35mm Sprocket Hole Panoramic Photographs




About: Darin Barry is a Native American activist, writer, and photographer. As an activist, Darin was on the payroll of the New York City based political satire media campaign, Billionaires for Bush, Oil Change In...

How do photographers get those wide images that bleed through the edges of the negative, showing the sprocket holes? It's a technique that allows your to create stunning panoramic images -- these little bits of film become art in themselves.  These photographs are achieved by loading 35mm film into a 120 medium format camera. This tutorial was written with the Holga in mind, but the same technique works for other 120 cameras as well.

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Step 1: You Will Need....

2 pieces of memory or regular mattress sort of foam cut into roughly 1 1/4 inch squares, 1 piece of foam cut thinly to measurement of the left spool compartment length and width, 1 spool of black electricians or gaffers tape, 4 medium size rubber bands, scissors, your Holga or similar camera, clear cellophane tape. (Photo. 1)

Step 2: Remove and Prepare Your Uptake Spool.

 Remove the back of your Holga using the little metal clips on each side that slide up, if you still have clips and haven’t yet chucked them in favor of Velcro (article to come), and remove the take-up spool. (photo 2)  Create your take-up spool by overlapping rubber bands to a thickness of about a 1/4 of an inch, on each side of the spool to create a barrier so the 35mm film cannot travel up or down the spool of the uptake spool. Measure the width of the 35mm film and center your barriers on the spool so that the film edges (sprocket sides) meet near the barriers. Adjust to width if necessary - doesn’t have to be perfect, but make sure your rubber band barriers are not narrower than the film. Place it in the take up real compartment on the left of the camera.(photo 3)

Step 3: Foam the Film Compartment

First, the single longer piece should be pressed into the bottom of the spool compartment. Install a pre-cut piece of foam on the top of the compartment and one at the bottom.

Step 4: Positioning Film

Place 35mm film, flat side up, cylindrical part of the canister down, with the knobby protrusion of the 35mm film canister pointing to the bottom of the camera. The film canister should fit snuggly between the two pieces of foam. Pull lead of 35mm film out of canister about six inches and fasten by guiding through the spool of the take up reel and affixing it with clear cellophane tape. The film should be centered horizontally behind the cameras aperture. (photo 6)

Step 5: VERY Important - Seal Film Advance Window From Light.

IF YOU DON'T BLOCK THE WINDOW WITH TAPE NOT ONE OF YOUR PHOTOS WILL TURN OUT:120 film has a light blocking back, 35mm does not.

Put the back on and tape the see through window up with gaffers or black electricians’ tape covering both sides of the window. Then, tape your Holga up for light leaks as you would or would not normally do.Give the uptake reel three full revolutions, and you are on the first frame and ready to shoot.

The tricky part is knowing what frame your camera is on, you just blocked the light window with tape. Count clicks of the take up knob. 25 clicks between frames is about right for a 24 exposure roll of film, so listen carefully as you turn the take up knob.

Step 6: Removing Film and Special Processing Instructions.

And now the trickier part, you will have to unload the film completely in the dark or use a changing bag. You will be able to easily roll your 35 mm film back into it’s canister by turning the knob-protrusion on the canister, you should know how to do this with a dummy roll before you get frustrated in the dark and blow a lot of work by flipping the lights on.

Finally, Process with special instructions ‘DO NOT CUT NEGATIVES”. Then either have your negatives scanned or do it yourself to print or use on the web.

Be cool to your local film processors about not sending your roll in with tape still stuck on it, it jams the machines.

2011 Creative Commons by Darin Barry

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    21 Discussions


    8 years ago on Step 6

    What about using slide film? Granted, you still have the instructions of "do not cut," but you do not need to scan the film to reverse the image.

    1 reply
    Darin Barryjeffdodd

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 6

    Slide film you would have to cross process - that's processing slide film at any place that develops with a standard C-41 process instead of having them processed into slides. This makes for really cool colors. I do this all the time.

    You will still need to scan them to make prints and share, and here's why. If you want to get the entire image, sprocket holes and all, you have to make sure they haven't cut your film and that the whole image is scanned. Once you have forgotten to mention this or that lab spaces it and makes a disk, you won't make that mistake again. What comes back are partial, cut off images without sprocket holes. All your work toast. I ALWAYS include a 4x6 index card that screams; "DO NOT CUT NEGATIVES".

    At home you would need to set your scanner for positive film and scan the whole image.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Really great I love Holga mods like this. Because yours produces such wide negs, I bet you could mod your mod to make a stereographic anaglyphic or dual lens 3D camera. 3D for everyone! And using mpap89's Free Film Hack you could experiment endlessly. Good i'ble


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! I'm terrible about choosing my own pictures.

    That's actually a good idea to focus the Holga. What focus distances do you use?
    I guess if you wanted to get real crazy you could add the depth of field for each focus mark. That's a lot of trouble to go to though. Most of my focus problems are really just me forgetting to make sure it's not on Bulb.

