How to Film Soup

Last Updated on March 3, 2022

There can be some hesitancy to film soup, and I can understand why.

Although the prices and shortages of film stock these days aren’t so great, my hesitancy was not about that.

No, it was the fact that you are never really sure how your film will come out once you film soup it; the exposures can come out great…or not so much.

We went to Gibbs Gardens in North Georgia back 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 like 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 and off, unsure if I wanted to go through with the souping process.

Until finally, I decided it was time. Sure, I might have some good photos that could potentially be ruined once I souped them.

But hey, the original intent of me shooting the rolls was to soup them later, and I needed to stick to my plan. It’s a risk 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 type of 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.

But What is Film Souping?

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 somewhat weird.

Film souping is an experimental photography technique where you put your film in a liquid substance(s) of your choosing. Wine, lemon, and 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 can cause 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 there are plenty you can find 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 decide to use chemicals, you might want to consider gloves to keep the chemicals off your hands. I don’t want any of that stuff on my skin (nor my clothes).
  • Take your photos before you soup the film. Some photographers will soup first, and then take pictures. Supposedly this gives a better result, but you run a high 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 for whatever reason, 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. And I would leave it there for a few weeks before you pop the roll into your camera.
  • Definitely do not send your souped film to a lab without telling them that the film was souped. Some labs don’t even take a 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 will 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

Film soup is relatively easy, depending on what you want to do. If you’re going to make a recipe that involves many liquids, it might take you some time versus something simple such as putting the roll of film into wine. I generally like to keep things simple.

So, How to Film Soup?

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, to name a few examples.

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

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. For my souping recipes in this post, I kept the film in the liquids for 24 hours.

Can You Boil Your Film Soup?

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

But 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 right away or wait for the roll to dry. I dried my film for a week in a bag of rice before developing them at home. 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 My Thoughts

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

1) Cheap red wine (wine got too expensive during the pandemic, just saying)
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 waited impatiently for 24 hours. I am not sure why I was impatient since I wouldn’t see the actual exposures for another few days. One week later, we eagerly developed the rolls at home and then scanned the images.

If I had to use one word to describe the exposures from the film soup, it would be underwhelming. Considering they sat in the liquids for 24 hours, I expected the effects on the film 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 that it was 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 guess 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. But I will also experiment with other liquids to see what I get. The possibilities are endless.

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

I’ll keep you posted.

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

Self-portrait film soup photo

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