With the recent resurgence of esoteric photographic methods like polaroid and lomography, an interest has also emerged regarding the use of expired film.
Shooting expired film definitely has advantages in creative and experimental practice. Outdated film can give unpredictable and unique results in terms of color and feel that are impossible to recreate with even the most intense instagram filters. However, the medium does have a daunting set of drawbacks. Expired film can be incredibly hard to properly expose and without proper care, can be unusable.
I’ve assembled a quick list of some tips that I’ve found helpful when delving into the fun and rewarding challenge of expired film photography.
Picking Your Film
The first and perhaps most important thing to consider when shooting expired film is selecting the type of film that will yield the best results. This depends on a few factors.
Be mindful of the film’s sensitivity or “ISO”. As film ages, it loses sensitivity to light over time. The general rule for determining an expired film’s actual ISO rating is to subtract one full stop from the ISO for every decade that the film has aged. For example, a roll of film that expired in 2000 and is rated at ISO 400 should be shot at around ISO 100.
With this in mind, it’s important to note that the sensitivity of higher ISO (more sensitive) films degrades faster than that of lower ISO (less sensitive) films. Films stored in warm or humid places also lose sensitivity at a faster pace. These factors also affect the amount of grain in the photos you shoot. Film gets granier as it ages and more sensitive films (anything higher than ISO 400) can become unusable because of the amount of grain.
The takeaway here is that when you purchase your expired film, try to find film that is under ISO 400. Also try to buy the same types of film in large batches that have been stored in the same place. This helps with consistency and shooting test rolls. I recommend eBay or Etsy.
Another thing to note is the importance of test rolls. When you have a batch of film of the same type, I recommend shooting a test roll at a range of exposures to determine the most accurate adjusted ISO. For example, I recently shot a test roll for a batch of Kodak Vericolor 100 that expired in 1976. Because the film is 40 years old, we would subtract 4 stops, reducing the original ISO 100 to an adjusted ISO of around 12.5. However, to determine the exact ISO, I shot each frame of the test roll starting at ISO 5, with each frame increasing by increments of 5. I found the best exposure (in gallery) was at ISO 10.
So far, this is the oldest film I’ve shot and the oldest I would recommend for anyone. As you can see, the color palette of this negative has drastically shifted over the past 40 years. The only color channel that remains is red. You may also notice a more pronounced grain and the fact that some of the labels on the film backing have seeped onto the exposure. This is also due to the age of the film.
Aside from all the technical headaches that can come from this process, it can produce some pretty cool pictures. I've included some other pictures I've made with expired film. Have fun and Keep shooting, Jumbos!