Experiment with – Bleach Bypass

I had heard about the bleach bypass process before and was interested in trying it for myself with street photography. The result was high contrast and colour shifts, perfect for the unpredictability of the street.

Under standard C-41 (Colour negative) development, the film undergoes a C-41 developer step, a bleach and fixer step (or sometimes in a single step with a Bleach Fix (BLIX) mix), and finally a stabilisation step.

In the C-41 developer step, the activated silver in the film are developed into metallic silver and colour dyes are activated to produce the colour negative. The bleach step causes the developed silver to return the undeveloped state in which it can be removed by the fixer. The fixer then removes all of the silver (since all of it should be in the undeveloped state) and only the colour dyes remain.

However, the bleach bypass process bypasses the bleach step and proceeds straight to the fixing step. By skipping the bleach step, the negative retains the metallic silver particles and the result is brighter highlights and mid tones while the shadows remain relatively unchanged.

Seeing that the day was going to be sunny, I had set out to photograph scenes which had medium to high contrast to test out the effects of the bleach bypass process.

Unedited [left] and edited [right] versions of Man with an Umbrella

In this first set of images, I was drawn to a man who was holding up a yellow umbrella in the broad daylight. I realised that this scene would be perfect to showcase the effects of the bleach bypass on the highlights in the umbrella.

In the unedited version, the entire scene appears to be overexposed due to the silver content in both the highlights and mid tones, with the greatest overexposure occurring in the highlights. There is also a slight colour shift which may arise from the silver content or it might be related to the fixing step (as the Ilford Rapid Fixer has a lower pH value than the bleach fix in the Tetenal kit).

In the edited image, I was able to correct for the overexposure in the mid tones by reducing the brightness and applying a slight colour correction. However, I was not able to recover any details in the highlights as they were complete blown out.

Unedited image to showcase differences in highlights and shadows

In this unedited image, there is a high amount of contrast between the highlights and shadows even before touching the contrast sliders. The shadow areas contain less silver and should appear similar to the shadow areas of an image obtained with the bleach step preserved. The highlights and mid tones in the negative space are used to place greater emphasis on the darker subjects of the amp and instrument case.

With these results in mind, I would need to shoot the film with an underexposure of at least 1 or 2 stops if I wanted to avoid completely blowing out my highlights. However, the blown out highlights might be desirable in scenes where I am able to single out the subject like in the photo of the man with the umbrella.

The majority of the photographs I had taken were in sunny areas where there were harsh shadows and bright highlights. It may be of interest to try the bleach bypass process with scenes where there is a lower amount of light or contrast.

Overall, I enjoyed the results and will continue to use the bleach bypass process in the future.

The images have been shot on a Canon EOS Elan 7e (EOS 30) film camera using a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens. The film stock used was 35mm Kodak Vision 3 250D (5207/7207) shot at 250 ISO. The majority of the photos have been taken using shutter priority with exposure compensation set to +0.

As this is a motion picture film, the remjet layer had to be removed before the actual development process. The film was developed using the Tetenal Colortec C-41 kit colour developer for 3:15 minutes at 38C. The film was then fixed with Ilford Rapid Fixer for 5:00 minutes at 38C, followed by a water rinse for 5:00 minutes at 30C. Finally, the film was stabilised using the Tetenal Colortec C-41 kit stabiliser for 1:00 minute at 20C. The resulting negatives were scanned using the Epson V550 and edited in Photoshop.