Troubleshooting

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Troubleshooting

OK - You got back your pictures and none of them came out.  Or, all of them were a little light.  Maybe a few were too dark.  What do you do now?  Scan down through this list to identify a problem, its causes and possible cures.

Graphical Version

Problem Causes Cures
All pictures on roll come back blank.
  1. Film did not wind through camera.
  2. Lens cap was left on.
  3. Shutter is not opening.
  4. Problems at the processor.
  1. Make sure film is loaded properly.  On manual advance cameras, you should see the rewind wheel turn as you advance film.
  2. Not likely with an SLR!  
  3. With no film in the camera, set the shutter speed to a slow value - like 1 second. Open the back, aim the camera towards a light and press the shutter while looking at the shutter.  You should see it spring open.  If it does not, replace the batteries.  If this doesn't solve the problem, have the camera serviced.
  4. If the problem isn't in your camera, the processor should at least refund the cost of the processing, replace the roll of film, and develop it for free.
All pictures too light or dark.
  1. Exposure compensation was left on.
  2. Film speed incorrectly set.
  3. Film is not rated properly.
  4. Shutter or diaphragm not working properly.
  1. Check the exposure compensation to be sure it is set properly.  Be in the habit of checking it continually.
  2. If setting the film speed is done manually on your camera, be sure to do it right.  Many cameras have a small window which enables you to see the film speed on the side of the canister actually loaded; be sure to check this against the film speed set.  Cameras which set the film speed automatically should allow you to verify that the computer is setting the right film speed.  If the automatic film speed setting is wrong, you will have to disable it or override it.
  3. Some films just don't seem to expose properly at the "official" ISO speed.  Books and computer fora abound with professionals' personal opinions as to the "true" speeds of various films.  Either switch film, set the film speed manually to compensate, or use exposure compensation.
  4. Have the camera checked out.  If this isn't practical to do immediately, either manually adjust the film speed setting to compensate, or dial in the appropriate exposure compensation.
Pictures aren't sharp.
  1. Focus wasn't right.
  2. Insufficient depth of field.
  3. Subject was moving.
  4. Camera was moving
  5. Lens is dirty.
  6. Condensation on film or lens.
  7. Lens isn't sharp.
  1. Focus more critically on important parts of the image.  Before you take the picture, be sure that critical areas of the image are sharp.  Use autofocus.  Have your eyes checked.
  2. Use a smaller aperture (larger numeric f-stop).
  3. To freeze moving subjects, use a faster shutter speed and/or flash.
  4. To reduce camera shake:
    Learn to hold the camera properly.
    Use a shutter speed which matches the focal length of the lens (1/400 sec for 400mm, 1/50 second for 50 mm, etc).
    Control your breathing.  Press the shutter button smoothly.
    Use a tripod or brace the camera on a solid surface.
  5. Clean the lens, following these instructions.
  6. Never load cold film into a camera under humid conditions. Never take a camera from a cold environment into a humid one.
  7. If all of the above fails, perhaps your lens is out of alignment or just plain no good.  If you suspect the former, have your lens inspected and aligned.
Picture looks OK, but no detail in whites.

Overexposure

  1. Now you are getting into the fine points of exposure.  If the feathers of a bird, for instance, lack details in the white areas, then you are just slightly overexposing, maybe 1/3 of a stop or so.  Reduce the exposure slightly, perhaps by using exposure compensation, or shifting the area metered more towards the white on the bird.  This is also where exposure bracketing comes in.
Picture looks OK, but no detail in shadows.

Underexposure

  1. The inverse of the above, with a reciprocal solution: overexpose slightly.  Note that for some scenes, it may be impossible for  the film to record the entire scene perfectly.  This is the case when there are extremes of light and dark in the same scene.  If this is the case, you must make a decision as to where you will lose detail; in the shadows or in the highlights, and that depends on the scene in question, the main subject, and your artistic sensibilities.
Pictures taken inside have a yellowish tinge.

Scenes lit by incandescent lights.

Incandescent bulbs give off a yellowish light, to compensate:
  1. Use flash.
  2. Use tungsten film (but only when pictures are taken under incandescent lights).
  3.  Use a filter.  
Pictures taken inside have a greenish tinge.

Scenes lit by florescent lights.

Florescent lights give off more greens and blues than sunlight.  To compensate:
  1. Use flash.
  2. Use a special filter.
Some pictures on the roll are completely blank and the ones next to them are partly blank.
  1. Opening the back of the camera.
  2. Light leaks in camera.
  1. Keep the camera back closed! When loading film, advance a frame or two after you have closed the camera back before taking critical pictures.
  2. Have camera checked for light leaks.
Scenes taken in dim light are off-color. Reciprocity failure. At long exposure times, many films will shift colors in a phenomenon known as reciprocity failure.
  1. Open the aperture and reduce the shutter speed.
  2. Use a different film.
  3. Use flash or other artificial light.
All pictures on roll were off-color.
  1. Dated film.
  2. Film exposed to heat or cold.
  1. Dated film can be a good buy if this doesn't happen to you.
  2. Store film under proper conditions.
Scratches on negatives or slides.
  1. Dirt on film.
  2. Dirt in camera.
  3. Dirt in storage area.
  4. Dirt in processing machine.
  1. Carry film in canisters at all times.  Wipe off leader of film with clean fingers before loading camera.  Wipe off opening of film can before returning exposed film to a canister.
  2. Clean inside of camera.  
    Check camera every time it is open.
    Pay particular attention to anyplace the film touches.
    Don't open the camera back in a dusty environment.
  3. Make sure slides and negatives are stored in a safe, clean environment
  4. You might want to have a roll processed elsewhere to see if that solves the problem. If it does, and you are sure the problem is not of your making, talk to your regular processor.