    1 reply

    Check out your manual, you will see that the little marks on the lens indicate a little man, two people, a bunch of people then a mountain. The manual give approximates but I had to shoot an experimental roll by placing placards with the written distance on them and shooting them from that distance. My Holga's perfect focus was 4 feet 2 inches but it's the fabulous Holga so yours could be difference. Then, I simply measured out a 4'2'' piece of twine, marked it with a piece of overlapping masking tape and it is wound in my tool bag with the other accessories. I repeated this with the other two settings. (my lens is glass-- it's a GFN btw). Really not that big of deal, I use expired film a lot that is free at most photo shops, especially old school ones.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I do this on a regular basis and not just with the Holga. Although I haven't yet delved into pinhole. I've also done this with an old twin lens and even a Hasselblad. Really fun.

    One piece of advice is to not just use electricians tape on the film advance window. I had it taped on both sides pretty good and I still on occasion got an overexposed 'square' on the film. I now also cover it with metallic tape. Only on the outside though.

    I've also found that different types of color film have more 'stuff' along the sides than others. Fuji seems to have the most. The cheap Lomography film has very little and I like the little red circles and red crosses it does have. Kodak is in the middle.
    B&W has a lot less.

    I've also found some clear paper to print them on. I use Photoshop to change the sprocket holes from black to white (or clear) that way it looks more like film.

    I don't have don't have much online but I do have some non-pinhole sprocket stuff here. http://TJSphoto.net Click on New Stuff.

    3 replies

    Thanks for the advice on the tape, yes, if it's not black and thick, there could be a problem, gaffers' tape works best but the one you mention seems to work well too.

    Do me a favor though and clarify what you mean here...

    "I've also found that different types of color film have more 'stuff' along the sides than others. Fuji seems to have the most. The cheap Lomography film has very little and I like the little red circles and red crosses it does have. Kodak is in the middle.
    B&W has a lot less"

    How does this harm your process? I'm not sure exactly what you might be talking about. Thanks



    I was really surprised that light got through all my tape. Not consistently though. I wonder what the optical characteristics of electrical tape are? Maybe it's more clear in the IR.

    It doesn't harm the process. It's just depends on what you want your final image to be.
    I find that some of the stuff around the holes to be distracting. Just my opinion though. I'm looking at this more from an art standpoint than a technical one.

    As a fine art photographer who used to be a windows sysadmin, I know it's easy to get caught up in the technical part and forget about the art part.

    Fuji film has a bar code looking thing going down the side that's bright yellow. As well as a couple of different color lines. Sometimes I'll make a mask in Photoshop and tone down the yellow.

    I'll try to upload a pic to show what I mean. It's a regular Holga pic of a prairie that had been burned the night before. It's a terrible pic so don't judge me :^).

    If I'm still unclear or if you have other questions don't hesitate to ask.


    OH, that. Ok. Now we're on the same page. The coding and proprietary markings on the edges, I thought you meant something chemical- as in residue- that was messing up the inside of the camera - Yes, as far as color goes the Portra is not too bad and Ilford for black and white has subtle markings - this has never been too big of an issue for me as I think it ads to the photos most of the time. That really cool example you have posted, I could see where it might be nice to have the just gold tones of the kodak edges instead of the fiesta of color there. Still man, nice job, I think it's most excellent myself. I hear ya on the photo perfectionism thing vs lomo. I actually try to pro results from my Holga just as a challenge. I even measure distance with pre-but bits of twine all marked with the proper focus distances of from the lens to the subject so they come out sharp.  Still the spirit of analouge exists within what I do.  Frankly, I love the accidents. 

    why risk destroying your holga when you can just buy the relatively inexpensive attachment?


    1 reply

    Thanks for your question. I have that attachment too and it's worthless if you want panoramic sprocket hole shots as the mask eleminates them and simply makes 35mm size exposures. This method detailed here allows my Holga to be versatile. There is no permanent alteration here.

    There is no risk to my Holga using this method detailed here. And really, it's not that hard.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    What speed film? the lowest I could find was 200 (I think) for my pinhole camera and I couldn't get the timing right.

    1 reply
    Darin Barryk-twizel

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    First of all, light is a huge issue with pinholes, as you might know. I NEVER shoot them, well, almost never, in sunny conditions. Cloudy overcast days will yield the best results. I use a low speed film that I get online, Ilford makes an ISO 50 that is perfect for long exposure pinholes.

    There is a program available for free that will calculate the exposure time called "Pinhole Designer". I use that in conjunction with a light meter and my pinholes turn out all the time.

    This particular tutorial of mine is about sprocket shots, but perhaps I should do a pinhole instructable. Hmm.

    Good luck to you K-twizel, hope this helps.

    matt king

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, how would i go about getting these sprocket hole shots processed? Do i have to get them developed at a specialty place? How can I load them onto my computer and post them online? Thanks for your help.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Question! I have a very old "box style" camera. You think with the right mods I can use it to take pictures like this?

    This is the best image I could find that resembles my camera:


    8 years ago on Introduction

    hey guy,what if my camera is a native 35 mm and i want a sprocket effect on it?