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.


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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23 responses to “What’s on your film tails?”

  1. Ivan Pilov Avatar

    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 ;-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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.

  2. Mike Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You have to ask? Mine just always get scanned, at any of the labs I use. But I had no idea this is a thing on Instagram! Now I’ll have to go look.

  3. Doug Anderson Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m so often caught up in my photography that I’m surprised to find I’m at the end of a roll and the camera won’t wind further. Having the last 1.5 frames be fogged would be a big bummer for me!

      1. Doug Anderson Avatar

        I seldom go past the 12th frame accidentally. One of the few benefits of OCD 🙂

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Lol. I’m OCD too, but photography is one of the things I can get lost in.

  4. Dan James Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think of the above frames might be an end-of-roll tail rather than a beginning-of-roll tail. Those I find are much less common for me.

  5. Ron Avatar

    Yours are better than mine. Most I have are of the big TV screen or a lamp in the living room.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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.

  6. DougD Avatar

    I like it. Looks like your son is shovelling snow or picking cotton

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Whatever it is, he’s up to his nose in it.

  7. Mike Connealy Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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.

  8. monettelyan Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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!

      1. monettelyan Avatar

        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.

  9. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

    This is an interesting collection, I like the egg one best.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! I like the tones on that one a lot, and wish the whole frame had turned out.

  10. windswept007 Avatar

    I never really thought about these before, but seeing your collection here has change my mind. Mine are usually of lamps as I check the camera is working with the first short. Maybe I will put more effort in every shot from now on.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Heh, I have a lot of lamps on my tails too. Also window blinds.

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