Light leaks and how to fix them.

Or not. You hipster. I bet you liked them before they were cool.

Seriously, though, I hate light leaks.

I mean, life happens, and I don’t really hate hate them. But I hate when I get a roll of film back from the developer, or I pull it off of the reel, and there are light leaks. It sucks.

It sucks because it wasn’t my goal. I don’t like leaving things up to chance like that. When I shoot, I want all the factors to be under my own power. “Happy accidents,” aren’t so happy when you know the image would have been better without the light leak.

Sure, they can be a style choice. You can get lucky and they can enhance the look of your photo, just like expired film, or any other sort of blind chance can sometimes make a photo something special. I’ve benefitted from happy accidents before, I’ll admit that.

But I’m a control freak, and I want my photos to be what I wanted them to be in my head, before I pulled the trigger.

When I see a light leak, my first instinct is to go into troubleshooting mode.

There are three likely causes of light leaks that stand out to me, and all of them are generally easily remedied. Usually.

The first is that the developer screwed up. That’s easy, find a good shop that won’t mess up your photos.

The second is that you screwed up. Mishandled film will result in light leaks. The most obvious of these is when you’re an idiot and open the camera without winding the film to the end point. Only idiots do that. Yup. I’ve never done anything like that. Nope. You can’t prove a thing.

If you’re shooting medium format, make sure you roll that stuff tight before you tape it shut. If it’s loose, you can get light shooting in from the tops and bottoms of the roll, and you’ll get some bad light leaks that way. If you’re developing your own film, there’s a million different ways you can screw up and get light into your film while you’re trying to get it onto that stupid aggravating spool, but if you’re deving your own film, you know that, and I don’t have to elaborate.

The third is the most likely culprit. Your camera’s screwed up. This I think is happening more and more as a greater percentage of the film cameras in use get older and older. A lot of cameras rely on a rubber gasket that squishes when you shut the camera back, and as the camera ages, that rubber gasket is the first to fall apart, letting in light, and making an otherwise perfectly good camera unusable.

If that’s the case, don’t panic. It’s an easy fix. 

You don’t have to send it in for repairs. For real. This one is a DIY job you can do, and if you screw it up, then you didn’t lose anything because you’ll be right where you started, with a camera with a bad light seal. Above is the light seal on my self-repaired Fujifilm GW690.

If you search on the internet, you can find “light seal replacement kits” for your camera. 99% of the time, you don’t need ’em. All you need is some closed-cell foam rubber and some adhesive. I know that not everyone lives in Japan, but Tokyu Hands sells sheets of it, cheap, with the adhesive already on the foam rubber. It comes in various sized squares of varying thicknesses. It only has to be a couple mm thick, but look at the seal on your camera to see what you need.

Step 1 is to clean off the old, decaying light seal. I used rubbing alchohol and q-tips to make sure it was good and clean. I even used the pointy q-tips you can find for sale in camera shops to dig into the corners and make sure everything was good and clean.

Step 2 is to slice the closed-cell rubber foam to the same thickness as the old light seal you’ve just removed. It doesn’t have to be super precise or anything, just close enough, erring on the “too fat” side. When I’ve done this, I’ve always just freehanded the cuts with an Xacto knife on a self-healing mat.

Step 3 is peeling the paper off the rubber foam’s adhesive back, and sticking it to that clean place where the camera’s original light seal was. And that’s it, you’re good to go.

Yeah, I know, it’s intimidating. Cameras are complicated, sensitive devices that are expensive to replace. I get it. I have the same fears any time I’m doing any maintenance on my cameras. But this particular operation is easy on the vast majority of cameras. I have faith in you at least this much.