Celebrate Nature Photography Day With DIY Film Soaking

This post comes from our former web studio intern, Sadie!

Being a film photographer, I am on an endless search for inspiration and new ways to experiment with film.

Just over a year ago, I became so mesmerized by the magical worlds photographers like Bridgette Bloom were creating by soaking film, that I just had to delve into it myself. Film soaking highlights the aspects of film photography that I love most – the happy accidents of light leaks or unintentional double exposures, the importance of letting go of what you cannot control, and the mystery of not knowing exactly what you captured on film until you get it developed. You simply cannot know exactly how wine or vinegar or salt water will affect a specific roll of film on a certain day over a given period of time – and there is such beauty in embracing that unknowability, in allowing yourself to let go of expectations, and just have fun.

While film soaking is far from an exact science, there are tons of tips and tricks that I have developed over the past year that will make experimenting with film soaking much easier for those of you that are inspired to give it a try. Although these are the steps that I personally follow when soaking film, each photographer has their own method and you should feel free to be creative and do whatever works best for you.



35mm film canister

35mm camera

Jar or container

Red wine (or something else to soak with)

Dry rice (optional)

Step 1: Choosing a film

Because of how experimental film soaking is, I recommend that you use an inexpensive color negative film. Soaking will still have an effect on black and white film, but one of my favorite parts of film soaking are the unexpected, often vibrant colors that appear. My go-to 35mm film for soaking is Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400, which is inexpensive and widely available.

Step 3_soak and swirl

Step 2: Choose a soaking material

Anything will have some type of an effect on your film, more acidic solutions tend to produce more drastic results. I know people that have used vinegar, detergent, bleach, salt water, and even hot tea to soak their film. My favorite experiments so far have been lime juice, tequila, and red wine. I have high hopes for a roll that I recently soaked for three days in a colorful bath bomb! 

Step 3_soak

Step 3: Soak the film

Fully submerge the entire film canister in whatever you have chosen to soak it in, swirling every couple of hours to release any air bubbles. I tend to soak film for anywhere between 1-3 days. The longer you soak, the more dramatic the effects. 

You can soak your film before or after you shoot the roll. However, I always soak it beforehand because the results tend to be amplified. 

Step 4_rinse

Step 4: Rinse the film (optional)

I always rinse out my film in water for 1-2 days after soaking, changing the water every couple of hours. This helps the film to be less sticky, making it easier to shoot, and it also gets rid of extra residue that can potentially cause issues in developing.

Step 5_dry

Step 5: Dry the film (optional)

I also always dry my film thoroughly before shooting by placing it in dry rice for 1-2 days, and then letting it air dry for at least a week. This will prevent your camera from getting damaged by any water and also makes it much easier to advance the film while you are shooting.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Step 6: Advance the film (optional)

Even if you rinse out the film and let it dry thoroughly, soaked film can still be sticky. In order to avoid any issues advancing the film while I’m in the middle of a shoot, I advance through the roll ahead of time. If you have camera that you advance and rewind by hand, leave the lens cap on and advance the film to the end of the roll and then rewind. If you have a camera that automatically advances and rewinds film, you can take the film canister into a pitch black room (like a closet, bathroom, or basement), pull all of the film out of the canister, and then rewind it by hand. Be mindful to not expose the film to any light during this step and also be sure to leave enough film out of the canister after you rewind it so that it is easy to re-load into your camera.

Step 7: Take photos!

Step 8: Get the film developed

Developing your own soaked film is definitely ideal, however, most people get their film developed at professional labs or drugstores. Please keep in mind that depending on what you soaked your film in, there is potential for it to contaminate the chemicals used to develop film. Always let a lab know ahead of time that your film is soaked, that way they can accommodate and avoid accidentally damaging somebody else’s film that gets developed after yours. Labs at drugstores (Walgreens, CVS, etc) can sometimes be less strict and may be more likely to accept soaked film.

Remember, film soaking isn’t a flawless process, but that imperfection is what makes it so magical, so be sure to not get too fixated on end results and enjoy the journey!




1_red wine_1day

2_red wine_2days

Be sure to follow Sadie on Instagram and Tumblr!

Check out her website here!

Check out more DIY projects from the BLDG 25 Blog.

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8 years ago

Oh wow, I never realized you could soak film to add an effect before using it. Do you find rice to be effective for drying though? I once dropped my phone in water and rice didn’t help much. I tried putting it in a ziplock bag with silica gel packets and it worked marvels ;)

8 years ago

Beautiful pieces – I had never heard of this, so thank you for sharing an industry secret xo

Warm Regards,

8 years ago

love this idea! i’m dying to get a 35mm film camera. any suggestions??


8 years ago

I love this look!

Check out my new post on http://www.hippiegal.com where I used head to toe Free People pieces!


Hippie Gal
@Hippiegal13 – Instagram

8 years ago

What gorgeous results!

8 years ago

WOW how gorgeous! I’d never considered this technique before, I hope I can give this a go over summer :)

Sophie | http://www.dreamsandcolourschemes.com

8 years ago

Beautiful!! Could I soak my film after taking pictures? I’m a little weary of putting soaked film in my camera! Just curious if anyone knows if the results are similar?

8 years ago

Thank you all for your kind words! I just wanted to take a moment to answer a couple of your questions…

Kim – It is definitely true that silica gel works better than rice, but both do absorb moisture. I recommended rice in the diy because that is what most people have on hand :)

Megan – I love my Canon AE-1. It is a fantastic beginner 35mm camera and is extremely easy to use and also extremely durable. Here is a guide to buying your first 35mm camera that has some very helpful hints: http://istillshootfilm.org/post/26341717866/how-to-choose-a-35mm-film-camera-for-beginners

Kelly – You can definitely soak film after you shoot! I always soak it before, but I’ve read that it tends to create a less dramatic effect, but you will still definitely get some effect on your film if you soak it after. I would maybe recommend trying to soak the film a couple of days longer if you want extremely colorful, experimental results.

Feel free to ask anymore questions! :)

8 years ago

Hello Sadie,
Thank you for sharing this. I really want to try out this technique but I am confused on how to dry out the film without exposing it. What have you done to protect it and dry it too? I was thinking of leaving it in a closed shoe box that way dust or light could not get inside but, I know film should hang dry so it wont touch it self. Thank you,


8 years ago

Wow this is amazing, if I ever get a film camera I should really try this.. I only do digital photography so I always thought that if the film got wet that it wouldn’t work. wow the pictures came out beautifully.


8 years ago

Hi Christina!
When drying the film using the methods I listed above (rice, then air drying) I actually just leave the film in the canister. Some people do take the film out of the canister and let it hang to let it air dry – usually in their dark room or in a pitch black/safe lit bathroom. While hang drying it in the dark is certainly faster than drying it in the canister, I just think it is a bit more simple to leave it in the canister and wait a bit longer for it to dry. :)

7 years ago

Hi Sadie, first of all I wanted to thank you for writing this comprehensive tutorial, I loved reading it. And I wanted to ask you, what material did you use for the soaking in the film of the very first photo? I adore those colors and the dreamlike quality of the pics. Thanks again!