How to add film sprockets

Nothing says film photography quite like exposing a roll of 35mm, sprocket holes and all. Learn how to recreate the effect digitally

JORDAN BUTTERS: Film emulation is big business in modern digital photography. Despite the resolution, crispness and clarity that modern cameras are able to obtain, part of us still yearns for the analogue look and feel that you only get from shooting film. This technique allows you to obtain a realistic-looking 35mm sprocket film effect using the power of Photoshop.

Sprocket holes are the row of perforations along the top and bottom of a strip of 35mm film — their purpose is to provide a loop for the sprockets on 35mm cameras to hook on to, in order to advance the film onto the next frame. The purists amongst you may protest that, when shooting 35mm film on a traditional 35mm camera, the area above, below and between the sprocket holes isn’t usually exposed — strictly speaking this is true, the image area on most 35mm cameras stopping before it reaches the holes. There are exceptions, however — some photographers modify large-format 120 film cameras to accept 35mm film, exposing the full height of the film to the image area for that genuine shot-on-film effect. There are also 35mm film cameras offered by Lomography which purposely expose the full height of the film, too, for exactly this reason.

1 Edit the film strip

Open your film image and use a black brush to paint over the centre of the film to hide the frame dividers. Go to Image> Adjustments>Levels and pull the black slider to the right, ensuring the film is rendered black, and the white slider to the left ensuring the holes are white. Go to Select>All and then Edit>Copy.

2 Adjust the film to fit

Open your main image and go to Edit>Paste. Click on Edit>Free Transform. Use the corner points to scale your film to fit your image. Hold down the shift key to stop the proportions distorting. Rotate the film to suit your image format, if required. Change the Blend Mode of your film layer to Screen.

3 Add burn to the holes

Select the Magic Wand Tbo/,choose a Tolerance of 75 in the top menu bar and hold down the shift key while clicking to select each of the sprocket holes. Then go to Layer>New Fill Layer>Solid Color and choose a bright orange as your fill colour. Select Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and click OK.

4 Blur the burn

Apply Gaussian Blur of around 100 pixels — the aim is to have an orange blur around the holes, so see what works for your image. Change the Blend Mode of this layer to either Overlay or Lighten. Once done, create another new layer (Layer>New>Layer) and set its Blend Mode to Lighten.

5 Add some light leaks

Select the Gradient Tool and click and drag to add light leaks to the edges. Then, add a Layer Mask to this layer (Layer Layer Mask>Reveal All). Copy the contents of your film strip layer to the clipboard by selecting it in the Layers palette and going to Select>All and then Edit>Copy.

6 Mask the leaks

Select your light leaks layer again and make sure that the Channels palette is visible (Window>Channels). In the Channels palette, click on the Mask channel and check the Eye icon. Go to Edit>Paste and then Image>Adjustments>Invert. This masks the light leaks from appearing inside the sprocket holes.

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