Tips and Steps on How to Film Soup

There can be some hesitancy to film soup, and I understand why. The prices and shortages of film stock aren’t so great these days, but my initial reluctance to souping film was not about that. Instead, it was the uncertainty of how my film would come out once I souped it. When you soup film, the exposures can come out great…or not so much. It’s a risk that you have to be willing to take.

For example, we went to Gibbs Gardens in North Georgia in the summertime. I brought two rolls of Kodak Gold 200, intending to soup them. We went on a beautiful, partly cloudy day, and I felt pretty confident that I got some fantastic shots.

I left Gibbs Gardens thinking, “Hmmm…do I really want to film soup these now?”

Yeah…those two rolls sat on my dining room table for weeks before I decided to soup them. I kept pushing it off, unsure if I wanted to continue the souping process.

Until finally, I decided it was time. Sure, I might have some good photos that could be ruined once I souped them. But hey, I originally intended to shoot the rolls to soup them later, and I needed to stick to my plan. It’s a gamble when you soup film, but I’ve seen some phenomenal souped photos before from other photographers, and I was hoping to have a similar outcome.

Some photographers like this experimental photography technique, while others do not. I think film souping is a love-it-or-hate-it thing; it really depends on your preference.

If you want to try souping film for yourself, I’ve listed below some helpful tips on how to film soup, along with my thoughts from my experience on the whole process.

A bee sits on a flower.
You can see subtle changes in the exposure due to souping film.

But What Exactly is Film Soup?

If you aren’t familiar with film souping, you might be wondering what the heck I am talking about. The term “film soup” even sounds weird.

Film souping is an experimental photography technique where you put your film in a liquid substance(s). Wine, lemon, lime juice, household cleaners, tea, white vinegar, dish soap, and saltwater are just a few examples of possible liquids you can use.

When you soup film, it causes your exposures to have different visual effects where you might see some color shifts and other interesting artifacts. Basically, you are damaging the emulsion.

You can get super creative with film soup recipes, and you can find plenty online, including several YouTube videos and examples.

Gibbs Gardens
A line of purple in an otherwise normal exposure.

Helpful Tips Before You Start

  • If you decide to film soup with chemicals, please make sure you can safely mix those chemicals. Some chemicals are not meant to be combined, and you don’t want to create something hazardous that can release toxic fumes or cause a dangerous chemical reaction.
  • Also, if you use chemicals, you might want to wear gloves to keep the chemicals off your hands. For me, I don’t want any of that stuff on my skin (nor my clothes).
  • Save money by choosing items or liquids you already have in your home, pantry, or fridge.
  • Take your photos before you film soup. Some photographers will soup first and then take pictures. Supposedly, this gives a better result, but you run an increased risk of damaging your camera. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to put souped junk in my camera – especially household chemicals.
  • If you decide to put the souped film into your camera, make sure the souped film is completely dry. And I mean completely. You don’t want any moisture getting into your camera. How can you dry film? You can do so by placing your film roll into a bag of rice or silica gel. You’ll want to leave it there for a few weeks before you pop the roll into your camera.
  • Very important: Do not send your souped film to a lab without telling them that the film was souped. Some labs don’t even take souped film – my local lab does not. If your lab doesn’t take souped film, you will need to develop the film at home or have a friend do it for you.
  • If you plan to develop your film at home, you’ll want to develop your souped film when your chemistry is almost exhausted. You don’t want to use the chemistry on film you don’t want souped.

How to Film Soup

Souping film is relatively easy, depending on what you want to do. Making a recipe that involves many liquids might take some time versus something simple, such as putting a roll of film into wine. I generally like to keep things simple.

Easy Steps

First, choose your liquids (and mix, if applicable) and select the roll(s) of film you want to use.

Second, you simply put your roll of film into your film soup concoction. You can soup your film in a container of your choosing – mason jars, cups, mugs, and saucepans, for example.

You can also put your film roll first into your container and then pour the liquid on top. But you will want to ensure your roll is submerged for either method.

How Long Should Your Film Sit in the Liquid?

It all depends on what you want to do. Some photographers keep the roll in the liquid(s) for a few hours, and others might keep it in longer, such as a few days. I kept the film in the liquids for my souping recipes in this post for 24 hours.

Can You Boil Your Film Soup?

You can boil your film soup. I haven’t tried this yet, and unsure if I will. Something about boiling my film doesn’t sit well with me, but hey, if you want to try, go for it!

If you plan to boil your soup recipe, you will probably want to boil it for a few minutes instead of letting it simmer for hours on end.

Once You Are Done Souping

Once you finish souping, rinse the roll(s) thoroughly with cold water to stop the chemical reactions from the souping process.

If you plan to develop the souped film at home, you can develop it immediately or wait for the roll to dry. I dried my film for a week in a bag of rice before developing at home. Why did I wait? It’s more challenging to get the wet film onto the film-developing reel.

As mentioned above, if you take your souped film to a lab, you will want to make sure the lab can develop it and that the roll is completely dry beforehand.

Small waterfall pool at Gibbs Gardens

Two Film Soup Recipes and Final Thoughts

For the film that I shot at Gibbs Gardens, I kept my two film soup recipes simple:

1) Cheap red wine
2) Liquids I could find in my fridge that day: fruit punch sparkling water, pickle juice, and a few drops of lemon juice

I put the film rolls in mason jars and poured the liquids right on top, then keenly waited for 24 hours. I am unsure why I was impatient since I wouldn’t see the actual exposures for another few days, but it’s exciting! We eagerly developed the rolls at home one week later and then scanned the images.

How were the results? Drum roll…….I was underwhelmed. Wait, what? After all that? Yes, I wasn’t really over the moon with my souped images. Considering they sat in the liquids for 24 hours, I expected the film soup effects to be so much more. Don’t get me wrong, I still love these images, but this was slightly disappointing.

Some exposures were affected by liquids, while others seemed perfectly normal. I did expect this outcome beforehand. But I did not expect the minimal changes to most of the exposures where you could tell it was clearly film souped.

The red wine film soup produced more color and tonal shifts, with a few pictures having a subtle purple tone. You can tell that something is different for the pickle juice mixture, as if someone poured liquid on the film and forgot to wipe it up. Between the two recipes, I expected more color shifts.

Red wine souped film image of trees
As you can see, the red wine created a purple tone to this exposure.
Pink water lily in a pond.
Film souped photo of a metal flower
Souped image using pickle juice, lime juice, and fruit punch sparkling water.

Will I film soup again? Probably. It’s a fun experimental process, and I like the anticipation and surprise you get from it.

A more expensive red wine bottle (less watered down) might do the trick next time and produce more effects on the film. Or maybe I will soup the film longer than 24 hours. But I will also experiment with other liquids to see what I get. The possibilities are endless with film soup.

However, I don’t think I will film soup rolls I can’t easily take again in specific locations. For example, if I am visiting a foreign country for the first time, I will not soup those film rolls. But if it is something closer to home, then maybe!

Have you souped film before? If so, please share your thoughts and experience below!

Self-portrait film soup photo

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Film souping is an experimental photography technique where you put your film in liquid substances. It causes your exposures to have different visual effects where you might see some color shifts and other interesting artifacts. Read more for tips and steps on how to film soup to produce the desired effects for your photos!

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