not fancy doing this yourself, head over there and pick up some ready to go.


Redscale is when you shoot through the film on the reverse side.  So rather than shooting through the emulsion, you shoot through the base.  The reason why it affects the end result so much is that colour film is designed and created in layers with the red layer on the bottom, i.e. closest to the base.

Normally when shooting onto the emulsion side, it would expose the blue layer first, which then has a filter behind it, protecting the subsequent layers.  This is repeated with the green layer until you get to the final red layer.  It also important to note that all layers are sensitive to the blue light, which is why the filter is so important.  Finally there is an anti-halation layer on the back of the base, which stops the light bouncing off the back plate of the camera and back onto the film.

With redscaled film, the red layer is exposed first, and the blue layer is not exposed at all.  Remembering that it has a filter, which now reversed is in front of the blue layer effectively stopping any blue light from exposing it.  The green layer will be exposed by blue light. The lack of the blue layer being exposed and the red layer exposed with no filter is what gives the end result such a red and yellow bias.  It does vary based on exposure and you do need to expose more to counter the anti-halation layer.

Both colour negative (C-41) and colour positive film (E-6) have been used with this technique.

How to

To redscale 35mm film yourself you will need the following items:

  • A roll of 35mm colour film
  • An empty 35mm cartridge, in this example purpose made ones, but previously used cartridges can be used
  • Scissors
  • Masking tape
  • A dark bag or somewhere with complete darkness
  • A 35mm film cameras (ok, this is after it is loaded)

Step 1

Cut of the leader from a roll of film so the start of it is straight.  Keep the leader to use as a template for cutting a new one at the end.

Step 2

Attach a piece of marking tape to it.  Make sure it is attached on to the emulsion side (dull side).

Step 3

Attach the film to the spool that is used in the cartridge. In this example, a purpose bulk-load cartridge is used.  If you use a previously used cartridge from a roll of film, just tape the film to the piece of film left within the cartridge instead.

Note, that it is attached with the emulsion now on the outside of the spool.  This is important, otherwise you are not reversing it.

Step 4

Put the cartridge back over the spool (not needed if already using non-bulk load cartridge) and in the dark pull the film through by winding it onto the new spool/cartridge.  This must be done in the dark or in a dark bag otherwise you will be exposing the film to light as it is wound on.

Remember to wind in the direction which will ensure the emulsion is on the outside of the spool inside the cartridge.

Step 5

Cut the film.  If you plan on using the old cartridge for future loading, then leave a bit at the end to use for taping the next roll through.

Step 6

Using the leader kept from the first step as a template, cut a new leader from the start of the freshly rolled film.

Step 7

Load up the camera and head out and enjoy shooting. Remember to over expose by a bit to get the full effect, but not too much otherwise it will be more towards the yellow than the red.

Final Step

Once finished shooting, have the film processed as per normal.  No specific instructions are needed for the lab.

Have a go at this, it is fun, and the results can be very interesting, as we’ll see in the follow up article.