Recovering negatives from Fujifilm FP100C instant film

The best recovered negative
In spite of the damage to the others, this negative recovered quite nicely. The colors are deep and vibrant, and the shadows hold surprising detail. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Every time you make a picture with peel-apart instant film, you throw away a bunch of paper. Did you know there’s an actual negative in that wad of trash?

I’ve heard about this plenty of times, and it’s just one of several techniques for manipulating instant film to do more than the box advertised (you can also do emulsion lifts or integral film manipulations, for example). I’m not an instant film addict, or even a particularly huge fan, but I thought I’d try this with my last pack of FP100C, which I shot in the Polaroid 350 for #InsantApril.

Spreading on the bleach
I spread the bleach gel — toilet bowl cleaner with bleach, in this case — onto the negatives gently with a soft cloth. I used two applications to ensure I dissolved all the black goo. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me until after I’d piled all the ‘waste’ portions of the films in the trash bag in my car, so they stuck together and wrecked each other a bit. I think there was definitely still something to learn in there, and at least one of my negatives came out fantastically. (Several definitely did not, however.)

I’m not going to go super deeply into the technique because it’s been written up in plenty of other places, and I followed a guide I found on the internet, too.

Washing off the negatives
I peeled the negatives off the plastic sheets I had taped them to and placed them in an 8×10 tray propped in the sink with water flowing through it. I used my thumbs to gently rub the surfaces clear of any remaining goo after the bleaching. (Photo by Kathleen Wheeler, used with permission).

I will note this: some people seem to cut the negative out of the paper, but I didn’t find that necessary. I was able to carefully peel the bulk of the paper off the negatives. The remaining bits wound up soaked with bleach and/or soaked with water in the washing process and came off easily, leaving me with plenty of extra surface area to crop later.

I used clear plastic sheets cut from the fronts of a few old report covers I had laying around to tape down my negatives for bleaching and they worked pretty well. To avoid ruining the counter, I laid down some paper towels, but newspaper would’ve worked well — maybe better. For tape, I chose regular Scotch-type tape, and it did an alright job. Something a little less susceptible to moisture might’ve been good, but it worked.

At a glance, the process is simple:

  1. Peel all the excess paper away from the negatives.
  2. Tape the negatives, shiny side down, to something waterproof and smooth, like a sheet of glass or plastic.
  3. Coat the backs with gel bleach (toilet bowl cleaner with bleach works great).
  4. Let the bleach sit for a couple minutes and then wipe it off.
  5. If there is still significant black stuff, do another round of bleach.
  6. Wash the negatives and carefully rub off the remaining goo.
  7. Hang them to dry for awhile.
  8. Print them or scan them, as desired.
Recovered negatives hanging to dry
My recovered FP100C negatives hanging to dry in the shower. (Daniel J. Schneider)

My results weren’t great — mostly. I attribute most of the trouble to the damage caused by the gooey negatives being stuck together in my trash bag. I had to peel them apart, and some were pretty well stuck together.

I can see the appeal, though, definitely. In the couple of negatives that turned out well, the color and detail are excellent — probably better than the prints, frankly. Here are a few more examples, scanned as color negative film (inverted by the scanner software, that is):

Recovered negative, Gaylord Street
A recovered negative of a photo taken in Denver’s Old South Pearl Street business district. Notice the damage from sticking together. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Badly damaged recovered negative
The layers of colored dye were damaged to different degrees in this negative, rendering it interesting, but also mostly useless. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Gaylord Street businesses
A cheerful yellow bench greets visitors in front of a business on South Gaylord Street in Denver. Lots of fading in this recovered negative. (Daniel J. Schneider)
  • Instantkamera

    May I ask, what are you using to scan here? It looks like you have cropped the top and bottoms somewhat, so can I assume this is a flatbed without a full backlight plate (similar to v600 or other)?

    Thanks,

    aaron

    • Yeah, I have an Epson v600 and used that. In these instances I cropped the scans to reduce distraction and highlight the important parts — the images — without completely removing the messy edges.

      • Instantkamera

        whoa, that was fast, ha! Thanks for the reply. I have been having a hell of a time scanning this stuff. Can you ballpark how much of the vertical (in landscape mode) you lose due to the limited light bar in the v600? *Is* it just the messy borders, or would you say you are losing more from the top/bottom?

        Also, do you scan emulsion (matte) side down or vice versa? Your first result is spectacular, but I’m getting many more failed, mottled (greenish) and washed/blown out results than anything sharp and well balanced. Would you agree that under exposed (positive) prints actually lend more to negative reclamation?

        Sorry to dump all this on you, it’s just rare anyone wants to talk about this process and it’s such a mixed bag that I can’t really tell if I’m wrong or it’s just the nature of the beast.

        Thanks a tonne,

        aaron

        • Man, I don’t know if I can give you many answers. I’ve only done this twice and I don’t really remember much. Let’s see here…

          I think the negatives were almost exactly the width of the bar. I pretty much always scan emulsion side up, and it would make sense that slightly under-exposed shots would produce better negatives.

          The first result is probably that good because it was the only one that wasn’t stuck to anything else — last shot in the pack. And the color was adjusted (on all of these) slightly in Photoshop to correct the white balance. I used the first one as a guide, attempting to match roughly the color and contrast of the positive from that same shot, and applying similar adjustments to the other frames (which, as you can see, made little difference!)

          If you want more (and better) hints, jump into the #believeinfilm tag on Twitter — ask a couple questions and see who replies. Some good folks watch that hashtag.

          • Instantkamera

            That’s cool, you have at least given me confidence in grabbing a v600. Thanks!

          • Yeah, I’m pretty happy with it overall. I would offer to measure for you, but everything is still packed from a recent move. I would, though, if I had it to do over, get a v700/750, probably, because 4×5 definitely doesn’t work on the v600.

          • Instantkamera

            Yeah I see the v800 now, but in Canada that’s $1000 bucks I’d rather not drop for scanning integral and fp100c (never going to shoot non-instant film, I don’t think – and certainly not large format). Thanks again.

          • Sure. I think the v700 is more like half that — the 800 is the replacement and reports indicate it’s only a marginal improvement over the 700 (which is light years ahead of the 600). But the 600 should do, I think.