With film prices rising it’s no surprise that many film photographers are turning to less expensive expired film stocks in order to continue shooting analogue.
With its unpredictability and distinct tint, images taken with expired film certainly carry their own charm and can even define a photographer’s style, but many beginners may have a question or two about adjustments needed for shooting expired stocks.
In this tipster we’re giving you simple tips and tricks for using expired film with the help of fellow film shutterbugs who shoot and develop expired film.
Why Shoot Expired Film?
For Lomographer Sora (@sooora) who chooses to shoot with expired film for practical and aesthetic reasons, these stocks offer the "surprise", texture and "uncertain psychedelic atmosphere" she likes to play around with and which attracted her to shooting film in the first place.
The urge to simply record without regard to film or equipment, to use whatever film I can get, and to do whatever I want in non-serious photography is what I love about shooting. Advice for beginners shooting expired film is that you must trust the film and can't force it to be great every time.
The vitality of film may be more amazing than you and I think, and many negatives don't even need to be reduced by the sensitivity to achieve it. Of course, using expired film is risky, and that's undeniable, so if you're after every roll meets expectations, then expired film isn't for you.
The results of expired film stocks will vary depending on the stock itself, as well as its storage conditions and for how long it's been expired. Simply put, this is because films contain the chemical compound silver halide which reacts to light to form a latent image (which is then brought out during the development process.)
This light-sensitive chemical degrades over time, (faster in the case of color and high-speed films), which affects the stock's sensitivity, resulting in fogging and color shifts that characterize photos taken with films past their freshness.
Because of this, many film shooters overexpose the ISO of an expired film by one stop per decade past its expiration date to make it more sensitive to light. This means that if you're shooting an ISO 200 film stock with a 2010 expiration date, you will have to compensate by setting your ISO to 100.
Sticking to Box Speed
However, keep in mind this rule doesn't necessarily have to apply to all expired film stocks, which is why it's important to know under which conditions your film was stored, and to consider the film stock you have when thinking about whether to apply this rule or not. If a film roll is stored properly – e.g., away from the sun, in a waterproof container under subzero conditions, then you can generally stick with the box speed of your expired film, whether it's color or not.
When deciding which type of stock to buy or whether to overcompensate or not, do note that color films have more chemical components such as dyes and color masks that degrade at different timeframes, so they're more unpredictable to shoot with compared to black and white films that are generally more stable.
Meanwhile, slide film has less exposure latitude compared to color negative, making it trickier to shoot, more so once they've expired. The method of bracketing may help you with these tricky films.
Bracketing refers to taking several photos of the same angle and subject using different exposure settings. Take for example the above photos from community member Yörn, a.k.a. @stereograph. Yörn took the above photos with a Kodak Ektachrome 200 slide film that expired in 1996, bracketing the photos from 400 ISO down to 25 ISO.
Slide films are the the most difficult expired films to shoot, that was the reason for the bracketing I did with it, normally I just shoot it!
Expired film stocks more often than not cost less than fresh films, especially compared to those still in production. But since many have been discontinued, you'll probably also find ones that are a lot more expensive than your regular fresh films. You can scour for expired films in flea markets, online platforms such as eBay, or even your parents and grandparents' storage rooms. Who knows, right?
But while it can be tempting to simply take off with a roll of expired film, do keep in mind this practical advice from Poland-based film photographer Filip (@KOTLECIKMUD):
Don't buy blind. Conduct detailed research on stocks found on something like eBay auctions. There are tons of Kodachromes that cannot be developed anymore properly.
If you develop your own film, test film first in small batches if you’re uncertain as to the state it is in. Sometimes developing can be very rewarding but keep track of development conditions. The results can be as satisfying as they can be disappointing. Do not be discouraged and develop a method of action best suited to your financial possibilities and the environment in which you work.
We hope these tips help you in your own expired film adventures. Last tip from us is to avoid using expired films when taking photos of special occasions, unless of course you plan to take back-up photos or are deliberately up for a surprise! In which case, we hope your results end up as wonderful as the process!
If you want to do an experiment with unpredictable results, and don't take it as a task to complete, then the expired film may surprise you. I often compare film to a living body. Whether it is a face full of aging, such as coarse grains, the fading of emulsions, or a new life that changes its previous trajectory, it is part of the evolution of life, because film does not die but only ages. Its only way to die is to be thrown straight into the trash. So, filming it together and enjoying it blooming to life is a cool thing in itself. - @sooora.
Many thanks to @sooora, @kotlecikmud and @stereograph for sharing their photos and experiences with expired film! Special thanks to @stereograph for sharing EMULSIVE.org's informative in-depth on shooting expired film.
Do you have memorable shots with an expired film, or any other tips you'd like to share to beginners? Share them with us below!