Photographers have always been experimenting with ways to make their images unique through various shooting, processing, and darkroom techniques. In the early days before color photography was successfully invented, there was hand-coloring, as well as many pigment based techniques (alternative processes) of the time, such as gum bicromate for example, to give prints color. Once color photography had been standardized, cross processing quickly became a very popular method for producing a unique appearance for color images. In this day and age though, photographic images can be manipulated through various photo editing software programs and even done with the push of a button on their mobile phones.

Polaroid transfer
Cell phone photo (with filter effects)

Photographers and darkroom enthusiasts of today are still practicing cross processing, alternative processes, and doing experimental photography. Methods of this type of work are different from one photographer to another. It is subjected to what a photographer wants to achieve for his or her images. Usually though, something that conventional darkroom work can't produce.


To get into experimental techniques, you need to start with a few things- a little research, some extra time, creativity, an adventurous attitude, and patience. The following describes how I created the following images, a recent experimental series.

Starting out, I knew I wanted multi-colored images for this series. Color ranges that are beyond black and white materials capabilities. So, I've settled for color materials as the basis of this experiment. I wanted chaotic colors, not color photographs, so color accuracy wasn't important. But I also wanted to still concentrate on the silver part of the image. I visualized chaotic colors and appearances on stabilized subjects. I chose to use a negative type of duplicating film, which is tungsten light balanced. Initially, I thought my planned experiment would throw the color components of the film out of whack, which is exactly what I had hoped to create. I exposed the images at the manufacturer's ASA rating + compensation for a red filter that I used in front of the lens, and for reciprocity failure. I treated this part of the experiment as if I was shooting with black and white film.

I wanted the images to be solarized also, somehow, and I knew that I was going to have a lab process my film, and that meddling with them at the lab in this situation was impossible. So, I took a different approach and first processed the film as if it was black and white film with black and white film developer at home. Then, I solarized them with a green gel light, while they were still developing. I did this thinking about the reddish-yellow film base. You know, green is the complimentary color of red. Well, in the light spectrum anyway. What this green light would do to the images, I really had no idea. But hey, this is an experimental process, and I was prepared to just have fun with the ideas and the process of experimenting.

I then put the film in a stop bath for the required time, after they were finished with the developing. Then, I rinsed the film thoroughly for a few minutes with running tap water. And, I remembered not to fix the films just yet because I still wanted the dyes to couple with the silver during the bleach/fix process of the color film developing. I put each sheet of film in its own plastic baggie, and into a dark box and ran it to a commercial lab to have them color processed. Since the film was color film, everything that I had done so far, except for the solarization part, was done in total darkness. When I got to the lab, I asked for the film to be cross-processed.

When I got it back, the result was a pleasant surprise. I was totally happy with the way the images had turned out.

This particular experiment is just an example of one way to make experimental images. Each different approach will yield different and unique results. And not all will turn out the way you've visualized or would expect or hoped. My approach to this type of work is usually from a mix of my understanding of the materials that I choose to work with, as well as proper planning and preparation. Some say darkroom work can be compared to cooking, and I simply try to manipulate the ingredients of the materials to crate a new visual palate.

Resources and Inspriation:

+ Flickr Groups (There's a bunch with great discussions, recipes, and photo sharing on related topics in these groups)-
* Experimental Photography Techniques
* Experimental Techniques 
* Film Recipes 
* The Colour Twelve
* Film damaged by radiation, heat, water, time, in processing...

- Kris Phimsoutham