Film Photography

What’s on your film tails?

With my mechanical 35mm cameras I can shoot every frame, including 0 and sometimes even 00. It makes my inner skinflint happy to get 37 or 38 images on a 36-exposure roll.

Frequently the first image includes the exposed film tail. I usually burn that frame off without composing or focusing. But sometimes even that photo turns out to be interesting — and other times I don’t realize I’m not beyond the tail when I start shooting for real.

Coffee mug at the sink

With a rare idle hour recently I looked for interesting tail images. Unsurprisingly, most of them were crap. But here are some that aren’t, not entirely, anyway. Above: my coffee mug at the edge of my kitchen sink. Below: eggs in the refrigerator door. These may not be the most gripping subjects of all time, but I still find the incomplete images to have some appeal.

Eggs

Most of my interesting tail photos are from around the house. It’s not surprising: that’s where I usually am when I load my film! But once in a while I start a second roll while out and get a tail photo from wherever I am.

Chevrolet sign

Here are more. Click any of them to see them larger.

What’s on your film tails?

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21 thoughts on “What’s on your film tails?

  1. Hey hey! Nice collection! I don’t have any tails for better or worse. Either I cut them while loading film into the tank or just don’t scan them ’cause as you said they are mostly crap. I probably have several film roll ends. Feels like we can start a flashmob posting such pictures and encouraging others to share further ;-)

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    • Because I send mine out for processing and scanning, I get everything that has any level of exposure on it. It’s kind of fun when one of the tails turns out to be interesting.

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  2. I love these. I always have my local lab include these images when I drop film off. There is even a community on Instagram that celebrates these images. Check out #firstoftheroll. Mine are usually the lamp on my desk, or my dog who is usually on the floor next to me as I am loading film to go shoot.

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  3. I load my own film and have figured out pretty accurately how far to wind it on so there is only half a wasted frame at the start of the roll. I’ve never thought to take half a picture with it. But at the end of the roll I always take half a picture.

    If you use a daylight loading bulk loader there are about one and a half frames of exposed film at the end of the roll. After taking the 12 pictures I intended I always take two more junk pictures, more often than not of the ground in front of me, to make sure I got the loading right. These is never anything interesting about the resulting half picture so I don’t bother digitizing it. Maybe I should.

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  4. I like these, and the whole idea of fractured or partly lost images. I seem to remember with manual wind on cameras I’d often get a similar partial frame at the end of the roll too.

    If you’re lucky (or engineer it very well) it can look literally like someone’s memory disintegrating before your eyes.

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    • I have a lot of lamp shots, where I’m checking a new old camera to see how the meter responds. Also, my #1 tail image is of the blinds in my office. Gripping.

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  5. Lots of nice compositions in that bunch. Seems like a good way to shake things up and see what falls out. I am occasionally surprised by how I feel about shots made long ago when I can go back and look at them unencumbered by my expectations at the time the pictures were made.

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    • I have the opposite experience more often: old photos of mine that used to really please me frequently don’t anymore, because I’ve grown so much as a photographer over the last ten years.

      It was fun, however, to look back at these tail images. I paid little attention to them when they were new, and so it was almost like seeing my long-ago work for the first time.

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  6. Nice collection of film tails. I’m not good with keeping notes, so the first two frames of the roll are usually of me in a mirror selfie. I use it as a reminder of what camera and lens I used to shoot the roll.

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    • That’s really a great idea. I usually write camera/lens/film on the processing envelope within hours of receiving my negatives and scans — but it has happened that I didn’t get to it, and I couldn’t remember which camera/lens I used. A mirror selfie on the first frame would clarify that right away!

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      • I develop and scan most of the films I shoot, and I have a bad habit of letting exposed rolls sit in the fridge for weeks. The mirror selfie definitely helps in sorting out the negatives many weeks later.

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