Most guides about the challenges of extreme-weather photography focus on the comfort and safety of the photographer and her models. While staying safe in all weather is important, it only begins to scratch the surface of what changes when you’re trying to take photographs in extreme heat or cold. The effects on your film – and the final outcome for the photograph – are very much dependent on the conditions at the time of shooting.
SHOOTING IN HIGH TEMPERATURES
The good news is film has a much better tolerance for heat than for light. All the same, heat does play a role in speeding up some of the chemical processes that cause photographs to develop. This means that film exposed to very high temperatures will often experience a color shift, or spotting.
The effect varies depending on the temperature, how long it was exposed and what type of film you’re using. At the mild end, you’ll get photos that come out looking washed out or over-exposed. As the film gets hotter, you’ll start seeing color shifts toward a particular shade, or the image may develop an “oil slick” appearance of ripples or spots. At the high end, you’ll see a gradient fade to white, similar to what you’ll experience when the film is exposed to light between shots.
Unsurprisingly, faster films are more sensitive to heat than slower films. Infrared film needs to be stored in the refrigerator, as room temperatures will start to degrade it. Color is affected much more than black and white film, which tends to be extremely sturdy. For the most part, temperatures will need to go well over 100 degrees before significant color changes are seen; leaving film in the trunk of a hot car is one of the most prevalent causes of such color shifts.
If you’re looking to try some of these color effects for intentional, stylistic purposes, you’ll need to experiment a bit to find the right balance between temperature and film speed but it can be one heck of a fun process to play around with.
COLD WEATHER PHOTOGRAPHY
Cold, however, is a different story. Film loves to be cold, and film kept in a freezer will last forever so long as it’s protected from condensation.
'Low Key’, a cold nighttime shot courtesy of NYFA student Kohichi Ogasahara
The camera itself, though, may suffer a bit from the cold. Extreme cold can cause your shutter and other mechanical parts to stick, and moisture from condensation inside the camera can ruin it. You’ll need to take care to protect your camera, which will require understanding its limitations and taking measures to protect it from moisture.
TEMPERATURE IN THE DARK ROOM
Inside the dark room, temperature makes a greater difference. If the developing solution is too cold, the chemical reactions behind development will not occur and the photographs won’t turn out; at high temperatures, development accelerates and eventually fails. Black and white photos won’t develop in a solution below 60 degrees, and at temperatures above 80 degrees it becomes very fragile. The best temperature for developing black and white film is 68 degrees.
Color film is even more sensitive, and slight variations in temperature can lead to wide variance in color. The ideal temperature will vary a bit depending on the type of film you’re using and the exposure of the film you’re developing. For C-41 films, the ideal temperature is around 100 degrees.
Of course, these figures refer only to the solution temperature. The room itself can be cooler for your comfort so long as you have a reliable thermometer and way to maintain the right solution temperature. Bear in mind, though, that the difference between the solution and air temperature will affect development speed. Your dark room equipment, especially the lamps, will help maintain the right temperature throughout development, and you can compensate for temperature by shortening or lengthening your development time.
Thanks to the New York Film Academy for this helpful guest post. I think the fundamental points highlighted here also gives you a better idea of how our film soup experiments work in tampering with the film emulsion to create funky colors and swirls. We always say here, learning your basics will take you far as once you understand your medium, you can take it all on to another level or stay in the safe zone and continue to produce YOUR OWN photos. Regardless, always have fun!! —CGSF