Saving my vacation photos from a faulty development

For a decade I have been itching to again visit Paris. Francophone popular culture has been a part of my life since childhood originating in the French and Belgian comics I raptly devoured. They were in Swedish translation, but when as a child I was told by my mother that she knew French from school, I came to realize that I through this language I could tap in to hidden worlds that lay beyond the few Swedish editions of Spirou and Sibylline.

The access to the francophone world has given me a wider appreciation of culture and politics in a Sweden otherwise heavily steeped in North American culture and news reporting.

Visiting France again a decade since last time excited me of course. Last time I came with my then newfound love. This time I brought my ten-year-old daughter – the fruition of that love.

The two of us have since her early years kept a piggy-bank in the shape of a decorated wooden box where odd coins and some serious bills have been deposited. The presence of this symbol has kept the conversation about our trip and everything francophone going for ten years now.

We left for Paris in early September 2023. The date was planned since spring and only when the time for departure approached did we realize that the heat-wave France has been enduring this summer was still present. So we left the Swedish early autumn weather of 15° C to arrive in a city sweltering in 27-32° C. It did work fine. We could always leave – not so the weary Parisians.

Eiffel Tower

After a week’s stay, seeing the sights and then some, we came home. After a couple of weeks I decided to develop the 2.5 rolls of Fomapan 100 that I’d exposed. I’d used my Olympus Pen-F mostly, with a 70 mm (equiv. to a 105) and a 40 (≈60), both adapted lenses.

I pushed the film to 400 ASA for more contrast (I love the Washi S and A films though not the low ASA). Following the instructions for the new-to-me Pyro 510 developer the films were more or less stand developed for some 35 minutes, with short intermittent agitation.

When scanning the films I discovered my mistake. There was streaking from the perforation resulting in dark blots on the photos. The stand development was a bad idea. I also saw that in this case a staining developer like the 510 may not be ideal for pushing. Because sometimes large areas just turned out the same grey tone, making it difficult to edit.

After some rueful time I decided to make something nice out of the damaged photos. I didn’t want to just discard them as rubbish. So I decided to add colour and texture to the best ones.

Tour Montparnasse from the Eiffel Tower

I invested (€3) in a collection of watercolor background files in different colours and textures and got to work merging them with my photos. The results are perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m new to this type of collage work in digital photo editing but I think many of the photos have become beautiful pieces, which is not bad given the circumstances. I am relieved.

Père Lachaise cemetery

Vegetable market at Saint Mandé
The markets at St Ouen
Centre Georges Pompidou

By the Seine
Canal St Martin

In retrospect I think that I should have scanned the negatives as bigger files. Them being half-frame, scanning at 2400 dpi would have been better suited for showing them on a computer screen.

My wish with sharing this is that if you have photos that are difficult to save you may be inspired to take them in a different direction than originally intended rather than forgetting about them.

Thanks for reading!

You can find me at IG.

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My Etsy camera shop is here.

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14 thoughts on “Saving my vacation photos from a faulty development”

  1. I’ve become more cautious about using untested films for important events and vacations. I’ve been burned in the past by film that looked … interesting … but with muted colors, excessive grain, thin negatives, etc.

    Your photos may not be what you expected, but they do have an almost Eugene Atget-ish feel. They’re a nice record of your visit.

    But next time, maybe some HP-5 and standard developing?

    1. Thank you for sharing your own experience, and your kind mention of Atget! While not on par with the master, I am glad I did the unusual choice (for me) of trying to save the photos.
      About the film – I always (almost) use Fomapan 100, 200 or 400, pushed in one direction or other. Caffenol works best, which I’ll stick to in future.

  2. I like the “lemonade” you made here.* But then, I’m probably the kind of person who would prefer these over what the pics would have looked like with ‘proper’ development. 😉

    * (“When life gives you lemons… “)

  3. While I feel you pain, Flash, the results are unexpected but still incredible telling about your grasp of structure, and perspective. Last year I went to visit the spot of Nicéphore Niépce first picture. Your Paris work reminded me a lot of his experiments with Bitumen and Lavender.

    1. Thank you for your kind observations Thorsten! Yes the colours added (or subtracted) a century or two to the photos – their likeness to older prints taking me by surprise and added to my resolve to keep trying to save them.

  4. Really beautiful. As someone who used to live there (though not someone who is Parisian or even French), I feel that this treatment has actually captured the soul of Parisnin a heat wave. Monochromatic, but not black and white. Difficult to see, because the heat is frying your brain. Hazy because…haze, both literal and metaphorical. 💯

    1. Thanks for your interpretation, Don! The heat did have a deep impact on me – someone who is more accustomed to (and content with) 25°C Summers. I didn’t consciously choose the colours with the intent to illustrate it. Though when you put it like that…

  5. Good try, and you’ve made the best of a disappointing situation. Personally, I wouldn’t trust film, especially with home developing, for those bucket-list trips. (I know, heresy on this site.)

  6. There is a saying: when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. You made a sweet batch of lemonade with these images.
    Wonderful save and the reds, blues & sepia fit the images.

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